An amazing learning environment for students and a great workplace for educators

PublicAgenda9-26-17.jpgChloe Rinehart 

I was lucky enough to go to a school for kindergarten through eighth grade where the educational philosophy was grounded in community, cooperation and collaboration.

When my school was established in the 1970s in Virginia, the founders literally named it the “new” school, because its model challenged the status quo of the educational system at the time. Instead of structuring the administration as top down, with decision-making power concentrated in the hands of the principal, this school envisioned one where teachers, together with parents, shared in decision making.

Instead of teachers working alone in their classrooms, largely isolated from their colleagues, this school envisioned teachers collaborating closely on curriculum, school policies and procedures, and coordinating classroom schedules to allow space for students who were learning about different subjects at varying levels.

What resulted was, in my opinion, an amazing learning environment for students and a great workplace for teachers, many of whom stayed on to work there for a decade or more.

This collaborative structure was “new” back then, but still today, we find ourselves in an educational landscape where K-12 education is largely dominated by the individualistic model. Even while other sectors are valuing and incorporating collaboration more frequently into their work and operations, we don’t see this type of collaboration happening in our schools very often.

However, there is indication that the K-12 system might increasingly consider reforms in this area. A growing body of research shows that when teachers work more collaboratively, student outcomes can improve, teachers can be more satisfied in their jobs and teacher turnover can decrease.

Public Agenda, in partnership with the Spencer Foundation, is supporting this development in K-12 education through the second installment of our In Perspective web resource series. Like our first on charter schools, our Teacher Collaboration site offers materials that can not only lead to a better-informed conversation on an important education issue, but can result in significant and scalable change.  

The Guide to Research on teacher collaboration provides a nonpartisan, nonideological and easily digestible summary of key research on teacher collaboration, including studies that are typically accessible only to academics. The Discussion Guide can help teachers and education leaders make decisions on how to work more collaboratively in their own schools and districts. Critical Questions for Superintendents and School Board Members allows for leaders at the school and district level to examine their own teacher collaboration efforts.

Pursuing policies and encouraging dialogues that allow for increased collaboration among teachers, and between educators and school leadership, are alone not going to solve the problems facing our education system. Indeed, key questions about collaboration remain unanswered. But teachers, leaders and school districts can benefit from an environment that allows for greater collaboration, which is ultimately a win for students too.

Chloe Rinehart is a Research Associate at Public Agenda.

The views expressed in this guest blog post are not necessarily those of NAGC.