Getting Together- Collaborative Education Reform…

flickr photo via Barbara L. Hanson

Children arrive at school expecting to learn. Teachers arrive at school expecting to teach. Parents, for the most part, trust that this exchange works smoothly and that their children’s learning needs are addressed effectively at school. Simple right?

Actually, not so simple. There are variables at play in the learning exchange that complicate what should be the fairly simple process of teachers teaching and kids learning. Every child is unique; each one has a story that arrives at school with them. I call these stories learning stories, and I have yet to encounter one that didn’t include challenges.

In order for teachers to provide care that addresses these challenges responsively and effectively, we have to get together with significant others in the communities we serve; we have to collaborate with them to provide service that wraps around kids and draws them in. We have to access the skills and knowledge that exists broadly outside the walls of our school buildings to fully support the whole growth of children. The web of helping professionals within our communities is complex and fragmented. Children’s services aren’t coordinated in efficient and productive ways. We have to change this. We all have to collaborate to help kids write their own stories. Even the online education world is recognizing that applied analytics can help a great deal in learning what is working for students and what is not. Analyzing the learning tendencies, patterns, strengths and preferences of kids has a tremendous upside if we are to effectively design instruction that suits each child’s individual needs. Before we can do this well however, teachers have to understand that there is a ridiculous amount of insight we can gain from others who work with kids in different supportive contexts. We have to get collaborative.

The shift to collaborative supports for children in schools has to begin at the beginning. Each new generation of teachers is quickly familiarized with segregated and closed learning environments upon entering university. Pre-service teachers are educated and prepared for their professional roles in relative isolation, and so are all of the other helping professionals within their own faculties. I have never understood this… we all inevitably end up serving the same client base, yet we don’t receive any coordinated training to do so. The medical field is beginning to recognize the folly of this segregated approach to preparing their ranks for professional service.

The Imperative for Interprofessional Education (IPEC) released two groundbreaking reports this spring that recommend competencies for interprofessional health education to promote collaborative, team-based care, and strategies to implement them. IPEC appears to understand that it’s not always money that’s required to make positive change. IPEC understands that investing in human capital is the path to creating service that is better, faster and cheaper. Human capital involves people-centered standards as opposed to systems-centered standards. It’s a different kind of capital that we invest in the form of ideas and evolving paradigms that improve what we do without costing a dime. So much human capital is poorly invested when we segregate ourselves as helping professionals starting the minute we enter our professional training.

Teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, psychologists, therapists… even non-degree requiring professionals like police and probation officers, child-care workers, teacher assistants etc… why don’t these people receive any pre-service training that would put them in the same room to learn, share ideas, reflect and debate about the most effective collaborative strategies to serve the common denominator that binds them all… the children they will collectively serve once entering the field in their respective communities? Not doing so produces many unnecessary and debilitating barriers.

I’m going to return to my opening statement…

Children arrive at school expecting to learn. Teachers arrive at school expecting to teach. Parents, for the most part, trust that this exchange works smoothly and that their children’s learning needs are addressed effectively at school.

To make this process simple as it should be, the education system must recognize that in order for positive and productive teaching and learning environments to thrive, teachers have to be allowed the privilege to be the part of the process that allows them to play to their strengths. Teachers teach, that’s what they’re trained to do; that’s what they’re comfortable and confident doing, but the litany of social, emotional and family challenges that kids are dealing with makes it so hard to focus on learning, and in turn, teaching. Trying to teach kids who are struggling with such difficult social, emotional and relational challenges is so much cart, not enough horse.

The supports and services available to kids within their communities outside of school need to be readily and consistently available to them inside the school if we are to distribute our differentiated professional strengths as responsible significant others in the lives of children. A new generation of holistic KARE Givers will be conceived the minute we begin to understand as professionals that we have to start talking to each other long before we begin practicing in the field to grow understanding of what the differing supportive professional cohorts can offer kids, and more importantly, how best to deliver the service from a central and coordinated vantage point inside our schools. Nowhere else within any community is there a better and more appropriate place for kids to receive coordinated support services than from within our school buildings.

