28 April, 2016
The administrator comes into play because teachers do not have time to work together.
The school administrator is a vital factor in successful math and science teacher collaboration.
Through focus group conversations of schools doing math and science teacher collaboration, there are four behavioral priorities for administrators that might help foster and sustain these critical collaborations.
Recommendation #1: Effective Communication
Communication effectiveness relies on the quality of the message and the method of communication. Administrators should take into account both what they want to communicate and what is the best way to communicate that message to math and science teacher teams. In the data from this study, teachers and effective administrators referred to communication as two-way and most often as face-to-face, as in a formal staff meeting, collaboration, or even a classroom visit. In the focus group conversations, electronic communication was mostly reserved for communicating updates, reports, and calendaring.
The method of the communication should be collaborative instead of directive; meaning that communications typically start out with a question, “What do you think?” rather than, “You need to do this…” Teachers expressed appreciation for administrators who communicated a clear vision and expectations of performance. While expression of a clear vision might seem directive in nature, the truth is that it provides a foundation upon which teachers can make relationships of trust with the administrator because they know what he or she wants and expects. The other message that administrators should deliver is supportive feedback, both in terms of what is going well and what is not going so well.
Recommendation #2: Time to Collaborate
The administrator should make available at least 55 minutes during the school-day for math and science teachers to collaborate on data disaggregation, coordinated lessons, evaluations, and teacher skill building. Assigning common planning periods can most effectively do this. Other ideas includes once a week starting later so teachers can attend collaboration sessions, adjusting the class schedule as if for a rally by shaving off a few minutes from each session, or early release so teachers do not have to stay after school. The administrator should also plan for at least a half day once each six weeks for math and science teachers to get involved in deep planning of standards alignment, sequencing and evaluations.
Recommendation #3: Administrator Involvement
Administrator time is stretched thin with all of the duties for which they are accountable, but showing an effort to engage in teacher collaborations with the teachers sends the message of the importance of the collaborations and promotes more effective collaborations as a result. While in the collaboration, the administrator is expected to be a team member, not simply an observer, and not the leader of the team. Electronic collaborations can include the administrator in the same fashion. If the administrator cannot make the meeting, a notice should be given to the team and a request for notes from the meeting.
On the teacher side, knowing that the administrator knows what should be done helps keep standards high and allows teachers and administrators a greater degree of cooperation and conversation about the results.
Recommendation #4: Professional Development
Too often the professional development given was a one-session workshop on a process or skill and after the training it was never referenced again. Topics of these workshops tended to be overly broad so as to be applicable to all teachers at all grade levels. Yet what the teachers wanted most was professional improvement that was specific to the current needs of their students and their classrooms. While they appreciated it when the administrator supported them by sending them to conferences and workshops, the most powerful professional development was job-embedded and data-driven.
Job-embedded professional development involves providing substitutes for teachers to see exemplary teachers in action and providing time for math and science teachers to collaborate. The ultimate goal of math and science teacher collaboration should be to enhance the teaching capacity of math and science teachers. Administrators should provide professional development in their faculty meetings and in-service days in which they model the expected behaviors that they want the teachers to utilize.