Creating a Culture of Collaboration

“There was a point during our planning when we were almost premature in the roll out of our program.”

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Over the last several years the Barnegat School district has worked to create a culture of collaboration.  Although this has not been successful in every area of the district, the culture of collaboration has grown significantly and I am very proud of our collective efforts.

We know collaboration has benefits, however here are some examples of how our district has utilized collaboration to benefit teaching and it’s impact on learning and decision-making.

 

We use collaboration for building consensus.  There are many committees in our district and they often collaborate on important topics.  Whether it’s our school safety team, our school-wide professional development committee, our district advisory committee, or the staff improvement panel, we use it most often for building consensus.

One of the ways we’ve used collaboration successfully is with our equitable hiring process. Born of a desire from a Board of Education from 2011-2012 to hire the best candidates and deflect hidden agendas, we created a collaborative process.  Over the last six years the process has evolved.  Although the current process is similar to the one from the beginning of my career in Barnegat as Superintendent, we have managed to retain its integrity from the inaugural year as well as incorporate important changes each year thereafter. This year, that process has a Standard Operating Procedure that each administrator has helped shape, mold, and influence through our collaborative efforts at administrative meetings.

Each summer we offer a Summer Institute of Learning.  This is an opportunity for teachers to turnkey new learning they have acquired during the school year.  In this model, teachers present proposals and seek approval from district administration. They are given compensated prep time to develop their workshops and are paid to present. All workshop attendees receive professional development credits for attending workshops of their choice.

Teachers have taught everything from “Using Primary Source Documents in the Classroom”, to “Flipped Classrooms”, to ” “Classroom Management Strategies”, to “Close Reading”.  Each year feedback is elicited and changes are made to incorporate the desires of attendees.  At one time the Institute was only for Barnegat teachers but has now expanded to other teachers in the county.  One summer we had over four hundred attendees at about twenty workshops we offered!

During the 17-18 school year the Barnegat School District rolled out a semi-departmentalized fifth grade model.  Our four Elementary Schools feed one middle school. In our quest for providing depth of knowledge and specific work within the standards, we created a model that could support student’s learning needs as they ascended to middle school.

Under a previous model, our fifth grade students were in “self-contained” settings, with only one teacher for the entire school year (with the exception of specials). Our desire was to have fifth grade students have two core area teachers to better prepare them for middle school.

Over eighteen months our school district utilized surveys, developed focus groups of teachers, students, and parents, and visited several schools with semi-departmentalized fifth grade. Although this was a long process the need for collaboration was essential.  There was a point during our planning when we were almost premature in the roll out of our program. Rather than being hasty, we further examined the needs of our students and continued to collaborate until all stakeholders were comfortable with the proposed model.  I am glad we did.  After a couple of months into the school year, we have heard nothing but praise for the new program.  This helped us remember that collaboration pays off and listening to all stakeholders and building consensus supported our decision with this initiative.

Consensus building and collaboration are essential to success in most cases.  However there are times when collaboration can work against a leader.  That will be discussed in a subsequent blog.

 

Author: karenwoodedu

Karen Wood is the Superintendent of Schools in Barnegat, NJ. With twenty-three years in education, Ms. Wood's career has been spent primarily in administration. She enjoys mentoring novice administrators and being connected to inspirational educators and leaders across the country.

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