The SURF Board: a collaborative strategy.
Schools across the United States are faced with increased student diversity and the challenge of providing a high-quality education for all students as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Collaboration among school staff is one method to effectively meet the multiple needs of a diverse student population. The benefits of, as well as the barriers to, successful collaboration have been well-documented. This article provides a description of the SURF (Sharing Useful Resources Forum) Board: a strategy that increases collaborative relationships among school staff members while addressing collaboration barriers. Benefits and barriers of collaboration are reviewed, and specific steps in designing and implementing the SURF Board are provided.
The Importance of Collaboration
On January 8, 2003, the United States celebrated the first anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act. This was an important reminder of our commitment and responsibility to provide a high-quality education for all students regardless of background, ability, or income. However, translating that message into reality (i.e., practice) is not easy. Schools and teachers across the United States are reminded on a daily basis of their daunting task to teach an increasingly diverse population of students. The dimensions of student diversity are broad and may include cultural, linguistic, academic, social, and/or behavioral differences among students. For example, a general education fifth grade class may include a student from Mexico who doesn't speak English, a student with a learning disability who reads on a second grade level, a student who misses school frequently because she is bullied during lunch, and a student with attention deficit disorder (ADD) who is frequently off task, in addition to 20 other students with individual needs. These are the types of challenges teachers face daily that may also lead to students "being left behind." Teachers are frequently in positions to make complex decisions regarding educational service delivery with less than adequate knowledge. No single person has, or can be expected to have, all the answers. Consequently, a key message in school reform is that improved educational outcomes are facilitated when professionals and families work together collaboratively to increase service delivery coordination within our schools so all students succeed (Mostert, 1996).
Collaboration is one sensible solution to support teachers so that no child is left behind. Although collaboration is a frequently used term in education, definitions vary. Conceptualizations have included reciprocal effort (Mostert, 1996), consultation and teaming (Idol, Nevin, & Paolucci-Whitcomb, 1994), and shared responsibilities (Risko & Bromley, 2001). What seems to be similar across conceptualizations is that collaboration involves working together in supportive and beneficial relationships (Friend & Cook, 2002). There are many reported benefits of collaboration. Novice teachers may benefit from the breadth of knowledge shared by more experienced colleagues that may be difficult or time consuming to learn through trial and error (Mostert, 1996). Experienced teachers may learn new teaching practices and be exposed to the energy and enthusiasm that is characteristic of new teachers. In addition, school support teams may be more successful and efficient by sharing expertise to generate multiple solutions for failing students (Risko & Bromley, 2001). Moreover, families may benefit from interactions with schools that promote cultural understandings and connection. Lastly, collaboration within schools may benefit all students in terms of academic and social outcomes.
Despite the potential for multiple positive outcomes, successful collaborative efforts are difficult. There are numerous barriers that should be acknowledged and addressed. The first barrier is time. Inherent within collaborative relationships is the coordination of conflicting schedules in order to build relationships, share information, and solve problems. Allocating sufficient time for these activities is difficult and frequently one of the first identified barriers to collaboration (Friend & Cook, 2002, Mostert, 1996; Risko & Bromley, 2001). A second barrier related to time is sustained commitment (Mostert, 1996). Many times individuals who have expertise may be available only for brief periods of time, whereas successful collaboration may involve extended commitment. Withdrawing early in a collaborative relationship may leave others with the task of finding new partners with needed expertise or taking on additional responsibility. Both outcomes may overburden the collaborative process. A third common barrier involves resistance to collaborative efforts (Mostert, 1996). One of the defining characteristics for collaboration is voluntary status (Friend & Cook, 2002); therefore, forcing individuals to participate is counterproductive. However, there may be individuals who need assistance or who have knowledge and skills to offer but are hesitant due to limited experience with collaboration or insecurities about requesting assistance. These individuals should not be discounted and may eventually become valuable contributors to a collaborative process if the right "fit" is found.
Despite the barriers identified, we believe collaboration is imperative for all aspects of education in order to improve educational outcomes for all students. The remainder of this paper, therefore, will present a collaboration strategy called the SURF (Sharing Useful Resources Forum) Board that addresses these barriers and offers a method to increase collaborative relationships among school staff members.
What is the SURF Board?
The SURF Board refers to the place where school personnel can initiate time-efficient and user-friendly collaboration. Simply stated, the SURF Board is a strategically placed bulletin board that provides a forum for people working in schools (e.g., teachers, related service personnel, administrators) to request and share information. This information is specific to the skills teachers may need to ensure students are successful in school (i.e., social skills, behavior management, academic interventions, issues related to diversity).
This is how it works: A place in the school, which is highly visible to staff, is identified--for example, the teachers' lounge or break room. Once this place is located, the SURF Board is designed and placed there. Key to this is designing an attractive SURF Board so it can gain and maintain the attention of school personnel. Then, school personnel use the SURF Board by posting requests for or offers of assistance (e.g., ideas, materials, and expertise). For example, a teacher may have a new student in her/his class who has behavioral needs related to ADD. Although the school may have a Student Support Team designed to help teachers problem-solve challenging student issues, the teacher may not be able to fully access the Team due to limited time or conflicting schedules (i.e., can't meet when the team meets; unable to have sustained involvement). Instead, the teacher of this student could write a request for assistance (e.g., strategies to help the student stay on task) and then post this request on the SURF Board. Another teacher, who has many years of teaching experience, sees the request for assistance and contacts the teacher who posted it to share ideas. This experienced teacher may have been resistant in the past to more formal collaboration but this informal collegial interaction may be more appealing. The two teachers would then meet to talk about strategies to help the student stay on task. This type of interaction could meet the limited time and schedule constraints of the requesting teacher, be more acceptable to the offering teacher, and not require a long-term commitment for either teacher.
Another scenario of using the SURF Board involves a staff member offering an idea, materials, or his/her expertise. For example, a teacher attends a workshop on using manipulatives to teach algebra and wants to share her/his materials with others but does not like to present to a large group nor has the time to prepare a formal presentation. As an appropriate alternative, this staff member would post a note on the SURF Board that she/he has these materials and would like to share this information. Any staff member who is interested would then contact this person to obtain the materials and information as long as the offering staff member is willing or has the time to be involved. As discussed in the first scenario, this type of collaboration could provide a good solution to the barriers of time, commitment, and resistance.
Knowing the benefits and importance of collaboration is the first step in addressing the charge of No Child Left Behind. We see the SURF Board as one way to enhance and encourage collaboration in an efficient and effective way. The following sections describe in detail the steps needed to format the SURF Board, use the SURF Board, and manage the SURF Board. In addition, we discuss the benefits of using the SURF Board to address the barriers associated with collaboration and how it can be used to address the needs of all children.
How to Format the SURF Board
The specific details of the SURF Board should be tailored to the needs of the staff and students in a particular school. For example, if a school is experiencing a high influx of students whose primary language is not English, but do not have any students with fragile medical conditions, then the SURF Board would focus more on diversity issues and less on medical issues. We suggest schools initially include four posting areas on the SURF Board (i.e., social skills, behavior, academics, diversity) until they have a better understanding of student and staff needs. In addition, the SURF Board should be placed in a prominent location, have a title and include a hook (i.e., something to draw attention and maintain interest). Below, we provide specific guidelines for the location, title, hook, and posting areas.
* Discuss whether or not parents and visitors should be able to see the board (i.e., Is it necessary that the information on the SURF Board be kept confidential?),
* Place the SURF Board in an accessible, high traffic area, and
* Make it easy for people to interact with in their daily routines.
The placement of the SURF Board is key to its success. For example, the teachers lounge or break room may be a good place. However, it is important to decide if people outside the school, such as parents and visitors, should be able to see it. This is due to student confidentiality issues. The need or desire to keep the board confidential may have an impact upon its placement.
* Make a banner or sign announcing the area as the SURF Board, and
* Use clip art and a border that will draw people's attention.
The title identifies the bulletin board and clip art provides an attractive theme for the SURF Board. For example, you can use the title SURF Board with clip art of surf boards at the top of the board and cut-outs of waves to use as the border. This provides an attractive board that is eye-catching at first glance.
* Discuss types of hooks that will attract school staff to the SURF Board,
* Place in the middle of the bulletin board,
* Change often enough so that people do not become bored, and
* Include contests and small prizes to keep people coming back.
The hook provides an interactive component to keep people coming to and interacting with the SURF Board. Some examples of hooks include: 1) recipes, 2) jokes or cartoons, 3) baby pictures ("Guess which staff member 1 am"), 4) animal pictures ("Guess which staff member owns me"), 5) announcements of social events taking place, and 6) guess who? (Information about an unnamed staff member such as favorite food, book, movie, actor, vacation spot, etc.). Since the goal of the SURF Board is for school staff to look at and use the bulletin board, the hook should be something that will appeal to a wide variety of staff members and should be centrally located. School members should choose one hook, which then may be changed periodically to maintain a high level of engagement. Small prizes, such as school supplies, may be given to staff members who participate in the hook activity.
