As a nation we have been struggling for decades to improve academic outcomes for children, especially for children in poverty and children of color. We acknowledge factors external to schools impact academic outcomes; for example, childhood poverty in the United States is higher than all the countries in Europe, and, issues within our control go unaddressed, another example, school segregation.
We do know that in the teaching/learning process, the interaction among teachers, between supervisors and teachers, including parents, in the school decision-making process, requires collaboration in order to improve academic outcomes, the evidence is overwhelming.
In New York City parents, teacher and students fill out surveys every year, and, not surprisingly schools with high levels of collaboration as evidenced by the survey have better academic outcomes.
- View the 2018 survey for parents/guardians(Open external link) (PDF)
- View the 2018 survey for students(Open external link) (PDF)
- View the 2018 survey for teachers(Open external link) (PDF)
While there are many definitions of collaboration the definition below encompasses many other definitions.
Collaboration – the sharing of effort, knowledge and resources in the pursuit of shared goals – plays a central and partially hidden role in the achievement of student learning outcomes.
Professional collaboration is deeply embedded in the culture and organization of … schools. It is used to support, sustain, evaluate and refine professional learning about teaching and learning strategies. Using collaboration to access expertise, data and relevant practice is an essential part of … daily practice. Local collaboration with other schools, universities, employers and community organizations also plays an essential role in providing the structure, resources and expertise for student achievement.
Unfortunately too many schools and school districts are paramilitary organizations, the superintendent or principal at the top of the pyramid gives an order and everyone down the pyramid is expected to salute and comply. Common planning time required in some districts, included in some collective bargaining agreements, is the time spent fruitfully, or, an opportunity to bitch and vent? In my union rep days I used to suggest to principals that their faculty conferences should mirror the type of instruction they want to see in classrooms, interactions between the principal and the staff not the “sage on the stage.”
Labor relations in the United States has a long history of conflict, management guarding their “prerogatives” and viewing unions as opponents, as the enemy.
The German model is far different,
The German [labor relations] system is more democratic and far more respectful of worker rights. Instead of the relentless union-busting and virulent anti-labor propaganda common in US industry, German labor law requires consultation and collaboration with workers in the Betriebsrat, or works council—people directly elected by the employees, blue-collar and white-collar alike. At a minimum, German workers are guaranteed a voice in corporate decision-making.
The recent Janus SCOTUS decision is just one example of a nationwide, well-funded attempt to disempower teacher unions rather than working with unions to improve student outcomes.
Union-management labor negotiations have been, and in many arenas continue to be a struggle over power. The elected Los Angeles school board (LAUSD) hired a former hedge fund manager with no education experience as superintendent and the second largest school district in the nation is edging towards a strike as both sides publicly attack each other. The just concluded New York City tentative union agreement is moving in the opposite direction, with a number of educational initiatives that will require a new level of collaboration at the school level.
Read summary of tentative contract and full memorandum: http://www.uft.org/our-rights/contract-2018
The crucial question is whether labor and management can move from decades of adversarial relationships to collegial relations on the district and school level.
We have had islands of collaboration going back to the 60’s with the creation of alternative high schools, a few, very few, school districts jumped onboard the School-Based Management/School Based Decision-making (SBM-SBD) trend in the 90’s, individual schools, under the radar worked out interesting programs, in one large school teachers selected the department head and teachers could voluntarily opt into a non-evaluative peer observation system in lieu of traditional observations. Currently well over 100 schools in New York City are PROSE schools, schools that have “innovative” approaches outside the constraints of department and union regulations; sort of charter-like entities within the school system.
The new contract sets up a Bronx Collaborative Schools Plan,
This model is a joint effort to help students achieve their highest potential through a transformation of school culture based on genuine collaboration. Attracting and retaining staff is a priority of this model. Up to 120 schools, mostly in the Bronx, will participate.
- Eligibility is based on criteria including teacher turnover, staff retention/attrition, academic achievement, persistent vacancies, repeated use of shortage-license-area waivers, student demographics and enrollment, leadership turnover, transportation issues and/or state identification. Both the chapter leader and principal have to agree to be part of the model.
- A central committee composed of an equal number of representatives appointed by the UFT president and the chancellor will oversee the pilot.
- Each school will form a school-based committee composed of between six and 12 people; 50 percent of the committee members will be UFT-represented employees selected by the UFT. These committees will receive joint professional development on collaboration, facilitation, shared decision-making, “Speak up Culture,” DOE data dashboard and other topics.
How will the school staffs acquire the skills to address these issues? In the past the “solutions” came from the chancellor or the superintendent, and, rarely were sustainable. The current theory of action: school-based decisions with external supports can achieve goals and become embedded in school cultures,
School cultures are firmly embedded; moving from top-down to school-based is a substantial task.
The worthy programmatic goal, “help students achieve their highest potential through a transformation of school culture based on genuine collaboration,” will require major shifts on the union and management sides.
Many other sections of the memorandum address collaboration between the parties. Words are just words, they are not actions. Labor/management agreements can look fine on paper, how will they work in the schools, and, will the collaborative efforts translate into more effective schools?
The collective bargaining agreement, the contract, requires monthly consultation meeting between the school leaders and the school union representative, and, the union spends a great deal of time training the school reps about their roles at the consultation, the meetings can get argumentative.
A recent school-based consultation meeting:
The union rep raised an issue and the principal asked the union rep how s/he would resolve the issue: the union rep replied, “That’s your job, you just have to resolve the issue to my satisfaction.”
How do you move from conflict to conciliation to collaboration?
A principal confided to me, “I’m responsible for school outcomes, too many teachers just want to do less work, they use the contract to avoid responsibility, use it was a weapon.”
Teachers in another school bemoan that every time they come to the principal with an idea, a proposal, s/he rejects any without reason.
We have s long way to go, the union and the chancellor and his underlings have to be fully committed to changing decades of suspicion, trust is only built through actions.
I was sitting at a School Leadership Team meeting, as a guest, the teachers and the parents were advocating for changes and the principal was arguing “it’ll never work,” after a while he relented, “If you want to do it, I’ll support it, I just want to know how we’re going to assess it, how will we know if it’s works?” Is there a collaboration gene?
With charter schools and online learning and who knows what else hovering it is essential that “both sides of the desk” put aside traditional conflicts and begin to work together to create and achieve common goals.