5-Minute PD: Building a Culture of Collaboration

Latoya Dixon

by | 09.28.18

Latoya Dixon is an educator in South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @latoyadixon5.

When I was an English teacher, my principal observed my lesson one day and gave me the feedback that I’d done a “good job” – and that was it. While I was appreciative that my principal thought I was performing well, I really wanted feedback that would help me improve my practice.

In all my years of experience – as a teacher and as an administrator – I’ve seen again and again that educators are always working to get better. I think the best thing we can do for each other as educators is to provide specific and targeted feedback, whether we’re stepping into the classroom to observe as a principal or as a fellow teacher.

Even when we’re impressed, it’s not enough to say “good job.” We need to be more specific in our praise. For instance, I might say something like, “I liked how you not only gave students examples, but you gave them nonexamples. I liked the justification you provided for your lesson.” This is a really simplified scenario, of course, but my point here is we need to be looking at what our fellow educators are doing that truly connects with students, and then celebrate it with detailed feedback so they can push their strengths even further. When we debrief observations, we need to be ready to cite, quite specifically, why we are saying “good job.” We need to make sure our colleagues feel seen and appreciated.

Being specific about each other’s strengths also provides us with room to give feedback for growth. We might say something like, “I loved the questions you were asking students. If you had utilized the Socratic Seminar methodology instead of calling people at random, I wonder if you might have seen students respond to peers – in agreement or dissent. Here’s why I think that suggestion might make your lesson even more effective.”

Offering feedback gives us an opportunity to work alongside each other. I worked with one teacher, for example, whose students were having a difficult time identifying main ideas in their reading. This teacher and I sat down together after school to outline a strategy, sketch out a lesson and talk through how he’d teach it. After that, we made sure to keep the conversation going – because specific goals open the door to inviting us in for more observations. A colleague can say, “Come observe me again, and tell me what you see now, based on the feedback you gave me before.”

The ways we observe each other’s practice – and take that vulnerable step of inviting our colleagues to observe us – can make a big difference in building relationships and fostering a supportive school culture. The beauty of education is that we live and work and grow in a world of ongoing collaboration, and we know our whole school community is right there growing along with us – which gives all of us a chance to improve together and be the best we can be for our students and each other.

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