We Talk? Professional Conversations at a Glance in Three Collaborative
Processes Theresa London Cooper
Recommended Book of the Month:
Teacher Study Groups: Building Community through Dialogue
and Reflection by Barb Birchak, Clay Connor, Kathleen Marie
Crawford, Leslie H. Kahn, Sandy Kaser, Susan Turner, and Kathy G.
of the best ways I know to be knowledgeable is to engage in ongoing
professional conversations. Educators come to value these meetings
for the increased collegiality and knowledge that ensue, which
eventually translate into higher student achievement.
stated, "two heads are better than one" often holds true when one
meets a challenge and attempts to solve a problem. It also holds
true for teachers who are willing to "push the envelope" of their
thinking to create a responsive environment for their students to
learn in meaningful, challenging and interesting ways. Over the
years, I have used three processes that have enabled me to develop
activities which creatively support student learning for both children
and adults. When I pause to reflect on a common thread that made
each process effective, it would be the practice of engaging in
what Reggie Routman refers to as "professional conversations."
Make a "critical" friend. It is helpful to have a "critical"
friend who will support your effort to reflect on and develop new
ways to improve your practice. John Dewey said the "chief aim of
teacher education should not be immediate proficiency in technique,
but rather thoughtful analysis and understanding. Reflection is
the "magic dust" for improvement. Individuals and schools who do
not have time to reflect do not have time to improve." A critical
friend is an invaluable resource who can support in-depth reflection
and meaningful change. Throughout my career, I have always sought
to maintain a relationship with a "critical" friend. I have come
to realize how important the relationship becomes to improving my
practice. Having ongoing professional conversations has helped me
clarify my thinking, examine my practice, and develop sound listening
skills. It has also supported my learning and application of new
and interesting ways to challenge my students. If you are interested
in using this model of collaboration, visit
a study group. Study groups provide wonderful opportunities
to problem solve teaching issues that arise in the classroom. Participants
experience the benefit of presenting concerns and receiving feedback
from a number of colleagues. Just last year, I met with a study
group to discuss ways to best support teachers. It was an awesome
experience. Each participant had an opportunity to share a particular
issue and problem solve with a group of colleagues. After hours
of professional conversations, writing, and application of the ideas
presented, each of us walked away with a deeper understanding of
how we could hone our practice as professional developers.
One of the structures we used to analyze our work was the Tuning
Protocol developed by Joseph McDonald and David Allen. It is a structure
used to reflect on teacher and student work.
A major element that underlies the Tuning Protocol is collegiality.
Carolyn Bunting's article "Teacher, Improve Thyself: A Call for
Self-Reliant, Reflective Practitioners (http: www.ascd.org/publications/class_lead/199908/bunting.html)
lists collegiality as one of the important elements of self reliance.
She asserts that when colleagues share their new found expertise
they boost their own classroom performance. Again, professional
conversations are a critical aspect of developing collegiality.
Take advantage of networking opportunities. In Reggie Routman's
book entitled, Reading Essentials:The Specifics You Need to Teach
Reading Well, she writes about the importance of having professional
conversations. She believes that to facilitate the best teaching
decisions for our students, we must be fully informed about credible
research, exemplary teaching practices, the social aspects of learning,
how children develop as learners, and much more. She further asserts
that one of the best ways to achieve these goals is by engaging
in ongoing professional conversations.
Routman believes through reading, studying, reflecting, and engaging
in professional conversation on our practice, we are able to be
decisive and have fresh ideas. Although the focus of her book is
reading, she writes about the importance of professional behaviors
that one can apply to any practice in order to learn, change and
Over the years, I have attended numerous conferences, seminars,
and other networking affairs. Never have I walked away without at
least one idea that I could try with my students to enrich the learning
environment. Indeed, it was because of my listening to and engaging
in professional conversations.
Teachers need time to work with each other, to think and analyze
and create conditions for change in their specific circumstances
and in ways that fit their own needs and their students (Birchak,
Connor, Crawford, Kahn, Kaser, Turner, Short, 1998). Making a "critical"
friend, engaging in a study group and attending conferences are
all practical examples of collaborating that will provide any participant
with a wealth of ideas to liven up a classroom. Can we talk? How
can these processes address your specific needs as a teacher and/or
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