Once this new wave of like-minded and cohesive professionals enters the field we will see the positive effects in a new generation of kids who benefit from their caring and collaborative perspective. As these kids travel their learning paths over a thirteen year spectrum within a new context of public education, they will change. They will know what authentic support looks, sounds and feels like in school growing to implicitly understand that learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and that to a child, each individual’s needs are unique and worth the wrap-a-round effort of the multi-faceted and highly skilled super teams of diverse professionals working together inside schools. Some of these kids will become the teachers, doctors, nurses, therapists, police officers etc. that will wrap the gift of caring they received in school around yet another generation of hopeful and worthy kids.

This is how I think the circle needs to be drawn.

4 comments for “Getting Together- Collaborative Education Reform…

  1. Dan
    June 8, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I really enjoyed your post,especially since this is something we are working on for pro-d in our district. Our big question is how do we tackle this now? I agree we need to focus on those new teachers coming into the profession, but think it is equally important we find a way to bring elementary and high school teachers together to collaborate on standards based grading, assessment for learning, differentiated instruction, etc.

  2. July 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Dan, I couldn’t agree with you more. My answer to bringing teachers across the grade spectrum together in the interest of establishing standards-based grading is found at http://bit.ly/haKa93. At this post I describe the process as “writing student’s stories,” using the tool referred to as a personal learning story… a 13 year continuum of strengths-based assessment and evidence of learning. Please let me know what you think.
    Cheers,
    Sean

  3. annie
    December 1, 2011 at 5:30 am

    Good on you! You’ve made a number of great points. Here are some random thoughts. Not sure if they’re on target or not?Certainly caring, collaborative, cooperative, communicative communication is at the heart of teaching and learning.

    And this includes hearing and listening… not sure if organising an online “suggestion box” for students and teachers alike that will help to create an ongoing positive interactive place where parents, students, teachers, and / or other support professionals can post a positive comment, offer a suggestion, pose a question etc. with the emphasis on solution oriented suggestions! Is this what you’re talking about? If someone has a query, (teacher and / or student) another teacher and / or student may have a possible solution.

    Recently, I have been researching books written by very experienced teachers for newer teachers. And books for students, in particular, young learners. I’m absolutely amazed at the number of great books that are available that help teaching professionals address the range of problems they face. And I’m happy to to share titles, authors etc. if anyone’s interested.

    Your idea to invite teachers to liase with other support professionals is a great idea.Why not invite a different support professional to visit the school each month? Or what about creating an inservice day and invite support professionals to attend? Quite possibly they will be able to offer positive ideas and solutions that can indirectly address the variety of challenges students (and their teachers) face. People helping people. At the very least the lines of communication will be open.

    What about inviting some of your local support professionals to a picnic (hamburgers, hotdogs on the grill, potato salad and cupcakes) or to an informal gathering, i.e., someone’s birthday party at the school where someone organises cupcakes and punch, something casual, lighthearted.

    Do you ever organise a weekend fund raiser, a car wash or bake sale, if yes, why not invite some of the support professionals to participate. If you schedule times, they could come for a couple of hours each, so it wouldn’t be too much to ask. Anyway, there are ways to organise these events so they’re fun for everyone and instructional too. Because the events can give kids more topics they can write about.

    Maybe now and then they can speak to students informally in the classrooms. or only to an interested students and teachers in an assembly meeting. They can talk about their role, their vision and mission. Teachers are positive role models, and so are all the other support professionals. Creating more opportunities for collaboration, cooperation and occasions to get together will create more synergy and teamwork and more positive outcomes for everyone concerned.

  4. December 1, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Thank you for your response Annie. You mention some great ideas to build a network of collaborative professionals through friendly, casual PR efforts. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about that angle to building bridges between the helping professionals.
    Thanks for reading.

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