Lessons learned: leading collaborative reform.Abstract
This article describes the evolution of the professional cultures of two urban high schools as collaborative reforms are undertaken. Both schools experience remarkable similarities in the challenges faced and the ultimate paths to effective implementation. Characteristics of successful leadership practices are identified, as well as administrative tensions brought on by the changes in the professional leadership culture at the schools.
This article describes how the teaching and learning climate in two urban high schools evolved from relative hopelessness hopelessness Psychology Bleak expectations, usually about oneself or one's future. See Depression. to ones of hopefulness, through reforms that foster collaborative relationships among faculty, students and administrators. These dynamic changes were observed by the author who served as an external consultant at each school during the past three to four years. The schools are located in the urban centers of neighboring neigh·bor
1. One who lives near or next to another.
2. A person, place, or thing adjacent to or located near another.
3. A fellow human.
4. Used as a form of familiar address.
v. mid-west cities. Faced with the increasing demands of the national "No Child Left Behind" legislation, each high school has sought to break out of the all-too-well-known pattern of urban school malaise malaise /mal·aise/ (mal-az´) a vague feeling of discomfort.
A vague feeling of bodily discomfort, as at the beginning of an illness. through the implementation federally-funded reform projects designed to create "small learning communities" for teaching and learning. Though the administrators in charge of leading the reform at the schools were not acquainted with each other at the time, the pathways taken and successes achieved share remarkable similarities. This article reports the common experiences shared by the schools as they changed from organizations characterized char·ac·ter·ize
tr.v. character·ized, character·iz·ing, character·iz·es
1. To describe the qualities or peculiarities of: characterized the warden as ruthless.
2. by isolated professional practice, hierarchical A structure made up of different levels like a company organization chart. The higher levels have control or precedence over the lower levels. Hierarchical structures are a one-to-many relationship; each item having one or more items below it. relationships, and authoritarian decision making, into schools where collaborative practice and shared leadership flourish.
Contemporary High School Reforms
Many of the reforms currently advocated for secondary schools--smaller learning communities, small schools, team teaching--are based on a set of theories that propose the organization of teachers (and students) into more intimate and responsive educational environments will "help build more collegial col·le·gi·al
a. Characterized by or having power and authority vested equally among colleagues: "He . . . and collaborative communities of practice" (Supovitz, 2002). These organizational structures This article has no lead section.
To comply with Wikipedia's lead section guidelines, one should be written. seek to have teachers work together to address student needs and develop shared responsibility for student learning. Jolly, author of A Facilitator's Guide To Professional Learning Teams, explains that research has found teachers' attitudes and abilities are shaped and reinforced ..." not through traditional models of staff development, but in the contexts in which they work and learn, including the communities formed by their relationships with other professionals" (2005). Trying out new strategies, receiving and giving feedback, and reflecting and planning together with other teachers promotes the development of a professional learning community.
Common Challenges of Urban High Schools
Though the first priority at each school was to create smaller communities for students in order to enhance learning, experience shows that it is necessary to first create professional learning communities in which teachers are empowered to collectively reflect and act on student learning and changes in practice (DuFour and Eaker, 1998). However, key elements necessary to develop such communities--supportive and shared leadership, as well as shared values, vision, and practice--are not easily introduced into schools locked in a long history of "how things are done here": "Steeped in tradition and dependent on practices that have long outlived their usefulness, high schools are in dire need of reform ... Although the problems confronting high schools do show up in affluent suburbs and rural areas, these problems most acutely affect high-poverty urban neighborhoods" (Noguera Noguera has multiple meanings:
1. Habitual failure to appear, especially for work or other regular duty.
2. The rate of occurrence of habitual absence from work or duty. and drop out rates, low teacher morale and student achievement, and an inability to attract and retain strong principals.
Tipping Point The point in time in which a technology, procedure, service or philosophy has reached critical mass and becomes mainstream. See network effect. See also tip and ring.
School administrators in each district pointed with pride to the high schools' near-century-long participation in the region's school accreditation accreditation,
n a process of formal recognition of a school or institution attesting to the required ability and performance in an area of education, training, or practice. system. However, it was clear the use of these "school improvement" protocols had not been sufficient to engage the staff in the authentic and powerful ways needed to reverse decades of decline. Perhaps it is not surprising that the precipitating pre·cip·i·tate
v. pre·cip·i·tat·ed, pre·cip·i·tat·ing, pre·cip·i·tates
1. To throw from or as if from a great height; hurl downward: events that ultimately led to the whole school reform at both schools came rather inauspiciously. In both cases, grants solicited by district without prior involvement (or even communication) with building staff were "dumped dump
