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Collegial Circles / Teachers Teaching Teachers 

Teachers frequently complain that they feel isolated in their classrooms.  Although their colleagues are friendly and congenial, they have little professional time together.  Indeed, congeniality is not the same thing as collegiality.  Collegiality is defined as regularly observing other teachers; frequently solving professional problems with colleagues; working together to plan materials, lessons, and teaching strategies; and supporting one another with best practices, advice, and a shared understanding of the profession.  A schoolís level of professionalism is often in proportion to the quality of its teacher-to-teacher professional connections.  

One important way to form meaningful professional connections is to implement Collegial Circles.  

What is a Collegial Circle?  Very simply a Collegial Circle is a group of teachers (usually 4 to 8) who meet regularly to solve common problems; to share opinions, research, and strategize; and to discuss common needs, questions, and interests.  The goal of a Collegial Circle is twofold: 1. To ultimately boost student learning school wide and 2. To improve the quality of teaching school wide.


How Collegial is Your Staff?

Assess your staff's level of involvement in four core collegial behaviors.  Use the following continuum: 3=Strong; 2=Moderate; 1=Weak

3  2  1 Teachers regularly solve problems together

3  2  1 Teachers regularly observe other teachers teaching

3  2  1 Teachers regularly share expertise

3  2  1 Teachers regularly develop curriculum together

Collegiality Scoring:

If your total is under ten, perhaps your staff would benefit by implementing Collegial Circles


Attitudes for Success   To be successful and ultimately have a positive impact on the entire learning environment, the following attitudes must be understood and nurtured. 

  1. Professionals must understand and believe that they can learn from one another.

  2. Teachers must value the expertise of colleagues

  3. Time must be allocated for collegial sharing

  4. Collegiality is an investment in school-wide quality

  5. Meaningful collaboration takes time, energy, and commitment

  6. Collaboration must be supported and sanctioned on all levels of the organization

  7. Parents and the community must be aware of the value of teacher collaboration

  8. Collegial Circles must be a vital part of the schoolís professional development plan

  9. Collegial participation should be expected, valued, and recognized.

  10. Collegial Circles can transform how professionals see themselves and their work.

Step-by-Step Implementation   Undoubtedly there are many different ways to implement Collegial Circles.  Below is one step-by-step process that you may want to use.  

Step One: Signing Up   Join with three to seven colleagues to create a Collegial Circle.  (The makeup of your circle should include teachers from different disciplines and/or grade levels.)  Then select a time and place for your first 60 minute meeting.

Step Two: Groundwork   If you donít know each other well, spend the first half of your first meeting getting to know one another.  As part of your introduction, share with the group your reasons for going into teaching.  After introducing yourselves, discuss the three basic start-up questions that follow (donít forget to have someone in the group record responses):

  • Why is it important to collaborate with other professionals (benefits)?

  • What group norms should guide the circleís interaction (these are the guidelines for circle behavior)?

  • What do you expect to gain or achieve with your participation in your circle?

Step Three: Focusing   Based on your discussion in Step Two, write a goal(s) for your circle. Reminder: Keep your district goals in mind.  If you have time, write expected outcomes for each goal.  In other words, how will your circle impact learning and instruction?

Step Four: Brainstorming   Once your goal has been articulated, it is time to brainstorm for focus questions/issues/topics.  Since you donít have time to cover all of your professional interests, be certain to stay focused on your primary goal.  List your questions/issues/topics on a flip chart and then prioritize them. 

Step Five: Drilling   Begin discussing your top focus question.  After everyone has had a chance to participate, begin the process of narrowing and drawing conclusions.  In other words, answer the questionÖ What can we learn from our conversation?  Prioritize your responses.  Challenge each other to collect research and to gather ideas from professionals outside of your group.  

Step Six: Action Planning and Dissemination   When you feel you have explored an issue thoroughly, agree on what you want to do with your new information.  In other words, how can you as a group move your conversation into action or translate it into a product.  This may include things like research, observations, curriculum products, blogs, classroom tools, classroom strategies, tips, guidelines, mentoring, coaching, teaming, workshops, training, position papers, etc.

Next, decide how you plan to share your thoughts with your colleagues. The activities listed on Teachers on Target may give you some good ideas. These on-the-job activities are designed to help you not only gain a better understanding of your teaching skills, but also to help you appreciate the depth and range of what it means to be a teacher. The activities are designed to build connections: To connect with colleagues, to connect with students, and to connect with oneís professionalism.

Step Seven: Reflection   As your Circle matures, take time to reflect upon what you are discussing and doing.  Consider keeping a personal Collegial Circle log or journal to capture your thoughts and feelings.  Consider how your Circle learning has impacted your classroom instruction, the professional climate of your school, and your own insight into your profession.    

Step Eight: Celebration  Donít forget to celebrate your Circleís success!

Circle Busters   It is extremely important to maintain a positive and honest group dynamic in your Circle.  Below are a few things to keep in mind:  

 

Doís

Doníts

Listen, listen , listen

Donít gossip,

Engage all participantsóask each other thoughtful questions and build off the ideas of others

Donít gobble up Circle time with extraneous stories

Attend meetings faithfully

Donít schedule Circle meetings during peak times

Maintain a positive attitude

Donít digress, bitch, or complain

Expect to learn from one another

Donít be overly negative, argumentative, or pessimistic

 

Research Samples   Below are a few representative research conclusions concerning the importance of collegiality:

  • Teacher collegial problem solving is a vital key to initiating positive school change (Linda Darling-Hammon and Gary Sykes)

  • Collegiality is essential to the success of staff continuous improvement efforts (Judith Warren Little)

  • Collegiality is one of the most important factors in determining the quality of a school (Roland S. Barth)

  • Collegiality is the key to stimulating a professional community that successfully drives student learning (Fred Newmann and Bruce King)


 

 

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