Teacher collaboration and shared decision-making.
In the midst of monumental changes and innovative learning strategies, raising the degree of teacher voice in our schools is needed now more than ever. While many improvement processes and strategies have come on the scene to support schools in leadership growth and student achievement, a vital component is to flatten the leadership hierarchy through collaboration and shared decision-making for sustained change. The implementation of the Teacher-Based Team (TBT) process has allowed the voice of teachers to be a dynamic game changer in school improvement.
Almost a decade ago, I was on the original writing team as a district administrator, along with representatives from various leadership groups across the state of Ohio, developing the Ohio Leadership Advisory Council’s Ohio Improvement Process (OIP). A hallmark in the creation of the process was to develop leadership capacity throughout the schools in a systematic way. The research from educational leaders, including Brian McNulty, Doug Reeves, and Bob Marzano, built on the practice of professional learning communities and data teams. In the same context, TBTs collaborate to: (1) establish common learning targets, (2) create and use common classroom formative assessments aligned to the targets, and (3) analyze the results collaboratively to monitor progress and share promising practices. In order to provide support and monitor implementation, Building Leadership Teams (BLTs), composed of building administrators, teachers, and support staff representatives, are also necessary.
That Was Then
When the OIP framework and TBT process were initially released across the entire state, I participated in team implementation of both initiatives in a rural school district. While we were trailblazers in regard to implementing a framework without much personal guidance or other districts to help us in our journey, our District Leadership Team saw the benefits in building the support system. As with any new process, we used the newly-released documents and resources offered in creating the TBT structure. Looking back, we created structures by copying others rather than seeking to understand the foundational concepts along with our needs in order
to integrate them into our culture.
In addition, we spent too much time creating forms and processes instead of explaining the reason for the process or how to systematically participate in collegial dialogue. While many of the key leaders understood the “why,” we did not invest the proper time to bring everyone together to define the need for this change.
Although we established Building Leadership Teams in our district prior to the implementation of TBTs, we didn’t provide sufficient training on how to support them. The BLTs went through the motions in gathering updates, sharing data, and creating plans, but we rarely provided true support and guidance on how to use the data to identify strategies and create plans for student growth.
This Is Now
More than five years later, I recently completed my first year at Worthington City Schools during which I implemented the TBT. A lot of lessons were learned at the state and district levels since the inception of the OIP.
First, there was a deep level of leadership focus on formative instructional practices in the areas of identifying and communicating clear learning targets and formative feedback prior to the implementation of TBTs. This caused alignment to occur as well as deep understanding of the content standards. It also helped teachers to understand effective forms of feedback predicated on data analysis with specific actions for student growth.
Second, comprehensive school-wide training was conducted providing specific actions and steps in the TBT process. From examples learned in previous districts, a set of non-negotiables were established regarding the TBT process based on the foundational steps in the process. At the same time, the leaders provided options in how often, when, and how the TBTs met and communicated the progress to the BLTs and each other. Providing a set of tight and loose guidelines allowed for ownership, creativity, and clarity in the process.
Third, ongoing support was provided at the district level by coaches, directors, and administrators, to attend BLT meetings to offer coaching feedback. In addition, this also allowed the district level members to come together in a District Leadership Team setting to share BLT updates as well as determine systemic and systematic professional development needs.
Finally, the use of technology has helped to identify, collect, and store information in order to maximize efficiency and impact. Sharing information within each TBT and with the BLT has been essential in maximizing the time TBT members are together to engage in meaningful dialogue and make decisions on student needs instead of filling out forms or being buried in printed handouts and spreadsheets.
Where Do We Go From Here
As we continue our journey in the TBT process, we will continue to provide district-level focus through professional development and monitoring of data for support. In addition, based on feedback gathered from the TBT and BLT level, professional development is being provided in this area to help clarify and bring consistency to the data collection and monitoring processes. Finally, we will also continue to create opportunities for staff to interact with one another across TBTs and BLTs to share effective practices.
The implementation of TBTs has been a vital opportunity to provide a much-needed space for teacher voice at the center of learning. As districts provide the fidelity in implementing the TBT process, it has the potential to raise student achievement while also building a collaborative learning community for all involved.