By Kari Patrick and Katrina Boone
When we began teaching sophomore English together at Shelby County High School, we were both strong individual teachers. But our experiences with collaborative planning allowed us to work far more effectively than we ever had individually, and the extensive professional growth that came about as a result of that collaboration deeply impacted our students’ learning.
Every profession has its lingo, but some might argue that educational jargon evolves more quickly and varies more widely than most professions and it often impacts the effectiveness of our collaboration. Teachers who work on a data team or as part of a professional learning community (PLC) may have attended different teacher prep programs, benefitted from different content or pedagogical training programs, or have a variety of professional learning experiences.
Sometimes these differences in preparation and jargon can hinder the collaborative work of
planning lessons or discussing student data. If teachers can count on the common language and learning philosophy provided by the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, however, that shared knowledge and expertise can bring a team together and impact student achievement.
The TELL survey, taken bi-annually by teachers in Kentucky, showed that 98.5 percent of teachers in the Commonwealth design their curriculum around the Common Core State Standards. Teachers’ widespread support for the standards creates a strong foundation for any co-planning relationship, giving teachers an opportunity to hone in on the key concepts important at each grade level and helping students succeed as independent thinkers.
In the beginning of our collaboration, we realized that we both believed the standards improved our instruction, but we had distinct teaching styles. We realized it was important to share our best instructional strategies and strengths with each other. This provided a foundation that augmented our individual teaching styles, but challenged each other to try new strategies so students could benefit from multiple instructional approaches. The following three-step process is the manifestation of our year of collaboration.
Step 1: Pre-Planning
Planning each unit begins with the PLC/Data Team leader working through most of the pre-planning process individually by arranging standards into units, pairing enduring skills with necessary standards and aligning them to summative assessments. Then the team can come together and design essential questions, learning targets and assessments that will bring the skills alive for students.
Step 2: Planning
The planning stage gives teachers the opportunity to work together and build on each other’s ideas. In the beginning, it’s helpful to sit down and plan the first few lessons together. Although this can be time intensive, it’s the best way to learn each other’s teaching techniques and develop a common lesson structure and design process for each subsequent lesson.
After those first lessons, the team should divide the responsibility for designing lessons. The best way to stay connected at this part of the co-planning cycle is to take advantage of “check & connect” opportunities. These can be brief – almost always shorter than 10 minutes – but these quick moments of reflection give teachers time to ask clarifying questions, provide explanations and most importantly, to challenge each other to stay connected to the skills and standards that move student learning forward.
Step 3: Reflection
Co-planning facilitates natural and continuous reflection and opens the door for professional growth in a non-evaluative environment. Structured, collaborative reflection will provide an opportunity for teachers to talk about their satisfaction with the co-planning process, along with a chance to collaboratively analyze data about student learning outcomes and document the co-planning process for the future.
Co-planning is challenging and time consuming for teachers. It requires collegial rapport that may not come naturally and a level of professional respect that may take time to develop. It is, however, a challenge worth tackling.
Through the co-planning process, we became stronger teacher leaders, both in and out of our classrooms. Our students benefitted from the more robust, creative and exciting curriculum that neither of us could have developed on our own.
Kari Patrick teaches at Shelby County High School (Shelbyville), where she serves as English department chair and teaches 10th-graders. She is a member of the Shelby County Strategic Leadership Team aimed at creating and implementing a plan for fostering 21st century students and teachers. Kari is a Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher Fellow and a Next Generation Instructional Design Teacher.
Katrina Boone currently works in a hybrid role – spending half of her time teaching English at Shelby County High School (Shelbyville) and working half-time as a Teacher Leader on Special Assignment with the Kentucky Department of Education. She is a Teacher Fellow for the America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers and Principals, a Core Advocate for Student Achievement Partners, a Teacher Champion for the Collaborative for Student Success, an English Trainer for Laying the Foundation and a coach with the National Blogging Collaborative. Follow her @katrinaboone.