Tonight I attended a new group called the Teacher Leader PLC sponsored by the Department of Education and the Philadelphia Education Fund. Led by super-teacher Gamal Sherif this group brings together educators from all of Philadelphia to discuss what it is like the be a "teacher leader." The first meeting was tonight and it was great, so I thought I would write about the article we read in preparation for it. Enjoy!
A successful team is a group of many hands but of one mind. - Bill Bethel
The top-tier sports teams in the world are based not only on the best individuals but also on the best group dynamics. If a lead basketball player makes all the shot attempts him or herself without care to others on the team, there is a much smaller chance of scoring consistently. In sports, a key strategy is motion and unpredictability.
The same can be said for educators: the best teachers do not segregate themselves - instead, they foster collaboration and teamwork in order to achieve their goals. If each teacher planned in isolation their skill would likely stagnate. Unlike in sports, however, the negative outcome would not be loss of income - it would be loss of education for our future citizens.
In the article, The Missing Link in School Reform (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2011, p. 30-35), Carrie Leana refers to this divide in relation to human capital vs. social capital. Under a human capital model, she argues, individual teachers individually affect student learning - if they have high-quality skills, their students will gain knowledge. Under a social capital model, however, teachers work in teams and - if they lack insight in a certain area - they learn from others who have experience and knowledge in those areas.
This collaborative style of teaching has already shown positive results. In a study on New York City schools, "students showed higher gains in math achievement when their teachers reported frequent conversations with their peers that centered on math, and when there was a feeling of trust or closeness among teachers" (p. 33). In fact, it was also found that "low-ability teachers can perform as well as teachers of average ability if they have strong social capital" (p. 34).
The narrowed focus on individual teachers adding value to groups of students is seemingly incorrect. Instead, policymakers should be advocating for better collaboration of teachers within schools and districts. I have already advocated for that by supporting programs like Critical Friends and Lesson Study. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the only reason I read this article is due to my joining a group sponsored by the Philadelphia Education Fund to discuss collaboration in order to foster positive leadership among teachers.
If the United States is serious about ensuring the next generation has the knowledge and skill for the future we need to emphasize collaboration and trust among those of us working with them.