We all hear that positive collaboration is essential to optimizing learning environments, but what does it mean? How do we develop healthy working relationships? When I started my teaching career, it was not clear to me how to work as a member of a team.
Provincewide Professional Growth Program Launched (Professional Services)
Teachers from across the province came to Toronto in August to take part in ETFO’s new TeachersLearning Together program. They arrived in teams that were grade speciﬁc, division speciﬁc, role speciﬁc, and cross-divisional, and represented almost every board. This groundbreaking initiative is one of several projects ETFO is facilitating using the professional learning funds provided by the Ministry of Education.
This unique program connects classroom teachers, occasional teachers, consultants, ETFO staff, and faculty members from ﬁve universities (Brock, Lakehead, OISE/UT, Trent, and Windsor). Fifty teams will be engaged in an action research project of their own choosing. They intend to investigate a wide range of topics that include supporting oral language development in Aboriginal students, implementing the new kindergarten program, exploring strategies for differentiated instruction, implementing inclusion, and investigating classroom management practices.
Participants were welcomed to the two-day kickoff symposium in August by ETFO’s newly elected president, David Clegg, who emphasized the importance of this model of professional development and highlighted what a valuable opportunity this project is for ETFO, our university partners, and our members. On Tuesday evening the teams worked with keynote speaker Joanne Quinn, an advocate for collaborative learning, to learn about working together and developing a team vision. Participants indi- cated that Joanne’s speech was “interactive and engaging, a great jumping off point for team building and creating vision belief statements. It really connected our group.” They said the session provided “dynamic strategies to have us participate and understand the global project. The activities and group interactions were stimulating.”
The next day Ontario action research experts Megan Borner and Sandra Fraser led the teams through the stages of action research and began the team’s journey. Participant feedback reported that the presenters were “very clear and dynamic and had practical step-by-step ideas that were easily applicable to our action research plan and helped our team to focus our efforts.” Still others observed that “Megan and Sandra gave our team a great starting point. They made us think about our question and how to make sure it was valid and useful.”
Teacher teams were then introduced to the university facilitators who will be working with them throughout the school year. Participants appreciated the opportunity to work as a team and to be supported by their university part- ners. “This is so exciting! We are receiving much needed encouragement from our university partners; we’ve been reminded not to rush – to have conﬁdence in our learning and to be positive,” said one. Another stated, “Prior to the symposium I was unfamiliar with action research; now I am feeling comfortable with our research plan and feel we have a clear focus. Our university partners were a great help and provided their expertise and wisdom.”
Fifty teacher-directed professional learning communities will be established in schools provincewide, or across several schools if the team members involved are in a role-speciﬁc project (e.g., core French, special education, itinerant music teachers, or consultants). Teacher members will develop leadership skills as they work through the project with their team and share their learning with colleagues from across the province. Working with the university faculty will enhance teachers’ professional knowledge as they examine content areas and research-based practices. Most importantly, we are conﬁdent that as the teachers explore, examine, and reﬂect on their own learning, and reﬁne their teaching, their students will also beneﬁt.
To support the teams ETFO is providing several resources. These include:
- four days of release during this school year to work as a team on their project
- the kickoff symposium
- a step-by-step guidebook for action research
- a website that will have a variety of webcasts and will also allow participant discussion
- the university faculty facilitators to act as guides
- a resource for school administrators that suggests how they can sup- port teams
- a celebratory symposium in the fall of 2008 that will give teams an opportunity to share their project and learning.
This program will also help to support Ontario’s new educational research agenda. Our initial literature review indicated that there is little research available with a sample of this size – approximately 200 participants – that examines teacher-led action research supported by educational researchers. This unique partnership provides an excellent opportunity to explore this issue. All participants will be completing a survey that will gather data on teachers’ learning about action research, and on their level of collaboration, conﬁdence, and efﬁcacy in action research. Fifteen teams across the province will also participate in a case-study research project that will investigate the action research process and teacher collaboration in greater depth.
Commenting on the importance of the this project, one of the participants reminded us that “investment in teachers as professionals is very encouraging. It is great to be in charge of our team action plan research project and to have choice in our learning, with time granted within the workday to work together as a team. Thanks ETFO for valuing us as professionals.”
It is going to be a busy year ahead but one with wonderful opportunities to grow and share and work together.