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NCTAF: Transform teaching through collaboration

New publication says antiquated practice of teaching alone won't solve today's education problems

NCTAF: Transform teaching through collaboration
Teacher teams can increase student achievement.

Teacher teams can increase student achievement.

According to a new report, 21st-century teaching and learning can only occur if teachers and school staff work together as a collaborative team; simple adjustments to antiquated school policies and structures that are already in place won’t help.

The research brief, titled “Team Up for 21st Century Teaching and Learning: What Research and Practice Reveal about Professional Learning,” was conducted by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), with support the Pearson Foundation. The publication gives school policy leaders and educators an extensive review of research and case studies on innovative teaching practices currently implemented by top-performing schools.

According to Hanna Doerr, NCTAF program leader and editor of the report, the research was undertaken as a reaction to the Obama administration’s mission to have every student college and career ready, and to close the achievement gap for low-income students.

“Making these goals happen will require changes that go beyond tinkering with today’s school designs,” explains the brief. “The most critical redesign will be that of the teaching profession—the work of teachers and the way schools are staffed.”

The significance of NCTAF’s report “is that it provides research-based evidence showing that the most successful schools are those that foster collaborative team environments, as opposed to simply attempting to identify individual ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teachers,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement.

The brief highlights five research articles, chosen for their breadth of scope and validity, and four case studies that show innovative professional learning communities in practice.

Though each research article and case study is unique and takes into account many differing factors, NCTAF says there are key principles of effective professional learning communities that can be seen within all of the accounts:

  1. Shared values and goals. The team should have a shared vision of the capabilities of students and teachers. Its members should clearly identify a problem around which the learning team can come together, with an ultimate goal of improving student learning.
  2. Collective responsibility. Team members should have shared and appropriately differentiated responsibilities based on their experience and knowledge levels. There should be a mutual accountability for student achievement among all members of the learning team.
  3. Authentic assessment. Teachers in the community should hold themselves collectively accountable for improving student achievement, by using assessments that give them real-time feedback on students learning and teaching effectiveness.
  4. Self-directed reflection. Teams should establish a feedback loop of goal-setting, planning, standards, and evaluation, driven by the needs of both teachers and students.
  5. Stable settings. The best teams cannot function within a dysfunctional school. Effective teams require dedicated time and space for their collaborative work to take place. This requires the support, and occasionally, positive pressure from school leadership.
  6. Strong leadership support. Successful teams are supported by their school leaders, who build a climate of openness and trust in the school, empower teams to make decisions based on student needs, and apply appropriate pressure to perform.

“Overall, the studies show us that when teachers are given the time and tools to collaborate, they become life-long learners, their instructional practice improves, and they are ultimately able to increase student achievement far beyond what any of them could accomplish alone,” says the brief.

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