Developing Co-Laborers

Thinking Collaborative thanks Winn Wheeler, Assistant Professor at Bellarmine University for her contributions to Sustaining the Journey for the month of April.

Adaptive Schools: Developing Co-Laborers

For the month of April, the Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey will focus on ways in which the Adaptive Schools seminar can be an empowering force within a school district. Drawing upon the dissertation study of Wheeler (2016), each column will focus on a way that Adaptive Schools supports the development of collaboration within an organization.

The meaning of the word collaborate means “with or together” and labor. One trend in education over past decades has been to move away from teaching as an individual or isolated act to one that is collaborative. In essence, there is an underlying belief that the learning act is best done cooperatively. Put another way, the development of ideas as a group is more powerful than pedagogies focusing exclusively on a single individual or even a group of individuals working independently alongside one another.

Although seemingly simple, positive and appropriate collaboration is not something that just happens. Banking on the success of serendipitous collaboration is not enough to ensure that teachers and administrators are able to effectively work together to support significant student learning and growth. Since collaboration is a skill that must be developed and it doesn’t tend to occur naturally, it is necessary to consider opportunities for building the collaborative capacity of teachers and administrators. The Adaptive Schools seminar and its accompanying framework provide such an opportunity.

Wheeler’s (2016) research explored the role of Adaptive Schools in supporting development of collaboration in the Smith County Schools* (Kentucky).

Retired Chief Academic Officer of Smith County Schools , Elizabeth Griffin, reflected about the culture of the district when she entered:
I came walking in and it was one of my first days on the job and I remember at lunch time being absolutely mortified that these people weren’t talking to each other. It became apparent they had never worked together. And when I worked a little bit further with the group, I had teachers tell me, “We don’t think we should share because other schools might take it and get better test scores.” (Elizabeth Griffin, Interview, September 4, 2015 from Wheeler, 2016, p. 82)

In short, Griffin discovered that the schools were focused almost exclusively on their school having the highest scores on the state test. Lacking was a shared sense of purpose and how to achieve it. Over the course of the next few years, the district worked toward becoming more collaborative not only within schools, but across the district as well. In essence, professional collaboration in order to support student learning became part of the district’s vision and mission.

When the district began its journey with Adaptive Schools, this vision for collaboration existed, but the problem of putting the belief in action continued to pose a challenge. The work of Adaptive Schools provided a roadmap and directions for working toward a collaborative organization. Griffin, reflecting on her experience with Adaptive Schools, said this:

I think the big thing was it changed – it changed me. It made me better; it made me a lot better- as an administrator, as a leader. I felt like I was better able to do the two jobs that I had in Smith County because of that training. I think it helped me really make something that was a vision reality. I call it putting wheels on the bus. . . So, it – it changed me; it changed my practice and I feel like impacted people, some more than others, but it helped develop, create this culture that has now become more normal about everybody learning and growing together, that’s what I think has happened. And that’s a great thing to know – that those isolated walls – that how it used to be – has changed so much. (Elizabeth Griffin, Individual Interview, September 4, 2016).

Through the month of April, this column will suggest ways in which Adaptive Schools may be used to build the capacity of educators to “co-labor” – work together to support and ensure student learning.

Wheeler, W. C. (2016), Adaptive Schools: Investigating impact, continuity, and change in one school district. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Electronic Theses and Dissertations. (Paper 2463).