v. dumped, dump·ing, dumps
1. To release or throw down in a large mass.
a. " on the schools. School administrators and faculty were notified that they were expected to completely reform their schools into "wall to wall small learning communities" within the following three years. A classic recipe for disaster! And in fact, the ball was bobbled at both buildings, as building administrators struggled to respond to the unanticipated challenge. It was clear these schools initially did not have the organizational capacity to respond to an outside demand that they change dramatically. In each case, a year or more was wasted until a leader with the requisite organizational and relational skills "emerged". The evolution of leadership was a dramatic process, as head building administrators at both schools came under the pressure of growing public scrutiny and faculty outrage OUTRAGE. A grave injury; a serious wrong. This is a generic word which is applied to everything, which is injurious, in great degree, to the honor or rights of another. over the mismanaged grants. Ultimately, each school turned to trusted assistant principals to assume leadership of their reform projects.
Interestingly, the assistant principals who were tapped to become leaders of both schools' reform projects were not in roles traditionally associated with being "in charge" of whole-school reforms. Instead, they were employed in roles of instructional and curricular support (one administrator was the Dean of Students; the other was Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction). It is likely that the professional skills, knowledge, and experience of these administrators were key to their ultimate success. Both of these persons had a deep knowledge of curriculum and professional development, and successful experiences working with faculty in more peer-oriented, collegial, rather than authoritarian or hierarchical, relationships. In addition, they also had strong knowledge of and experience in planning and organizing system processes and marshalling See data marshalling and marshal.
(communications) marshalling - (US -ll- or -l-) The process of packing one or more items of data into a message buffer, prior to transmitting that message buffer over a communication channel. resources. Ironically i·ron·ic also i·ron·i·cal
1. Characterized by or constituting irony.
2. Given to the use of irony. See Synonyms at sarcastic.
3. though, it is possible that the depth to which morale at each school had sunk provided the most important factor in the initial success of their change efforts. The new project leaders at each site reported that their "staffs were hurting" and felt "they had nothing to lose". Whatever the reason, once these administrators came forward to lead the reform initiative, each found they had little difficulty recruiting teachers who were key building opinion leaders to voluntarily participate in groups charged to research and develop a vision and direction for their respective schools.
Building and Supporting a Collaborative Teacher Leadership Team
It was in these first leadership groups that the development of professional learning communities initially began. It seems likely that this development was due in large part to the emergence of a common pattern of leadership and engagement at the two schools. Both of the new leaders gave participating teachers "authentic" authority and responsibility for the work undertaken: neither project director had a pre-determined outcome; each genuinely empowered the teachers on their leadership teams with the responsibility to identify the innovations they found to be best for their students. The project administrators set the parameters for quality decisions by providing information on all known restrictions and/or and/or
Used to indicate that either or both of the items connected by it are involved.
Usage Note: And/or is widely used in legal and business writing. pre-existing Adj. 1. pre-existing - existing previously or before something; "variations on pre-existent musical themes"
pre-existent, preexistent, preexisting
antecedent - preceding in time or order conditions that needed to be addressed by their teacher leadership teams. Research on school reform indicates that such collaborative decision making and shared governance Governance makes decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. It consists either of a separate process or of a specific part of management or leadership processes. Sometimes people set up a government to administer these processes and systems. is most effective in the implementation and sustaining of reforms (Corallo and McDonald, 2002; Cotton, 2003). Moreover, the creation of structures and processes to distribute leadership across an organization can help mitigate mit·i·gate
To moderate in force or intensity.
miti·gation n. the problem of frequent administrative and staff turnover that often plagues high-risk high-risk adjective Referring to an ↑ risk of suffering from a particular condition Infectious disease Referring to an ↑ risk for exposure to blood-borne pathogens, which occurs with blood bank technicians, dental professionals, dialysis unit schools (Lambert Lambert may refer to
Personal characteristics of each leader contributed greatly to the success of their efforts. Both project directors had strong inter-personal skills which helped them to build trust with their lead teachers. Some of the relational traits exhibited by the directors in common included sharing information openly, answering questions with "unflinching" honesty Honesty
See also Righteousness, Virtuousness.
ancient Greek personification of truth. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 18]
Better Business Bureau
nationwide system of organizations investigating dishonest business practices. [Am. ; modeling transparent reasoning and problem solving problem solving
Process involved in finding a solution to a problem. Many animals routinely solve problems of locomotion, food finding, and shelter through trial and error. processes, and providing thoughtful consideration of issues brought forth by staff members.
Another highly important factor in the effectiveness of these administrators was in their skillful skill·ful
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.
