Walking the talk

One of the most common learning outcomes expected of students in any school is the ability to constructively work together with others on various academic and non-academic tasks. Students who do not work well with others are considered ill-prepared for the world of work. They invariably perform poorly on tasks like group projects and presentations that require collective effort of everyone to be successful.

The paradox

While school administrators and teachers work hard to create interest and instill skills that would enable students to work cooperatively on various school tasks, little emphasis is placed on the level and quality of cooperation that exist between administrators and teachers, as well as among teachers. While collaboration is a catchword in the field of business management and leadership, it is hardly a concept that depicts the realities of how adults in a school behave and respond to each other.

Schools are supposed to be places where the concept of collaborative problem solving and decision making is upheld and promoted. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. While students are coaxed into cooperative learning, administrators and teachers work themselves out of it. Students understand the benefit of cooperating with their peers conceptually, but they hardly see the same principle put into action by their role models. By doing this, we give mixed messages to the youth of tomorrow.

Believing we can

Expecting administrators and teachers to harmoniously work together without any bickering is like expecting impossibilities. This may be possible in a perfect world, but it cannot be true in our world. The kind of stress and pressure that everyone is exposed to in the school does not allow them to work together as well as we would want them to. These are the excuses most people give.

I would like to believe otherwise. It is possible for people to effectively work together in the school system. If students can do it, why can’t administrators and teachers who teach them how to do it in the first place? It takes deliberate decision and effort on the part of adults to make this happen. Often, adults are quick to and good at teaching things to others, especially those younger than themselves – but they seldom reflect on whether or not they believe in what they teach; they often overlook the fact that their lives are totally opposite to what they teach to kids.

An example

One of the reasons that encouraged more competition than cooperation among administrators and teachers is the way education was organized and delivered in the past. Take curriculum development for example. Curriculum was developed by a “group of geniuses” who literally had no access to or any connection with actual classroom experiences of teachers and students. Their work was to put together a curriculum (What to teach, how to teach, and how to assess learning) and prescribe it to teachers. An administrator was appointed to make sure that the prescribed curriculum is implemented as instructed. Teachers on the other hand were preoccupied with covering the curriculum as best as they could. They were closed within the four walls of their own classrooms because they did not have the luxury of time and space to think about and work with other teachers – because everyone was busy finishing up his/her own curriculum tasks.

However, new ways of looking at the curriculum and how it is developed have revolutionized how administrators and teachers respond to each other. Although the concept of curriculum mapping is fairly new, it embodies a fresh outlook on how education is organized and delivered in the 21st century. Curriculum mapping requires that teachers who teach a subject work on their own curriculum map. This means that teachers are empowered to decide on what students should learn, how they should be taught, and how learning is assessed. Additionally, and this is very important, curriculum maps are regularly reviewed by groups of teachers and administrators who gather to fill in the gaps that exist in the document through reflective discussions.

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