Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Collaboration Time

Our district tried something this year that, on its surface, sounds pretty smart. We added several minutes of instructional time to four school days a week and the students leave 75 minutes early one day a week. That remaining 75 minutes (it was all done within the limits of our contract, no legal issues there) was designated as "collaboration time", a time for teachers to "collaborate." You know, because we need to "collaborate."

What are we supposed to do during this collaboration time? No one is quite sure. And it's been, in the words of an officer I knew at West Point, a goatscrew.

Like I said, it sounds like a good idea. Teachers in other countries have plenty of time during their working days to collaborate amongst themselves. We've clamored for such time, and here it was, given to us. And the first thing we did at my site was start complaining about it.

It's been screwed up at all levels. The district mandated certain "cans" and "cannots" as far as spending this time went. As that made its way down to our school site, more structure was imposed on this time. Two days a month this time is set aside for academic departments to collaborate, and two days a month is allocated to schoolwide stuff.

My department isn't the most--how shall I put it delicately--"collaboration ready" group on the planet. Many of our teachers still subscribe to the "anything I want to do when the door is closed" mentality, and few acknowledge that the state standards, adopted by our district years ago, should have any bearing at all on their teaching. As a result, we have a hard time agreeing what direction to take when, for instance, we're requested to develop common assessments--every Geometry class takes the same test for Chapter 2 or the same final exam, for instance. It gets worse the higher up we go in classes, when some want a "common assessment" to cover material that they themselves teach but that is not part of the standards, "But it should be!"

We also have several teachers in our department who teach in other departments, so they aren't always available to collaborate with us during collaboration time! How are we supposed to collaborate?

I think what's happened here is that the district wanted to give us time but wanted to make sure we weren't wasting it, so they stuck some requirements on us. Same with my school administration. By the time it got to us teachers, it appeared to be a mandate that "you will work together and accomplish something, anything, good." I don't think you can compel people to work collaboratively, and neither can you expect people who aren't ready to collaborate to be pleased when they are in fact compelled to.

And I was just hoping to have some time to meet with others to learn more effective ways to teach the Ambiguous Case of the Law of Sines, for example. Or complex numbers in polar form. Or any other of the topics that my students struggle with each year. I was working on the assumption that perhaps my own instruction could be improved if I had time available to discuss these things with other teachers. But I don't. Because when my department gets together, we spend vast quantities of time complaining about standardized testing and state standards and NCLB and other things over which we have no control, and then try to function as a group because that's what we've been instructed to do. I can't just grab another teacher and compare notes on how best to teach the Normal Form of the Equation of a Line.

This week I get to learn how to use PowerPoint. Again. Should I make a slideshow (yes, of course I already know how) explaining my extreme disappointment in the implementation of this so-called collaboration time?

It's more like collab-bore-ation time.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm sounds like you don't get along as well as I thought with the rest of the math department. I find it interesting in my Calculus class with Mr. Baker how he usually explains how Mr. Dunkum might be teaching a certain subject. Usually it's nothing big or just a different name for a technique but he tries to tell it to us just so we know what's going on next year in BC. Also in summer school I learned completely different things then what you taught in your class. Mr. Westover seems to work with you on occation. I think you might just have to give up on some of your more hardline political ideals and thoughts on standardized testing and just try to see if you can deal with the other teachers rants. I really think there should be some correlation between the classes but everyone has their own style and method, even you. Good luck working on that, it would be nice to not have to deal with relearning an entire subject just because one teacher spends more time on a certain section. I'm leaving this Anonymous but to make sure if you haven't already figured it out, 2H2O2 -> 2H2O + O2.

Anonymous said...

To call this a 'goatscrew' is to do a disservice to many friendly quadrapeds.

You're right -- the useful kind of collaboration occurs naturally, and still happens when need be. You want an ambiguous case of sines technique? Just ask -- I've got one that works great . . .sometimes.

But to say that it 'appeared smart'? To shorten periods one day a week by 20%, then increase the others by less than 2%, claiming that instructional time hasn't been affected? To add the time for collaboration/training without having any plan in place for what a) should be done, b) can be done, or c) what the actual goals were? You give them to much credit. This is the classic example of what's wrong with public education: there is a large class of educator, both union and administrative, whose sole function is to create new things to try so that their positions can continue to be funded without their having to actually educate. If they work, its actually a bad thing, because then they don't need to come up with anything new.


P.S.: I nabbed the web site session for Thursday, not because I have any interest in creating a website, but because I vowed to drive a railroad spike through my temple before i ever sat through a power point lecture again.

Anonymous said...

What a disappointment. We have collaboration in the morning one day a week (on a modified block). I meet with two teams of teachers to review where we're at, check in for the week, swap information. We often meet outside of the collaboration period because we do collaborate together on units, specific assignments, and tests.
Every few months (there's a schedule that is secret to me) we have a day where there are optional meetings (how to teach using cornell notes; methods for instruction of rhetorical devices; community-building the classroom; how to manage the difficult student).
I won't say that collaboration is perfect, but I do rely on a fixed time to meet with colleagues. This is, at least, how my school has worked out its collaboration.

Darren said...

My political ideas aren't the issue here. My issue is with beating a dead horse, H202 (hehehe), repeatedly complaining over and over and over and over again about things outside of our sphere of influence. Every teacher in the state lives with the late April standardized testing date--live with it. It's not the smartest time to give such tests, but we're under no unfair burden compared to everyone else.

It's not political, it's common sense. And following the rules (standards) that our elected state officials, elected school board officials, and hired bosses tell us to follow? It shouldn't take a political conservative to believe that following the rules is necessary, even for adults.

Walter E. Wallis said...

It sounds like someone forgot to bring the keg.

Darren said...

I don't drink beer, but a keg might help liven things up a bit. Or make them more bearable. Or something.