Last week in my blog, I wrote about the importance of continuous improvement in educational circles. Framed through the lens of a professional, seeking to improve on an ongoing basis is simply non-negotiable. Our practice must always be on an evolutionary track. The impact on student learning and our desire to be a learner must always be the driving force to our improvement.
This past week, I had the good fortune of interacting with a number of professionals both from inside and outside of the K-12 system. Their “spark” to improve themselves and push their own creative boundaries was invigorating. However, their own improvement plan centered on moving their organization forward. Their push for continuous improvement had a bigger goal- that of their team!
Self improvement will likely always precede team improvement. While self-improvement must always been seen as a priority, without the concept of your team or your organization, you are simply a lone wolf, albeit talented, but still only one! One “star” does not reach the level of team greatness without a strong supporting cast. Schools today, even with some tremendous talent in their classrooms will never reach their pinnacle without a collaborative culture, where the staff are connected interdependently. It is no longer acceptable to permit lone wolf mentality in our schools or organizations.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”- Aristotle
Teachers, staffs and entire divisions must be together on this continuous improvement journey. Education is far too complex today and classroom success will be limited at best with an isolation approach.
“Individual teachers… work in isolation, forging their own methods of practice behind closed classroom doors… teachers have come to regard autonomy and creativity – not rigorously shared knowledge – as the badge of professionalism. [This in turn has produced] highly personalized forms of instruction and huge variations in teacher quality and effectiveness. In effect, each teacher is left to invent his or her own knowledge base – unexamined, untested, idiosyncratic and potentially at odds with knowledge from which other teachers may be operating.” (Burney 2004)
Schools and school systems have come a long way since 2004. But the continual push from being learned to being a learner must never be minimized. High quality continuous improvement requires a collaborative culture. It is about shifting a culture from teaching to learning and from individual classroom teacher to school teacher. Michael Fullan is clear when he states, “Improving schools requires a collaborative culture…Without collaborative skills and relationships it is not possible to learn and to continue to learn as much as you need to know to improve.”
“Employees in an organization are volunteers. We can compel their attendance and compliance, but only they can volunteer their hearts and minds. Leaders can make decisions with their authority, but they can implement those decisions only through collaboration. Leverage for improved organizational performance happens through networks, not individuals.” (Reeves 2006)
While professionals seek to be ongoing learners and improve their own practice, professional teams work together in collaborative networks. School and system continuous improvement must be team orientated to be successful. Teachers cannot be allowed to further engage in “solitary confinement” or “lone wolf mentality.” It is up to our leaders and our teachers to break the cycle of individualism and build collaborative continuous improvement structures.
“If schools want to enhance their capacity to boost student learning, they should work on building collaborative culture….When groups, rather than individuals, are seen as the main units for implementing curriculum, instruction, and assessment, they facilitate the development of shared purposes for students’ learning and collective responsibility to achieve it.”- (Newman 1996)