THE BLOG
11/03/2014 03:37 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2015

Improving Teaching Through Collegial Support

Hongqi Zhang via Getty Images

Teachers delight in that look that comes across a child's face when they know and grow in ways they couldn't before. That beaming smile. That air of confidence. That belief in their own potential. This is no easy process, but great teachers make it happen in America's schools everyday. We can develop systems to empower all teachers with the capacity to launch this learning for students. To get there we need shared expertise, collaboration and a collective effort to constantly improve our best practice. The following are four key focal points in moving our schools to focus on professional capacity-building.

1. Address teacher time.

America's teachers work longer hours than counterparts in the highest performing countries, according to a 2014 international survey. Yet, our international counterparts have far more time in their work day to hone their craft and in-turn make their time with students more effective. To undertake this work, we must find time to do so effectively. We must address this teaching gap by recognizing the complexity of graduating students ready for a dynamic future, and investing the time for educators to make that return possible. Limit teacher time spent on hall duties, committees, one-size fits few training, and other lesser priorities and make additional collaborative planning time a priority in negotiated contracts.

2. Foster collaborative cultures in schools.

For years we have asked how to recruit more of the "best and brightest" to the teaching ranks or limited our focus to a tiny sliver of ineffective teachers, in either case limiting efforts to "human capital." While human capital matters, we have to broaden our focus to growing the entire profession. Research shows that "human capital" is outpaced by "social capital," or efforts to cultivate collaborative cultures. These environments are characterized by a high sense of trust and candor, and allow teachers to bring their hidden struggles into the light of collegial support. We should emphasize the school administrators role as a climate leader.

3. Embrace collective responsibility.

Goals for student outcomes can be a collaborative agreement between teachers and school level administrators, which encourages ownership. Working with colleagues to meet these goals in an environment of trust and support leads to internal accountability to the group rather than heavy-handed accountability from above. This collective focus and responsibility to one another can energize teacher teams and build horizontal strength across faculties.

4. Deliberately delve into instruction.

Time and culture don't move us forward if it does not result in improved practice and skills. Build the capacity of teacher teams to work through specific processes to improve instruction together. Teachers should engage in pointed co-planning of lessons and co-writing assessments while sharing strategies, techniques and expertise. Then, teachers should score and analyze student work together, illuminating differences for discussion and clarification.

Too often our media attention focuses on highlighting the few ineffective teachers with 'solutions' that would weaken the profession overall. Our children deserve a national emphasis on bolstering education in every classroom through systemic, on-going, collegial support. We can ensure that every child gets great instruction because we share our strengths.

One of the enduring joys and challenges of teaching is that each student is unique. No matter how they are gifted, each needs their own recipe of customized support, opportunities, and feedback in order to thrive. Teachers are no different, and our collective growth will be the lever to continue preparing children for a dynamic future.