Collaboration: Feedback from Teachers

By Norine Polio

Collaborate: to work with others. In the spirit of the inaugural issue of On Common Ground, I sent a questionnaire to a group of public school educators who are Fellows of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. This collaboration, established in 1978 between the New Haven public school system and Yale University, unites public school teachers in seminars with university humanities and science teachers, resulting in published curriculum units for use in the classroom. The Fellows polled include one who has since become an administrator, one librarian, and five teachers.1 Respondents were asked to comment on four topics suggested at the December 1991 conference at Yale: "School-College Collaboration: Preparing Teachers and Curricula for Public Schools." In attendance at the conference were representatives from 27 programs nationwide, many of which emphasize teacher leadership and collaboration. In addition to policymakers, administrators from public schools and colleges, and college teachers, public school teachers were an integral part of the proceedings, actively involved in planning and serving as panelists. Public school teachers as leaders and professionals­the tenet upon which this Institute and other successful collaborations are based.

Following are the topics and syntheses of Fellows' responses:

1. The particular services collaborative programs can provide to public school districts.

Through collaboration, the art of teaching is seen as the common denominator, uniting elementary, middle school, high school, and college educators. The sense of isolation often felt in the public school classroom is alleviated when teachers on all levels meet together to discuss content, methodologies, and common challenges. Sharing information and resources enriches teaching and increases confidence in one's subject matter. Teachers model collaboration when they take the new ideas and strategies directly back to their students, encouraging them, in turn, to work together.

2. The role of public school administrators, principals in particular, with respect to teacher collaborative programs.

Administrators who make collaboration a priority set the tone for working together by actively seeking the ideas of teachers and students. They visit classrooms regularly, get involved in class projects, attend workshops with teachers, and design teaching schedules to include common planning time for interdisciplinary projects. These administrators recognize the need for quality materials generated by teachers to supplement textbooks and allow teachers to work together to develop new curricula.

3. The incentives for participation of teachers from universities and schools.

Intellectual exchange between teachers on all levels is considered the primary incentive of collaboration. Public school and university teachers are challenged by the same goal­to provide a stimulating learning environment for students. When issues and ideas are generated among adult learners, this enthusiasm spills over to the classroom. Teachers from universities visit public school classes and vice versa. University teachers develop a sensitivity to the public school community and public school teachers, in turn, gain new insight into the challenges of the university classroom.

4. The evaluation of collaborative educational programs.

Qualitative analysis of the curriculum materials developed in collaborative programs can best be accomplished by the students themselves. These student voices, often left out of education, are the most important and generally the most honest and inspiring. Teachers evaluating other teachers is another strategy which is supportive and non threatening. Visiting a colleague's classroom to observe new materials being presented is encouraged. Whatever the format, there should be an on-going analysis and re-shaping of new curriculum materials to reflect the changing needs of students.

During informal discussions after the questionnaires were returned, Fellows spoke enthusiastically about collaboration. Some veterans, others relatively new to teaching, these educators described their experiences as refreshing, stimulating, creative, energizing, supportive. These are the feelings they cannot help but pass on to their students. A community of learners, inspired, inspiring­this is collaboration.

Notes

1. Fellows: Linn Bayne, Bill Derry, Silvia Ducach, Mary Alice Howley, Sheila Martin-Corbin, Maggie Roberts, Eva Scopino.

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