Shared goals and a search for effective camaraderie bring history teachers, Pam and Suzanne, together for a reflective partnership that positively impacts student work in both of their classrooms. They share the significance of finding a compatible partner, some of the elements that make a partnership thrive, and ideas for what partners can do to support each other’s reflective practice.
Pam remembers a mentor teacher once telling her that teamwork is a “learned art.” Eight years into her high school teaching career, Pam admits to enjoying a comfortable collegiality with most teachers in her department, but offers that her teaching practice and student success really started to improve once she began investing in a reflective partnership with Suzanne, another history teacher at her school. Pam realizes that early in her career she often thought that having a partner to consistently reflect and grow with appealed to her, she also found the thought of it risky. She worried that discussing the problems that she was facing with her classes would suggest that she was a weak teacher. Pam also worried about how much time the investment in such a relationship would take and she wondered if it would be worth it. While developing the trust necessary to make a partnership work well takes time, Pam insists that finding the right person to partner with from the outset is also a crucial part of this working relationship’s success. When she started talking in greater depth one day with Suzanne (a second year teacher) about some shared frustrations in getting their kids on board for a longer research project, Pam realized that while she and Suzanne had differing content areas of expertise, they shared many of the same goals for their students.
Together, Pam and Suzanne agreed that trust, the right combination of support and challenge, and humor would be key elements in forging a successful partnership. They considered some possibilities for reflecting together: interactive journaling, talking about instruction and design plans, reading and talking about articles or case studies, examining student work, observing one another’s classes, and reflecting with one another through on-line conversations. Starting with the simple, shared challenge of how to get their students excited and invested in the research project ahead, Pam and Suzanne took a planning period to journal about what had worked and what had not in previous years of this assignment. They came up with a series of questions which addressed how to best “hook” their mixed level, urban kids into this month long project. They both wondered why some kids would groan at the start of the project while others seemed immediately poised to sink their teeth into the work. Through discussion and journaling, Pam and Suzanne reflected upon what could be contributing to the range of reactions that this project consistently presented and how to make the project more accessible for all. The result was an introductory class plan that focused on what it actually means to be a “researcher.” Students were able to “try on” and practice this role in an informal way before the larger assignment was even presented. Pam and Suzanne found that the fear and resentment that often shut students down on day one of the project largely disappeared. Their newly designed, introductory class provided the hook that many students needed in order to have the confidence and interest to move forward with the research. They uploaded their collaboration to the department website and share that many in the department have successfully incorporated their “introduction to research” lesson into their own research units. Pam and Suzanne also agreed to journal weekly throughout this unit so that they could compare observations and use them to tweak plans for the following year. They further found it helpful for their practice and discussions with departments heads to have sample journal entries to upload to their evaluation evidence folders.
Two years into the partnership, Pam and Suzanne enthusiastically agree that the time and energy invested in partnering for reflection have been well worth it! In addition to seeing greater student success around their original goals, both women insist that reflecting together has given them increased feelings of confidence and connection, enhanced learning and resources for learning about practice, greater commitment to the work and work environment, and greater perspective on students in the school. By working on their own process of inquiry in supporting one another’s reflective thinking, they also feel like they have become better listeners and advocates for their students!
In this four minute clip, two high school math teachers collaborate for best reflective practice and improved student achievement by sitting in on each other’s classes, videotaping, and providing daily feedback to one another. They compare the assessment data of their classes, and when they discover that one of them has a class underperforming the other by 10%, they use this data to make changes. Ultimately both classes perform equally after adjusting practice based on these observations. This is a great example of using evidence and reflection to inform and improve instruction.