Saturday, February 18, 2017

Collaboration Requires Effective Leadership

This month my #CompelledTribe of bloggers are writing about Competition vs. Collaboration. Follow the hashtag to read some great blogs!

When I first started teaching (back in the dark ages), teachers were collegial and helped me find resources when I asked. But, there was a sense of competition. The best lessons and “secret sauces” were highly kept secrets. Teachers competed to be the most popular, most requested by the “good kids,” and most recognized. Don’t misunderstand me. Teachers in the school were very friendly! We planned and coordinated our schedules. We compromised and cooperated. We enjoyed each other’s company. However, I can’t say that teachers collaborated much and the focus of any collaboration wasn’t about student learning. The work of the DuFours and others to introduce the concept of PLCs changed the mindsets of many educators.

However, I think real collaboration is still challenging work. A principal can say, “Here’s time for your PLC meeting” but that doesn’t mean collaboration happens. I don’t want to get caught up definitions and subtleties between words, but collaboration is different from collegiality, cooperation, coordination, consensus building, etc. I think collaboration requires complete trust in team members, vulnerability, vision, commitment, accountability, and group efficacy. I think having high-functioning PLCs in a school happens when there is strong leadership.

What do leaders need to do?

Build a guiding coalition with a small group of leaders in the school.
Inspire and build shared knowledge with faculty and staff.
Have the difficult conversations about school values, mission, vision, current data, and goals.
Ask questions.
Celebrate progress.
Continually communicate with clarity the purpose of our work as educators.
Focus discussions and actions around the four essential questions.
Expect effort and excellence.

Weak leadership affects the culture of the whole school. On the surface, there may not be visible signs of the iceberg below, but it’s there and affects the learning of all within the school. A school leader committed to student learning can’t have the philosophy of staying below the radar and doing “just enough” to stay out of trouble from superiors. Collaboration is not “coblaboration.” It is not a planned, and well-rehearsed show to make the principal look good for visiting dignitaries. There is no room for competition in the sense that there are winners and losers. It’s messy. It requires trust, risk-taking, experimentation, and freedom to make and learn from mistakes. The kind of collaboration necessary for creating a true professional learning community takes effective leadership. Therein lies the challenge.

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