Motivating Teachers to Collaborate
I recently responded to the following question regarding how to motivate those teachers who do not fully engage in the collaborative process:
Our district has adopted a PLC vision, which is fantastic. Two years ago, we were required to read your book Professional Learning Communities at Work™: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. It was a great read for me. I’m not sure that others gathered as much as I did from it. Since then our school has picked up about 15 new teachers unfamiliar with PLCs. Many of these teachers have never worked in such a collaborative environment, so our collaboration has been less than effective.
We have a set time on Monday afternoons to meet and set goals. During our initial meetings, I discovered that our 45 minutes of allocated collaborative time was simply not sufficient for the size team we had (eight members). We accomplished very little, and there was no way that each teacher made their voice heard. So, I opened up a Google Group to allow for the sharing of ideas. I thought this would be a great way for us to discuss back and forth throughout the week when we were at home or in our classrooms. We would be able to continue our conversations beyond those 45 minutes. All the teachers are logged into the group and have access to it, but there are only three teachers who consistently look on Google Groups. The three of us have found it rather useful, but the other teachers don’t seem to find it useful.
Which leads me to my next thought. Many of these teachers are teachers who do "what is easy." They design their day with what works for them (not the students). They have created teacher-centered classrooms, not learner-centered classrooms. They don’t seem to care about research or best practices, just whatever is easy. My questions for you are how do you motivate other teachers to "buy into" this idea of becoming a learner and a reflective teacher? How do you establish a PLC where there is trust and where there is willingness to hear all ideas? Do you have any suggestions on what I can try to do to help make our collaboration more effective?
I have a few suggestions. First, if the size of your team is interfering with full participation of its members, you could organize the team into two groups of four that meet on the weekly basis. Then, every third week or so, you meet as the full team. For example, one team can be the math team and the other the language arts team. Each team focuses on clarifying the outcomes, establishing pacing, developing common assessments, and brainstorming strategies for teaching specific skills and concepts to the students for that team’s subject area (math or language arts). Then each team presents its recommendations to the full team for review, discussion, and revision until all members commit to moving forward with the agreed-upon plan. These two sub-group teams should be structured to complete certain tasks--developing a list of essential outcomes for each unit, gathering instructional materials, developing common assessments, creating strategies for instruction, and integrating technology, etc.--and each member should be assigned to make specific contributions to the team. It should be impossible to avoid contributing.
Second, until you have common assessments, veteran teachers who are used to doing things a certain way will have little incentive to change their practice. You probably won’t be able to talk them into changing; however, if the results of the common assessments consistently demonstrate that their students are not achieving as much as other students, most teachers will be motivated to explore why. In the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, Kerry Patterson describes the most effective strategies to influence the thinking and behavior of others. Among the most powerful strategies he recommends are positive peer pressure, irrefutable data, and creating new experiences for people that cause them to act in new ways. The PLC process is designed to take advantage of all three. A collaborative team that has agreed on essential learnings and created SMART goals related to student learning creates positive peer pressure. Most teachers don’t want to be the person who prevents the team from achieving its goals. Common assessments make results transparent and reveal which students are or are not learning. Most teachers don’t want to be the person whose kids are not learning. And the team process of clarifying outcomes, establishing common pacing, developing common assessments, and analyzing results in a collaborative way creates new experiences for teachers who have worked in isolation.