2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill. use of time. The creative use of time is vital to provide adequate time for teacher collaboration Working together on a project. See collaborative software. (Meyer Mey·er , Annie Florance Nathan 1867-1951.
American writer and a founder of Barnard College at Columbia University (1889). Her plays include The Dominant Sex (1911) and Black Souls (1932). , 2001; Donahoe, 1993). The project directors were able to find every available moment for meeting, and to squeeze every possible minute of time for professional learning. Staff meetings, departmental meetings were utilized for teacher planning and collaboration, in addition to contracted building professional development hours. In addition, the project leaders supported their teacher leaders, by ensuring them the time and resources to necessary to do work. Not only were teachers provided with ample time to meet (or travel to offsite learning opportunities) during the school day, their time outside the school day was validated val·i·date
tr.v. val·i·dat·ed, val·i·dat·ing, val·i·dates
1. To declare or make legally valid.
2. To mark with an indication of official sanction.
3. by professional development credit, flex-time, and/or contracted stipends. Because teacher planning time is covered by the contract, project directors worked with district and union leaders to provide common planning time for teacher teams. In both districts, letters of agreement between the district and union to establish protected common planning time were approved.
Once time has been found for collaboration, it is important that it not be wasted or usurped (Hargreaves, 1992). Both project administrators were proficient pro·fi·cient
Having or marked by an advanced degree of competence, as in an art, vocation, profession, or branch of learning.
An expert; an adept. at organizing the work and keeping it moving, by the development of agenda items, identification of "next steps", timely acquisition/provision of resources, establishment of timelines This article or section contains self-references.
For other uses of "Timeline", see Timeline (disambiguation).
The following is an index of timelines found on Wikipedia. and schedules, and effective communication with project stakeholders Project stakeholders are those entities within or without an organization which:
a) Sponsor a project or,
b) Have an interest or a gain upon a successful completion of a project. . All these behaviors created the space and the environment for the teachers to research, plan, brainstorm, and grow as professionals.
With Successful Change Come New Challenges
During the last two years that l have worked with these schools I have observed significant changes among the staff Teachers on the leadership teams at both schools have become transformed in many ways. As they increasingly became the leaders and communicators of the reform vision, their organizational roles began to shift and evolve. Leadership team members have assumed the responsibility to lead colleagues in the development of multiple professional learning communities in order to support the schools' move toward "wall to wall small learning communities" for their students. They have also assumed responsibility as instructional leaders, championing, modeling, and organizing research on and adoption of instructional changes for their respective small learning communities. The changes in roles, relationships, and responsibilities among teachers, and the implementation of teacher-driven recommendations appear to have directly and positively impacted the professional culture at each high school, as indicated by recent staff surveys.
However, issues of autonomy and control between the schools and district administrators have begun to crop up as the staffs at the two schools have become increasingly empowered in seeking reforms that restructure professional roles and/or responsibilities, and academic requirements and design. Schools' requests to implement substantive changes in student academic programs and requirements understandably have triggered district and school board scrutiny, and have necessitated the initiation of new collaborative work groups among expanded stakeholder stakeholder n. a person having in his/her possession (holding) money or property in which he/she has no interest, right or title, awaiting the outcome of a dispute between two or more claimants to the money or property. groups. Regrettably in a number of instances, though the districts originally sought the reform grant for their high school, district administrators have balked balk
v. balked, balk·ing, balks
1. To stop short and refuse to go on: The horse balked at the jump.
2. at changes innate to the reform design and intent. In one of the district, the local teachers' union became foe against the establishment of an increased pay schedule for teachers assuming the extra duties of leadership roles.
These sort of issues pose significant challenges for the success and sustainability of reforms. In order to address these problems, project leaders at both schools have found it necessary to devote additional time for the development of positive and supportive communications and work relationships between district curriculum coordinators and supervisors, and the building administrators and teacher leaders.
These two projects illustrate the impact of reforms based on teacher empowerment em·pow·er
tr.v. em·pow·ered, em·pow·er·ing, em·pow·ers
1. To invest with power, especially legal power or official authority. See Synonyms at authorize.
2. , collaboration and shared governance. As part of the annual grant reporting requirements, I interviewed the project administrators at each school and asked them what lessons they had to share about their efforts. Administrator "A" speaks first:
Teachers are as interested in positive change for their students as are other school policy makers and stakeholders. It's important for administrators to support teachers' access to quality research on best practices, and facilitate the appropriate use of detailed data on their school, students, town, necessary to guide innovation and evaluate progress. As teachers become the drivers for the change--become the core dreamers-professional learning time becomes an opportunity to articulate, design, and plan the realization of their professional dreams and goals. (Personal conversation, March 29, 2006).
