Inquiry-based Learning is what we do
Teacher Collaboration how we do it
The first of these new initiatives involves a greater focus on teacher collaboration as the foundation of our school's professional development and teacher growth plan.
Historically at the Science School we have allotted agreat deal of time and resources toward opportunities for our teachers to meet and plan together. Time and time again we have observed how protected and collaborative planning time is foundational to the design of strong inquiry-based work. Teachers need time to brainstorm ideas and create learning experiences that are engaging and build deep understanding of core concepts.
We believe that exemplary learning experiences for students don't emerge unplanned but rather are the result of careful and professional reflection and planning by teachers.
In previous years much of our collaborative planning was done during release time from classroom teaching. Our school has allowed teachers to book subs for half or full days, and to sit down with other teachers to create projects. Also, teachers could choose to be supported in their planning by a mentor from the Galileo Educational Network, or one of the instructional support staff here at the school.
While this release time has been a key element in many of our projects, there has predictably been a wide range in the amount of collaboration that occurs across the grades. As is the case with the vast majority of schools, not all our teaching teams make use of the same amounts of planning time, nor do all teams work together to the same extent. However, we wanted to explore ways to make the teacher collaboration within our school more consistent from teaching team to teaching team, and provide more opportunities for our administration to provide instructional support to classroom teachers.
With this in mind, we have made significant changes in our timetable to create collaborative planning blocks for all teachers. Here at CSS there are two of each of the core subject teachers (2 grade four math/science teachers, 2 grade four humanities teachers, etc). We feel that collaboration between these subject teaching partners is the key to designing strong inquiry-based work. In our new timetable, each core subject teacher now has two 1.5 hour blocks of time in each 5 day schedule that is shared with their subject teaching partner. These blocks of time are no longer referred to as preps, but now labeled planning time in the teachers' timetables.
A Typical CSS teacher Timetable:
At the same time, we wanted to find a way to assess the quality of the collaboration that occurs among our staff, so we adapted a pre-existing teacher collaboration rubric. (from Gajda, R. & Koliba, C. (2008). "Evaluating and Improving the Quality of Teacher Collaboration: A Field-Test for School Leaders," NASSP Bulletin, volume 92, Number 2)
Our plan is to use this rubric at various points throughout the year as a tool to track the nature of collaboration among our teaching staff. What we valued with this particular rubric and the accompanying article was the challenge to deepen discussion to build effective professional collaboration. We believe this rubric will push our entire staff into collectively examining their practice more deeply, and to create a stronger spirit of professional collaboration as the foundation for how we work at the Calgary Science School.