From “My” Students to “Our” Students
by Jenny Williams, SCSBC Director of Educational Support Services ◊
Throughout the pandemic, teachers have worked in isolation, and many educators feel like they are less able to support the increasingly complex needs of students. When we work together as a community and shift our perspective from “my” classroom and “my” kids to “our” school and “our” kids, we have more capacity to support student well-
“Quality teaching is not an individual accomplishment; it is the result of a collaborative culture that empowers teachers to team up to improve student learning beyond what any one of them can achieve alone.”T. Carroll, The next generation of learning teams. Phi Delta Kappan (2009), 91(2), 9-13.
To facilitate a collective and compassionate response to student needs, we need structures to facilitate educator conversations and collaboration, where educators come together and discuss student strengths and needs, effective supports and practices, and ways to evaluate the success of these practices. “What schools most need now is to begin harnessing the power of collective intelligence that already resides in the school to solve problems.” 1
Role of School Leaders
School administrators play a crucial role in shaping a school culture that fosters collective stewardship and shared responsibility for students, collaboration to solve problems, productive management of conflict, and strong relational trust. According to Eastwood and Lewis,
“Creating a collaborative culture is the single most important factor for successful school improvement initiatives and the first order of business for those seeking to enhance the effectiveness of their schools.”K. Eastwood, & K.S. Lewis, (1992). “Restructuring that lasts: Managing the performance dip.” Journal of School Leadership, 2(2), 2013-224.
Collaboration is when a group of people share ideas from various perspectives to come up with solutions to challenges. The term collaboration comes from the Latin root words “com,” meaning “together,” and “laborare,” meaning to “labour.” Effective collaboration involves labouring together to develop ideas that will help meet challenges beyond one individual’s capacity to solve on their own. True collaboration happens within the context of trust, where educators can have open conversations about what is and is not working and engage in improvement and change.
School leaders who ensure that the structures and processes are in place to facilitate educators working together to address the learning needs of students will foster the development of “professional capital.”2 We rely on administrators to prioritize the budget, time, and processes needed for effective collaboration and problem-solving to support student well-being and success.
Establishing Collaborative Teams at Kamloops Christian School
Well-structured teams are needed to support effective and trusting dialogue among educators. This will increase the capacity educators have to meet the needs of students. The focus is on solving problems and developing effective practices that increase their ability to support student well-being and success. Kamloops Christian School has adopted the “Collaborative Response Model”3 to build four collaborative structures to construct a tiered or layered approach to responding to student needs.
The school built a collaborative response framework over three all-staff professional development days on developing effective collaboration, collaboration teams, tier 1 classroom supports and strategies, and team meeting processes. They outlined three tiers of support for students in a menu of interventions, strategies, and accommodations for responding to students’ needs. Next, the school established four types of collaborative teams listed below. The staff co-created clearly stated norms and set specific meeting agendas to ensure consistent, purposeful, and effective collaboration within each team.
1. Collaborative Planning Meetings
Weekly early dismissal meetings provide time for teachers to collaborate in grade-level teams to refine resources, lessons, assessments, and instructional strategies to support the students in their classroom.
2. Collaborative Team Meetings
Monthly collaborative team meetings with administrators, a cohort of 5-8 teachers, and education assistants, ensure as much as possible was being done at a Tier 1 level in the classroom before accessing more intensive Tier 2 supports with more specialized support outside the classroom. The focus is on identifying the key issues in classes and working out what additional accommodations, strategies, and supports can be implemented to address the needs identified. The hope is that emphasizing effective instructional supports in the classroom will reduce the need for more specialized support outside the classroom at a Tier 2-3 level. Refer to the diagram above for a description of each tier of support. A pre-meeting organizer for collaborative team meetings provides Kamloops Christian School staff with a way to gather information about student celebrations and concerns. Participants know the agenda beforehand so each meeting is efficient and focused.
3. School Support Team Meetings
Every two weeks, administrators, a cohort of class teachers, learning support teachers and coordinators, and a counsellor meet to discuss students who need more specialized supports to succeed. A pre-meeting organizer is completed by staff before each meeting to give input about specific student celebrations, students of concern, and actions already taken. This pre-planning facilitates focused and productive collaboration to support students needing support at a Tier 2-3 level.
4. Case Consultation Team Meetings
Case consultation meetings with administrators, learning support teachers and coordinators, outside professionals, and the class teacher(s) are held to discuss planning for students requiring a more intensive level of support. This may be required when there is a crisis, such as a mental health crisis, serious behaviour incidents, or when the school needs support from experts outside of the school. The case consultation meeting facilitates a wraparound support model where the identification of needs, planning, and support is shared among home, school, and community agencies.
Collaborative Response – Pulling it all Together
The principal of Kamloops Christian School stated that she found the practice of collaborating is helping expand staff understanding of the unique strengths and challenges of students and build educators’ toolkit of effective strategies. The structure of collaborative team meetings is one of the key components for ensuring student well-being and success in a collaborative response model. The other two components are: establishing systems for gathering data & evidence and developing a continuum of layered supports. All three ensure a schoolwide systematic and sustainable school improvement process. Zmuda et al. (2004) provides observations about an effective school system,
“A competent system requires several significant shifts – from unconnected thinking to systems thinking, from an environment of isolation to one of collegiality, from perceived reality to information-driven reality, and from individual autonomy to collective autonomy and collective accountability.”A. Zmuda, R. Kuklis, & E. Kline, (2004). Transforming schools: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Taking a whole school community systematic collaborative response will enable schools to establish an effective and sustainable approach to supporting the needs of educators and students that will promote well-being and success for all those entrusted to our care.
- R. DuFour, R. DuFour, R. Eaker, & G. Karhanek, Whatever it takes: How professional learning communities respond when kids don’t learn. National Education Service (2004).
- A. Harreaves, & M. Fullan, (2012). Professional Capital: Transforming teaching in every school. Teachers College Press.
- K. Hewson & L. Hewson, (2022). Collaborative Response: Three Foundational Components That Transform How We Respond to the Needs of Learners.