Administrator "B" has slightly different but still strongly teacher-centered recommendations for leading collaborative reform:
Here are my recommendations on how to support the development of a professional learning team: Transparent decision making, collegiality, and collaboration. It's also important to identify and articulate clear standards and goals. Give strong support to teachers who lead; use consistent and approved practices for working with less enthusiastic staff. In other words, don't ignore noncompliance; but never maintain less than a professional relationship. And, don't put staff into untenable positions; don't ask them to do something that they don't have the resources or authority to accomplish. (Personal conversation, April 1, 2006).
Observation and identification of the factors that led to the successful and effective adoption of collaborative reforms at both schools indicates that today's administrators require a different set of leadership skills from those traditionally sought in urban high school leaders. The new version of high school reform--the creation of professional learning communities--demands they be instructional leaders, skilled in building relationships and driven to accomplish meaningful goals with their staff (Fiore, 2003). When administrators share power and leadership, they do not give up their stewardship stewardship
the occupation of being a steward or custodian. Referring to animals it implies the caring sort of relationship based on an acceptance of the need to include the rights of animals in overall plans to maintain financial viability. to have decisions or efforts meet standards of quality, nor their responsibility for facilitating the organization and pace of the work shared. But, in order for a learning community to be created, it is imperative that administrators work with teachers in an authentic and collaborative manner, and empower empower verb To encourage or provide a person with the means or information to become involved in solving his/her own problems them to be accountable for the identification and accomplishment of valued goals.
Yet once this dynamic is successfully established, it is not unusual for traditions, policies, roles, and power relationships to be questioned. Schools, districts, and communities need to be prepared that the redesign re·de·sign
tr.v. re·de·signed, re·de·sign·ing, re·de·signs
To make a revision in the appearance or function of.
re of learning environments to match how we want to learn and work in the 21st century will necessitate ne·ces·si·tate
tr.v. ne·ces·si·tat·ed, ne·ces·si·tat·ing, ne·ces·si·tates
1. To make necessary or unavoidable.
2. To require or compel. that many things comfortable to those traditionally in control will be challenged. The project administrators at the two schools found it necessary to negotiate their power, role and authority with the lead building and central office administrators, in order to lead the reform project in their buildings. To a degree these negotiations have never been settled, particularly with the central office, which in both districts has sought to preserve hierarchical authority relationships.
Conversations with the two administrators of these projects also indicate their feelings of the tenuousness, or conditionality, of the learning dynamic. They both report that their teachers have limited tolerance for obstruction obstruction /ob·struc·tion/ (ob-struk´shun)
1. the act of blocking or clogging.
2. block; occlusion; the state or condition of being clogged.obstruc´tive
n. or having their recommendations or efforts disregarded dis·re·gard
tr.v. dis·re·gard·ed, dis·re·gard·ing, dis·re·gards
1. To pay no attention or heed to; ignore.
2. To treat without proper respect or attentiveness.
n. by authorities. In an important way, the continuing success of the learning/growing dynamic in both buildings seems to be delicately balanced between the conditionality of teacher participation and the amount of true authority granted to the building and staff by higher administration. However, this balance is maintained by the support of time, resources, facilitation--and stewardship for the vision and quality of reforms--that these two administrators continue provide. Therefore, in order for the power of collaborative reforms to be fully realized, it is imperative that all stakeholders--central office administrators, school boards, building principals and teachers--be prepared to accept the emergence of new forms of authority relations and structures needed to support these reforms.
Corallo, C., & McDonald, D.H. (2002). What works with low-performing schools: A review of research. Charleston, WV; Retrieved August 14, 2006, from www.ael.org/ snaps/WhatWorks%2Epdf
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Fiore, D. (2003). Introduction to Educational Administration. Eye on Education.
Hargreaves, A. (1992). Time and teachers' work: An analysis of the intensification in·ten·si·fy
v. in·ten·si·fied, in·ten·si·fy·ing, in·ten·si·fies
1. To make intense or more intense: thesis. Teachers College Record, 94(1), 87-108.
Jolly, A. (2005). A facilitator's guide to professional learning teams,: Creating on-the-job opportunities for teachers to learn and grow. Greensboro, NC: SERVE. Retrieved August 6, 2006, from www.werve.org/_downloads/publications/PLTbook.pdf.
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Nancy Mansberger, Ed. D., is an assistant professor in the College of Education and a consultant with the Midwest Educational Research Consortium at Western Michigan University Western Michigan University, at Kalamazoo, Mich.; coeducational; founded in 1903 as Western State Normal School, became accredited in 1927 as a college, gained university status in 1957. .