A few years ago, we were fortunate enough to attend a few sessions with Dylan Wiliam at the Alberta Assessment Consortium’s Annual Conference in Edmonton, Alberta. One of his sessions was titled “Stopping People Doing Good Things” and our initial impression was “who travels all this way with such a major typo in the presentation title!”. However, with a little explanation, the title made perfect sense. Wiliam explained that often in schools and school districts, we have so many “good things” going on that we don’t have time to do even better things! Essentially what is stopping schools from improving is having too many good things on our overloaded plates. He offered the suggestion that schools need to determine the “best thing” and allow everything else to take a backseat.
This also makes perfect sense when considering a Collaborative Response Model in schools, particularly when establishing Collaborative Team Meetings to focus on student progress and intervention support. The first essential element for Collaborative Team Meetings is focus on a common goal and the principles shared by Dylan Wiliam can certainly be applied.
What do we talk about?
The purpose of the Collaborative Team Meeting is to focus a collaborative discussion around the needs of students, leading to action. However, time is not infinite and for these meetings to be effective and efficient, there needs to be a common goal, the “better thing” that is the focus for all conversations. There is lots of “good things” that can (and sometimes need to) be discussed in relation to student learning and development. Typically, this focus is literacy or even more specifically reading. If an hour has been embedded for the meeting to collaborate about a group of students (see a previous post for thoughts related to embedding time), the discussion has to be narrowly focused upon student reading.
Picture this – the grade two meeting starts and Philip is the first student put forth for discussion. Assessment data shows Philip has stalled in his reading progress monitoring and the teacher informs the team that the student is getting frustrated easily in class when asked to read. From there, the conversation digresses. A support staff member begins sharing how he is showing up late in the morning regularly and often without a lunch. Another teacher shares that they had to break up a fight between Philip and a classmate at recess two days and the classroom teacher picks up on this to share the result of that phone call home. The vice-principal, who has Philip in a Physical Education class, remarks that it doesn’t surprise her as Philip has been “quick to strike” in her class as well. All of a sudden, 20 minutes of sharing has happened with no discussion yet of what can be done to address a response to his reading struggles…
What will we do?
Don’t get us wrong – all of the conversations illustrated above in the case of Philip are conversations that should happen…just not in the collaborative meeting! This time needs to be sacred and focused on two questions – what is the concern (related to the common goal) and what will we do about it? The other conversations related to home, recess behaviour and other related issues need to happen separately. The use of roles during the team meeting can help with this focus.
Moving to more efficient conversations
As time marches on and Collaborative Team Meetings become part of the school’s culture, you will find that this becomes easier and that many of the conversations can become broader, as staff learn to appreciate the power of efficient conversations and the value of addressing as many students as possible in the CTM structure. Related issues that can have an impact on the common goal can be quickly shared to paint a more complete picture of the whole child…but when first establishing the CTM structure, keep a very tight leash on where the conversation goes. When staff repeatedly experience that these meetings focus on a very limited number of students and become a place for everyone to share their “war stories” related to each student, they will quickly disengage and fail to see the power of the collaborative conversations that can occur.
Sharing the common goal
It is also critical that the common goal is understood, supported and even initially established by the school team. Coming to consensus (which is different than total staff agreement) is an important factor when developing the common goal to be focused on in the CTMs. In the case of literacy, sharing research and literature (such as Why Reading By the End of Third Grade Matters) or school data can be the way to develop that sense of urgency and importance that are so critical when establishing the common goal.
As always, the leader plays a vital role in not only building the capacity to develop a common goal but ensuring that it exists as the primary focus for Collaborative Team Meetings (especially in the early stages). Best of luck as you continue to put the pieces together!
Adapted from a previous posting – originally published October 28, 2011