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(Getting) Better Together

posted Nov 10, 2019, 1:48 AM by HSD Principal   [ updated Nov 10, 2019, 2:29 AM ]
At EARCOS, I attended a couple of sessions with a presenter from Resources for Better Teaching (and it was mostly for reasons other than that they are from Boston). During each session, the speaker mentioned that in thirty years of research and consulting, he and his colleagues had never seen an effective school in which teachers were not working together to improve learning. In other words, collaboration based around improved practice was a factor present in every effective school they have seen.

As you have been working together this year, hopefully you have found engaging with colleagues about your teaching practices encouraging. But maybe you are wondering how to make your group work more effective. The cover story in the current Harvard Business Review is Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration. As Francesca Gino has studied organizations in which effective collaboration happens, she found three common employee characteristics: they respect colleagues’ contributions; they are open to experimenting with others’ ideas; and they are sensitive to how one’s actions affect colleagues’ work. Gino specifies six skills that can be taught and learned that she says will help anyone looking to improve their collaboration. In the upcoming ASERT times, try to pick one and work on it with your team.

Train to Listen, Not Talk
We should:
  • Ask expansive questions: Try to get others to elaborate on ideas by asking "why" and "how" type questions instead of yes-or-no questions.
  • Focus on listening, not on yourself: Practice active listening techniques instead of spending time thinking about what you will say or how you will respond.
  • Engage in "self-checks": Constantly evaluate how you are responding in interactions. Pay attention to and critique your own tendencies while working with others.
  • Become comfortable with silence.

Train to Practice Empathy
You will understand your colleagues' contributions better if you can learn to see things from their point of view. 

Train to be More Comfortable with Constructive Feedback
This can be one of the main hinderances to observing and being observed in your classroom; it is uncomfortable to have others tell you what you don't do so well. But all professionals evaluate their own performance and ask coaches to do the same. "Discuss feedback aversion openly" in your groups and give each other the permission to give it when needed.

Train to Lead and Follow
Everyone will fill both roles at some point while working together.

Train to Speak with Clarity and Avoid Abstractions
Clearly state your thinking and conclusions. And speak directly to specific things you notice while working together. Saying, "The assessment guidelines you gave for the photosynthesis lab were not clear," is much more helpful than saying, "We should make sure students know what we want."

Train to Have Win-Win Interactions
Make sure you fully understand what other people are asking or expecting. Sometimes outcomes that seem mutually exclusive are not after all.