Jennifer Deinhart

Jennifer Deinhart is an educational consultant and K–8 mathematics specialist. Jennifer is currently working as a mathematics instructional coach at Rose Hill Elementary, part of Fairfax County Public Schools.

The Answer is in the Room—But Who is in the Room?

In a professional learning community, working collaboratively is a way of life. This component of the work is fairly well-known and understood by many. And you may have even heard one of these phrases, “The answer is in the room,” or “None of us is as smart as all of us.” But who is included on your collaborative team? Who are we referring to when we say “us”?

At Mason Crest Elementary our collaborative team members go beyond the grade level classroom teachers or the course instructors. Our teams include everyone from our counselors, instructional coaches, and administrators to our English language teachers, special education team, and specialists such as our music and physical education teachers. We recognize that each of us has critical skills and unique talents. When it comes to making instructional decisions on behalf of our students, we just can’t afford to leave anyone out of the conversation.

What does this look like? Well it starts with our mission. It reads, “The purpose of Mason Crest is to ensure high levels of learning for all—students and adults.” And in order for our students to learn at high levels, the adults in the building have to grow in their practices and knowledge of the content. We accomplish this by recognizing that every staff member has a voice and has valuable contributions to offer. Our team meetings are sacred and are intentionally scheduled so that all stakeholders can attend. In fact, it’s required.

So during a typical planning meeting our English language teacher asks the team to consider the academic language students need in order to access the lesson while the literacy specialist suggests a strategy that has been working well at another grade level. Classroom teachers compare data to find the best working resources and share questions that can be used to facilitate productive math talk. At our quarterly progress monitoring meetings our counselors join us to coordinate our instructional plans to include addressing behavioral concerns. Our physical education teachers are intentionally invited to a discussion about a student we are concerned about because they understand the child from a completely different yet equally valuable perspective. Our conversations go beyond the walls of our meetings and permeate throughout the hallways and staff lounges because of the ongoing nature of the collaborative work.

Why do we do all of this? We believe it is critical for anyone who is a part of instruction to be a part of the collaborative process. We don’t want to leave anyone out of the learning. This requires a shift in thinking. The special education teacher is no longer the only one responsible for collecting data for the students on her caseload, it is the responsibility of the entire team. We are co-teaching more and pulling students out of the classroom less because we know listening to each other deliver instruction will help us be more aligned in our practices. Our English language teacher is not the only person capable of delivering instruction to students who are new to our country, rather we all become language teachers because of the practices she has taught us through our team discussions and the modeling she provides. We become content experts because we do the math together, anticipate possible misconceptions and analyze student work together. Classroom teachers aren’t the only ones scoring assessments and doing report cards—it becomes a shared responsibility.

So consider asking yourselves the next time you gather with your teammates, is everyone here? Are there critical voices missing from the table? Does our meeting schedule allow for key team members to join the conversation? Believe me it’s not a waste of time. Because the answer truly is in the room, if every team member is a part of the process. In fact, you will find that you cannot imagine finding those answers any other way.

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