Building a collaborative culture is no easy task and building a collaborative culture around professional learning in a school is a particularly challenging task. The typical day in the life of a school finds teachers’ time constantly being monopolized by the demands of students and parents, and the myriad administrative and extra-curricular duties that they routinely perform. While most teachers will readily admit that ongoing professional learning is not just a necessity for them to ensure that their practices are current and relevant, but essential to their well-being as professionals. Most also admit that not enough time and attention is given to professional learning for teachers in schools. Yet, professional learning and collaboration are essential in any organization that seeks to renew and re-energize its members on an ongoing basis. The need to belong to a group and to connect with others is not only a human instinct, it is through connections with others that we grow and learn in our professional as well as our personal lives.
As a school leader I am all too aware that my vision of the kind of school we aspire to be is nothing without the collaborative efforts of a strong and dynamic team. To articulate a vision, to garner support for that vision and to engage others in working collaboratively to realize that vision, requires four essential components – a clear understanding of what collaboration means and why it is useful to an organization, structures that allow people to come together around shared interests, providing the resources necessary for people to explore their interests and flexibility in terms of what form the collaboration will take. Within these four essential components there should also be a common thread of connection. At Sekolah Ciputra, our school’s action plan was that common thread. We had identified formative assessment, differentiated instruction and concept-based teaching and learning as areas of focus in our school’s action plan.
Vision of Sekolah Ciputra
Students of Sekolah Ciputra are proud of their national identity, embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship, celebrate cultural diversity and possess the skills, integrity and resilience to participate in a changing global society.
Armed with a newly revised vision and mission and a focused action plan, our leadership team set out to build a shared sense of purpose among staff by developing structures that would allow teachers to have a voice in designing their professional learning and to actively contribute to each other’s professional growth. The consensus on our team was that the traditional Tuesday afternoon PD sessions were becoming sessions where teachers were passive recipients of learning that had been planned for them and delivered during sessions where attendance was mandatory and participation was typically less than enthusiastic.
We began by surveying teachers about what format they would like to see their professional learning sessions take and what specific aspects of formative assessment, differentiated assessment and concept-based teaching and learning they wanted to explore in greater depth. In addition to being asked questions about format and topics of interest, teachers were also asked to choose whether they intended to participate as a facilitator, a co-facilitator or an active participant. The intention behind those questions was to tap into the expertise and passions that we knew existed on staff but which went largely untapped and unrecognized in our traditional PD sessions. We also emphasized the word ACTIVE as an implicit expectation that participation in the groups would not take the form of “sit and get” learning and that everyone would be expected to contribute to the learning.
Teachers had no shortage of ideas about what they wanted and needed in terms of professional learning. Everything from book studies and coaching clinics to demonstration classrooms were identified as suitable formats. In terms of topics of study, teachers gave suggestions of specific book titles and posed questions such as “how do I document and track student learning effectively and efficiently?” It was clear to us that teachers were very much aware of what they wanted and/or needed to learn and that our traditional one-size-fits-all approach to PD was not meeting their needs. What was very exciting was the number of teachers who were willing to step forward as facilitators or co-facilitators of learning.
With a staff of 104, it was not easy to narrow down the range of interests indicated by our teachers; however, with the focus on our action plan, it became a little easier to narrow the choices down and still give teachers the opportunity to engage in learning that is relevant and meaningful to them. We also agreed that while the initial groups will be formed according to the survey results, participants would be allowed some flexibility after the first meeting to change groups if they felt that another group better met their needs, whether in terms of format or topic. In the end, the shifts were minimal and teachers have settled into working through their chosen area of learning with their colleagues.
As our leadership team considered giving teachers more autonomy over their professional learning, the issue of accountability arose. How would we account for the time spent in learning groups and ensure that everyone was contributing to the learning? The answer came in a fortuitous suggestion from one of the teachers. The suggestion was that we should not only use this opportunity to work in small groups, but we should let our students and their parents see that we embrace and model lifelong learning. Out of this suggestion arose the idea of placing bulletin boards in our hallways with brief summaries of what we were learning, along with teachers engaged in collaborating with each other. We currently have three bulletin boards in our hallways to which teachers are adding snippets of their learning, along with pictures.
It is still too early in the process to declare this a resounding success but early indications and the displays show much promise in terms of collaboration and engagement among teachers. Teachers are learning from and with their colleagues on a range of topics and are proudly declaring their learning to the entire school community.
Our leadership team is engaging actively with this process and our plan is to continue to monitor, to support as needed and to be open to changes where teachers feel there is the need for change. The groups that have been formed are not intended to remain intact all year. As learning goals are met, teachers can move on to form new groups focused on different or deeper levels of learning. The key is to give teachers the professional respect, autonomy and support to collaborate with each other as professionals in determining and meeting their professional learning needs. By nurturing this spirit of collaboration and engagement with each other, we are confident that we will thrive and grow as a learning community.
PYP Coordinating Principal
Sekolah Ciputra Surabaya, Indonesia