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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research:
Teacher Networks:
Hand in Hand: From Isolation to Collaboration

The Question:

How can common preparation periods be used to increase teacher collaboration?

The institutionalization of collaborative working environments is widely considered to be critical to the creation and maintenance of schools as professional learning communities. Prevailing thought suggests that improved student performance may be fully realized only when teachers routinely function as teams and abandon their traditional norms of isolationism and individualism. (Leonard, L. & Leonard, P.,2003).

Rationale

On September 13, 2004 I began working in C.E.S. 73 in the Bronx as one of the Lead Teacher for Community Collaborative to Improve District 9 Schools, more commonly known as CC9. One of the responsibilities of this assignment is to serve as mentor to five fifth grade teachers. I am scheduled to work with my teachers in their classrooms three periods every day and once a month during their common preparation period.

One afternoon, early in the school year, as I walked the fifth floor hallway at C.E.S. 73, I noticed that during the common preparation period my teachers were scattered throughout classrooms, one or two in each. Collaboration among teachers did not seem to be encouraged by the administration and consequently they did not feel it was important. A few years ago, teacher collaboration wasn't on anyone's agenda. Now, teaching is no longer a solitary act behind closed doors. Teachers are calling for more resources that allow them the time to collaborate. Finding the time to meet, share, and discuss issues around practice has been very difficult for teachers. I realized I would need to work very hard to develop within my teachers a sense of community, trust, “critical friendship”, and collaboration. I set out to find out if the common preparation period could be the means by which this would be achieved.

Background/Context

C.E.S. 73 is located in the Bronx, District 9, Region 1. The neighborhood is mostly high-poverty with a high percentage of Hispanics (70%) and African Americans (28.3%). The school has an enrollment of 869 (which has been consistently dropping since 2002 when enrollment was 1,069) with 96.7% eligible for free lunch. Our English Language population now stands at 226 students many of which are performing below standards. Student suspensions are increasing (2002: 3.7%; 2004: 19.0% in comparison to city school suspensions which are now at 10.2%). This rise in suspensions may reflect the difficulty with discipline problems fifth grade teachers are experiencing in their classrooms.

Research

As I researched my question on how to increase teacher collaboration I turned to the work of Leonard, L. & Leonard, P. (2003), Hoerr (2005), Howland, J. & Picciotto, H. ( 2003) who emphasize the need for teachers to have scheduled time to meet and share in joint common activities. They maintain that teachers are dissatisfied with scheduling and appropriations of time, which often deters collaboration. Lack of time is a major problem in schools because there are so many programs and activities that teachers are involved in planning and conducting that there is no time left for professional collaboration.

Tools

During common preparation meetings with teachers, agendas were planned around specific goals in order for teachers to have a focus for their work. Informal classroom observations then followed to assist teachers in carrying out their goals. Peer observations were encouraged and arranged so that a feeling of “critical friendship” could be developed. Math curriculum manuals were available for lesson planning. Final products were students’ assessment portfolios, focus lessons for assessment preparation, student assessment summary sheets, and one curriculum map.

Data

All data was collected during the common preparation periods. At the beginning of the year, common preparation meetings were held once a week, every Wednesday. As the year progressed, however, teachers became overwhelmed with stringent accountability measures and as a result, towards the end of the year, meetings were held sporadically but at least once a month.

Analysis

My work resulted in the emergence of some principal themes:

  1. The common preparation period can be one way to mentor new teachers
  2. The common preparation period can be used to train teachers in being “critical friends”
  3. Teacher collaboration can be achieved through the common preparation period
  4. Teacher collaboration through the common preparation period can be used to help teachers complete their daily tasks and responsibilities.

Policy Recommendations

  1. Find ways for teachers and school staff to collaborate on significant changes needed in the school.
  2. Seek ways to reformulate the roles and authority of teachers and administrators.
  3. Consider reformulating staffing, resources, time, and space to increase collaboration.

Carmen Vargas

Research Focus:
Teacher Collaboration

TNLI Affiliate:
New York City

School:
PS 73
1020 Anderson Avenue
Bronx, NY 10452


If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.

 

 

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