Too nice?

Teachers share a common goal — student success — but have trouble working together to achieve it, writes Cole Farnum, a beginning teacher in New York City who’s guest-blogging for Rick Hess. Collaboration is stymied by fear, Farnum observes. Teachers don’t want to upset the status quo, even if they dislike it. They don’t want to be perceived as criticizing a colleague’s teaching ability or effort.

Are teachers too sensitive to criticism — or convinced their colleagues are too sensitive? “How might we allow ourselves more when working together as professionals?” Farnum asks.

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  1. tim-10-ber says:

    I am very interested to thoughts on this topic…in the business world we give 360 or start, stop, continue feedback. When I collect it for my team and I collecting the data from the core team an individual works with regardless of “grade”. I also encourage the team to pull together to work out differences in order to work better together and be more successful…

    Yet, in all my years of being around education I have feared/known that this type of feedback is not done (and maybe not sought out) in education…Education is not an island…classrooms are just one part of the total education a student receives…teachers should be able to collaborate not just on curriculum and planning but on discussing what does and does not work for teaching individual students, classroom challenges, etc. Is this view accurate that teachers are resistance to feedback either on students or helping them improve? Why or why not?

    Thank you —

  2. After a decade of politicians and pundits talking about firing teachers, teachers are afraid they’ll be fired.

  3. I’d hesitate to extrapolate from New York City to “all teachers.” In general, however, the first barrier to collaboration is the typical teacher workday. Collaboration time isn’t built in. In many districts, teachers are losing the measley hour a day of plan time they have historically had. In private industry, you call a meeting at 2pm on Tuesday and people show up. We have children in front of us all day.

    That said, I’ve used the critical friends protocol to very good results — it’s just finding the time to do it. My district is cutting PD hours to the very bare minimum allowed by the state to save $$.

  4. BS, this guy makes a generalization based on VERY limited experience and applies it to the teacher workforce.

    Oh and a bonus for the “reformers’, he’s TFA

  5. I think this varies from school to school. In schools with a clear and shared vision– one where there is a climate of mutual respect and where collaboration is expected–teachers help each other. It can take place without planning time — it’s the teachers and the tone set by the principal that make the difference. At some schools, teachers use their shared planning time to grade papers instead of collaborating. Other teachers– without any planning time provided– share ideas at faculty meetings and in the hall and in each other’s classrooms after school.

  6. It might help if you made your goals more specific. Asking teachers to work together to “improve student success” is sorta like asking psychologists to get together to “make people happy.”

    But if you narrow the discussion to skills like reading comprehension, academic vocabulary terms, sentence structure, addition, subtraction, and so on, I bet those meetings would have a lot more give and take.

  7. palisadesk says:

    This must vary from one place to another. My district requires teachers to work in teams to develop common assessments, learning activities, rubrics and the like.There is little planning time available during the school day, so it is done in meetings at lunch or after school. Grade team or subject team members work together, sometimes with the help of a coach or instrucitonal leader from the district; administrators are involved and have to approve the plans.

    We also do moderated grading so that we are consistent in evaluating student work. It’s impossible for anyone to be a “Lone Ranger” any more; in most cases, that is all to the good. People can share their areas of strength and knowledge, the new or the weaker performers learn from those with more skills.

    They’ve been pushing this model for about ten years in my district now, it’s only recently that I could see it is pretty well consistent in most schools, Another change, in hiring it is now much more common to include the team members when interviewing a possible new teacher for an assignment. The administrator makes the final decision, but with input from the team.

  8. In our building, we are only too happy to help each other. The problem is that we have absolutely no time whatsoever to do it. Nobody has any time to breath, much less actually talk about what’s going on. Even teachers who are assigned to co-teach the same class have no common planning time.

  9. Teachers can definitely be sensitive to criticism. Just like in any organization, the ability of a teacher to accept it is largely dependent on the school’s culture. Are teachers expected to observe each other and give feedback? Is there a commitment to constant improvement.

    I’ve taught in five schools in four states. I’ve seen schools in which teachers would give you the stare of death were someone to suggest they try something new, and I’ve been in schools where nearly every teacher begged for constructive criticism from their colleagues on a daily basis.

    Let’s not pretend that in “the business world” this is how it works everywhere. It’s dependent on the health of your organization and the values of the leadership.

  10. Tom Linehan says:

    The Gallup organization researched attitudes of good teachers vs. average or poor teachers. You can find a reference to it in the book “First Break All the Rules.” They found that great teachers looked at criticism as a sign of an active mind. Whereas average or below average teachers looked at criticism as a challenge to their professionalism. As I recall these are the terms in the study.