Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Reflections on Teacher Collaboration

This week, I have been attending the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (ICMI) Study Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.  To say this place is stunning is an understatement.  I've never traveled internationally, but Lisbon is an absolutely gorgeous city and I am so honored to be attending this conference.

The theme of the conference is teacher collaboration and I'm here to share about the power of social media as a tool for teacher collaboration.  I'm surrounded by some of the top minds in mathematical education research and I have been soaking up every bit of knowledge that I can.

Throughout this week, one thought that continues to go through my brain is how to make better connections between the research that I am reading and learning about to my actual classroom practice and that of my district.  Obviously these researchers have spent many hours working with teachers in their study on how to improve their practice, but how does that research get into classrooms around the nation / globe?  What can I do to share what I've learned here with my colleagues back home and really work to increase our professional knowledge and improve student learning as a result?

The ultimate question I keep coming back to is this... what is effective teacher collaboration?  What does it look like?  What does it sound like?

The structure of the conference is unlike any conference I've ever been to, but I honestly love how it is structured and how it could be adapted to the classroom.  In my Working Group sessions, we have a variety of papers that were submitted detailing the research.  Each presenter has 10 minutes to present, then another participant has prepared a 5 minute response to the paper.  All of the papers were made available to us to pre-read and generate questions for the authors via a shared Google document.  As a classroom teacher, I can see a scaled down version of this model being used for classroom presentations, where students submit their project / paper / presentation, then do a short summary for the class, a peer reviewer gives a response, and everyone is asked to reflect via a Google document to ask questions.

During some of the presentations, I've definitely seen strong connections to topics discussed often in the #MTBoS, such as productive discourse among teachers via social media, vertical non-permanent surfaces, and the role of the "5 practices" model with anticipating student responses.  But again, I come back to the core question - what is effective teacher collaboration?

Is it a book study?  Is it a discussion on teaching methods?  Is it those 5-minute spontaneous hallway conversations?  I think it *could* be, but is that the norm?  How often do we sit down with our colleagues and truly lesson plan?  Not just pacing out the chapter / unit, but discussing appropriate tasks, quality questions, anticipating student responses?  How often do we really dig into the quality of our assessments or assignments?  Are we actually assigning "exercises" vs "problems"  (and what separates an exercise from a problem?).  Are we gathering and sharing and analyzing data to help us improve our instruction?  Are we recording our lessons and truly listening to the quality of the questions we are asking?

Now don't get me wrong - these things take time and as a classroom teacher, time is something that is sorely lacking.  I have 160 students each day, plus another 20 in my Advisory.  I have lessons to plan, papers to grade, plus other responsibilities at school and at home.  How can we build these structures to accomodate the realities of classroom teaching?  How can we put systems and processes in place that benefit student learning without putting unneccessary burden on the teachers?

I already have a list of topics that I want to discuss with my administration when I get home about this idea.  I would really like to see my site / department develop a theme-based model of a PLC where we are able to dig in throughout the year into some messy work centering around a topic of concern for our site / department.  We currently have 6 "collaboration days" built into our schedule, but after attending ICMI, I think there is so much more that we could be doing with those 6 days.

Thank you, ICMI, for this opportunity to learn more about teacher collaboration and what it can look like in day-to-day practice.  Thank you for providing access to research that impacts the classroom from around the world.  I am so very grateful for this opportunity to learn with and from so many amazing teacher educators and researchers.

No comments: