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Vail Daily column: Working together to succeed

Jason E. Glass
Valley Voices

The term collaboration has become quite a buzzword in education circles when it comes to teachers and what they need to grow professionally and succeed with their students. We hear the term bandied about by all sorts of people as the cure-all for what ails the teaching profession.

Professional collaboration is indeed the stuff that raises educator effectiveness. However, we must understand how collaboration leads to increased educator capacity and better performance if we want to employ it as a driver for system success. Otherwise, it’s merely another edu-buzzword that is poorly understood and weakly implemented.

Done well, collaboration works to improve educator effectiveness in a number of important ways. First, it allows teachers to see what their peers are doing on a regular basis. In a healthy professional setting, this creates transparency and accountability to the rest of the team. In this context, efforts and results are transparent and serve to create a clear pathway for the establishment and continuation of high standards and accompanying expectations.

This model of team-based internal transparency and accountability trumps the external varieties — those built on supervisor evaluations or some kind of ranking website. While there will always be a need for some level of external and evaluative accountability, team-based and collaborative accountability is more powerful because of the strong relationships between and among teachers and the supportive environment it creates. I’ve witnessed educators be dismissive and indifferent to accountability coming in from on high, yet deeply concerned about the opinions and judgments of those with whom they have strong personal and professional relationships — those who they work with on a daily basis.

We must create structures and systems where our educators can work, think and grow together.

Collaboration also works to incubate and accelerate innovation. When educators work together and share ideas, they also add to each other’s best thinking and borrow new approaches from each other. Done right, this iterative and additive work, continuously growing and building on the ideas of the team, fosters innovation in the classroom and beyond.

Too often, we think of innovation as a groundbreaking and revolutionary effort, which results in a whole new way of thinking or approaching a problem. While this kind of transformational innovation is important, it is also very rare. Perhaps more important are the micro-level innovations — small experiments and trials that continuously result in sharper performance.

Jim Collins calls these mini experiments “bullets,” for small test-shots that allow for empirical validation before making a big shift or bet on something unproven. More colloquially, change experts Chip and Dan Heath call these sort of controlled and tiny incremental experiments “ooches.” Whatever you call them, both Collins and the Heath brothers are talking about the same thing — and a collaborative setting creates the environment where these experiments can occur continuously.

Giving our educators time and space for this important work is no small task. We’ve built our school systems to maximize the time students spend in classrooms with teachers. While this is important, we also must create structures and systems where our educators can work, think and grow together.

If we wish to have an education system vectored on high standards for students, professional accountability and innovation, then the best recipe for this is an intentional and purposeful system of collaboration.

Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagleschools.net.

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