We attended two sessions at ASCD 2015 that exemplified this phenomenon.
In “Collaboration that Works: Science, Literacy, and 21st Century Skills,” Kate Cronk and Hallie Edgerly, two 8th grade teachers in science and language arts, from Adel DeSoto Minburn Community School District in Adel, IA, presented their story of spectacular collaboration across the disciplines.
They spoke about their three-year process (totally self-initiated and self-motivated) of developing a four-week cross-disciplinary unit on inventions. Their students conducted market research, including first-hand surveys, developed budgets, kept logs of their invention timelines, and reflected on their collaborative skills. They used QR codes to link to student-created infomercials about their products. The unit culminated in a visit to a local college and a “Shark Tank” style competition. There is no question that Cronk and Edgerly’s students were developing and using 21st-century skills. Equally impressive, from the many student testimonials they shared, was the pride these teachers took in how their collaborative, cross-disciplinary project fostered their students’ social skills, brought out the strengths of individual students with specific weaknesses, and even reduced bullying.
Cronk and Edgerkly were frank about their own learning process, about how they needed to improve their own interactions with other teachers, how they could involve other teachers even when those teachers were unable to give up classroom time, and how they both grew as teachers from the project.
What’s perhaps most impressive in their work is how it required little administrative or material support (albeit their administrators did not throw up road blocks). Their story was simply the age-old take of two individuals with initiative putting in the work and making a tremendous difference in the lives of the children in their school.
The second session we want to highlight was not about a small or simple intervention. In “Instituting a Culture of Collaboration: The Instructional Coaching Model,” a team from Randolph High School in New Jersey, Adriana Coppola, Ruth Forrest, Julie Green, and Lena Wasylyk, described the impressive model they developed after their district created a space for these four dynamic women to institutionalize instructional coaching.
In this high-energy and interactive session, this team shared the lessons from their three years of working as instructional coaches. Their model works off an entirely voluntary approach: teachers come to the coaches for advice, from where to make copies to how to deal with a difficult class to how to develop a DBQ for a math classroom. The team offers one-on-one coaching, co-teaching, specialized professional development sessions, and so much more.
The keys to this approach seem to be the dynamic team leaders but also the confidential, voluntary, non-evaluative model, in which teachers can seek out their peers for specific, timely support that they need from peers they trust. Kudos to the team in Randolph for their great work and to the administrators for giving this team the support they need to be successful.
And kudos to ASCD for showcasing these, among many examples, of best practices in today’s educational universe.