* Post requests for assistance or offers of assistance,
* Divide the board into two sections (top-to-bottom or side-by-side) leaving room for the hook in the middle and labeling the sections into needing assistance and offering assistance, or
* Divide the board into multiple sections, such as social skills, behavior, academics, and diversity, or
* Do not divide the board into sections but instead use two different colors of paper: one to post requests for assistance and another color to post offers of assistance.
The posting areas are the most important section of the SURF Board. Staff members are responsible for posting requests for or offers of assistance. It is important to make it easy for people to both find requests and make offers of assistance as well as find the hook. For example, color coding the different types of assistance (offers or requests), as well as dividing the board into sections labeled social skills, behavior, academics, and diversity, makes it easy for staff members to see what is posted without having to spend much time searching for information.
How to Use the SURF Board
To ensure the SURF Board is time efficient and helpful in collaborating, it should provide specific and clear information in a user-friendly format. To do this, requests for and offers of assistance should be clearly written and provide the appropriate information. Below, we offer some guidelines for requesting and offering assistance.
1. Staff member writes request for or offer of assistance (e.g., materials, information, service) on a post-it note, index card, or piece of paper and attaches it to the board in the corresponding area;
2. His/her name should be written on the back of the card;
3. To maintain confidentiality, students' names or other individually identifying information should not be included in the request,
4. For requests for assistance, a staff member notices the request, takes the note off the board and meets with the requester, and
5. If after meeting questions still remain (or new ones arise), a new card can be placed on the board.
6. For offers of assistance, staff members wishing to receive assistance contact the offering staff member; and
7. If or when the offering staff member becomes too busy or runs out of items to offer, he/she should remove the offer for assistance from the board.
HOW to Manage the SURF Board
To ensure the SURF Board remains of high interest and is useful to staff members, it is important to have someone oversee its implementation. This person is essential to maintaining and modifying the SURF Board so interest remains high and collaboration continues. Below, we provide some guidelines for finding a coordinator, and the tasks this person should do to maintain the SURF Board.
1. Identify someone who has the time to check the board and change the hook regularly (e.g., every other week, once a month),
2. Develop and maintain the board,
3. Make sure the board meets staff needs,
4. Monitor postings--those up for more than 1 month should come down,
5. Troubleshoot problems with usage of the board,
6. Keep people interacting with the board through reminders at meetings or through notices in staff newsletters, and
7. Rotate coordinator periodically (e.g., every month, semester, or quarter).
Benefits of Using the SURF Board
The key benefits of the SURF Board are: it is time efficient; easy to manage and sustain; and encourages participation without placing specific demands on people. The SURF Board is time efficient because information (i.e., requests for information or offers of assistance) is placed in a high traffic area accessible to staff on a regular basis. It is easy to maintain because the coordinator rotates and no one person is expected to spend more than a few minutes each week updating the board.
The SURF Board also provides a subtle method to encourage collaboration among school staff who may be resistant. The SURF Board accomplishes this by letting people post requests and offers as needed and by encouraging staff to collaborate one-on-one rather than presenting to the entire staff. This form of collaboration may be seen as more acceptable and therefore encourage people to collaborate who may not have otherwise participated. Addressing the challenges inherent with increased student diversity is an important task for every educator. Collaboration is essential if we are to meet our responsibility and commitment to provide high-quality education to all students as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Although there are many benefits associated with collaboration, educators need solutions to overcome the barriers. The SURF Board is one such solution.
Friend, M, & Cook, L. (2002). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (4th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Idol, L., Nevin, A., & Paolucci-Whitcomb, P. (1994). Collaborative consultation (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Mostert, M. P. (1996). Interprofessional collaboration in schools: Benefits and barriers in practice. Preventing School Failure, 40, 135-138.
Risko, V. J., & Bromley, K. (2001). New visions of collaboration. In V. J. Risko & K. Bromely (Eds.), Collaboration for diverse learners: Viewpoints and practices (pp. 9-19). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Sally M. Barton-Arwood, Vanderbilt University
Michelle K. Hosp, University of Utah
John L. Hosp, University of Utah
Sally Barton-Arwood. Ph.D., is an assistant professor of special education. Her areas of interest include teacher preparation and positive behavior support. Michelle Hosp, Ph.D., is assistant professor of special education. Her research interests include reading and formative evaluation. John Hosp, Ph.D., is assistant professor of special education.