As mentioned in Part 1 on this topic, it is vital that collaborative time is used both effectively and productively given its finite availability in schools. When precious time is established to allow collaboration there are plenty of aspects of education that teachers can work together on and not using the time when it is given is simply not acceptable.
Once areas for teacher collaboration are established it is vital that the time is used systematically for best results. There are two levels of responsibility involved in making sure this happens:
1. The collaborative teams and their leaders must be held responsible for their use of the time given.
2. School leaders must provide every possible support for team leaders, as getting all teachers to collaborate is easier said than done.
In terms of making sure effective use is made of the time their are a number of things leaders and their teams can do to guarantee this:
- Spend time on a critique of themselves and their curriculum area, identifying the strengths and areas for improvement.
- Establish clear goals and objectives for what they wish to achieve in terms of addressing the areas for improvement. Further to this, good goals include actionable steps that can be monitored in working towards the stated objective(s).
- Set protocols for meetings. Ensure that there is a clear agenda, give roles to team members, recap on what has been achieved in the meeting and follow-up items.
- Keep the meeting on-track and avoid having the meeting hijacked or going off on a tangent.
- Make sure the meeting is quality time spent by having certain tasks completed prior to the meeting, so that discussions can be focused, rich and effective.
- Check-in regularly with people regarding follow-up items, so that the next meeting is not derailed by a lack of action.
- Use collaborative spaces to organise work such as Evernote, Google Docs, Wikispaces etc
To achieve the effective use of time, school leaders have to provide the necessary support and training for team leaders in building collaborative teams:
- Training needs to be provided in how to work with and deal with difficult colleagues who may not want to collaborate or intentionally take the meeting off-track. Furthermore, school leaders must be prepared to step-in if a team leader requires support because they do not yet possess the experience of handling difficult conversations.
- School leaders should aim to provide an accurate calendar of meetings, so that team leaders can plan ahead their agendas and work effectively. Moreover, this collaborative time must be guaranteed and not encroached upon by other needs.
- Technology tools, support and training need to be given to leaders and their teams to help them be more productive with their work.
- School leaders must also monitor the work of team leaders and their respective teams, checking-in regularly with them, complimenting them on their achievements, encouraging them in their work and addressing issues as they arise. If teams know that they are going to be held responsible for what they achieve but the support is going to be there on the journey, then there will likely be more buy-in to the collaborative effort.
Collaboration is essential but school leaders must recognise that achieving it is no easy task. It takes strong leadership, support and perseverance to achieve a collaborative culture in schools for which leaders must also be prepared to have some challenging conversations along the way for everyone to understand its importance.