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Chaim Y. Botwinick

Inspiring and Promoting Faculty Collaboration in our Jewish Day Schools

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As we know, educational personnel hold the key to effective education. To this end, it is essential that our teachers and instructional staff are provided the human and material resources necessary in order to maximize their teaching effectiveness, performance and impact.

Whether they be Limudei Kodesh (Judaic Studies) or Limudei Chol (General Studies) faculty, it is essential that our teachers recognize, appreciate and celebrate their respective roles and responsibilities as a most valued and respected integral part to the school’s academic program, culture and success.

All too often, teachers in our Jewish day schools and yeshivot, especially those who teach part-time, feel that they are somewhat less engaged, disconnected or on the periphery, and therefore are less valued than those with more full-time responsibilities or teaching portfolios. This perception has been promulgated over the years, especially in middle and high schools where there is by definition more departmentalization  than on the elementary school level.

This phenomenon may also exist in select schools between Judaic and General Studies faculty, depending upon the school’s schedule and its curricular balance, hashkafa and focus.

Over the past several decades, the teaching profession in our yeshivot and Jewish day schools has undergone dramatic transformation. Compensation, retention and recruitment challenges and opportunities, albeit still below par,   have  increased; and  what was once considered a lonely and at times unappreciated profession is now beginning to evolve into a wonderful community of learners. These communities of learners  are eager to share with each other their creative approaches to teaching, student engagement and academic standards. These include the sharing of pedagogic methods, techniques, and approaches to classroom management and student discipline; as well as creative and innovative ways in which we respond to the social and emotional challenges of students as well as parent interaction.

Building the Case for Faculty Collaboration and Teamwork

Research suggests that schools benefit tremendously when teachers come together in order to share ideas, resources, approaches and pedagogy. To be sure, teacher collaboration has been proven to “create better instruction, expands a teachers toolkit and creates an environment wherein teachers feel part  of a total school learning community (on the same page). In addition, it allows teachers to focus more on student learning and on how to teach different learning styles; increases student effort by challenging more students to more seriously articulation core competencies expected of their students”; and, it enhances teacher responsibility by allowing teachers to develop a greater sense of accountability,

“Teamwork” on the other hand may take on the same characteristics as “collaboration” with one major difference – “teamwork” combines the individual efforts of all team members to achieve a goal……whereas people working “collaboratively” design and complete a project collectively.

For some schools, the differences are purely semantic, for others there are significant differences, albeit subtle in nature. For the purpose of this post, collaboration may include teamwork and visa versa.

Creating a Collaborative Mindset

More often than not, I hear principals and heads of school ask: “how do I get my faculty (Kodesh or Chol) to work together collaboratively? how do I create a positive or a growth mindset for increased collaboration among my faculty?  how do I motivate and/or incentivize faculty collaboration? and finally, the ultimate question – where do we find the precious time for faculty to engage in collaborative projects?

If collaboration between and among teachers is an endeavor which the school’s leadership is committed to pursuing, then one of the first challenges is for the principal and/or head of school to help develop, create and nurture this culture in the school. This is accomplished  by making faculty partnerships, collaboration and teamwork  a top school priority.

There are a host of ways in which teacher collaboration can be actualized in  our yeshivot and Jewish day schools.

In a wonderful paper published by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, entitled Creating Stronger, More Collaborative Teacher Teams”,  (May 6, 2022), we learn that “teacher collaboration is one of the most powerful professional learning practices available to educators today”.

As such, through collaboration, teachers begin to understand and discuss how instructional actions impact student outcomes and collectively identify how to improve assessment; it shifts instruction and intimately impacts student achievement. It also allows teachers to appreciate and celebrate each other’s accomplishments, fund ways to work through difficult challenges, and come up with a plan for success based on past methods. This all, according to the paper, results in a shared sense of responsibility for their students.

So, where does the head of school, principal and/or department head begin in order to create and expand s school culture that promotes and supports teacher collaboration.

The following are several potential models for consideration….

In the belief that people support what they help to create, one of the first steps in this process could be to invite two or three teachers to work collaboratively on a specific project, whether it be curricular or programmatic in nature, impacting curricula and a critical mass of students. The teachers, are provided appropriate guidance, support and supervision and process to design the project with measurable goals, objective, benchmarks and anticipated student outcomes.

Once the collaborative project is completed and means tested (with results that are ready to be shared with other faculty), the three collaborating faculty members are invited to present their collaborative process and results with the entire faculty.

The power of sharing these collaborative experiences with other faculty are not only important, they are imperative. They inform, inspire, motivate and encourage other teachers to understand and embrace the power of collaboration.

This should be the first step in attempting to develop a school culture of collaboration.

Other models which this writer experienced and facilitated include:

  • Having faculty share with one-another classroom management techniques, interactive  computer based instruction; the creative and effective use of “centers” in the classroom; creative formative and summative student assessment techniques; and experiments  in differentiated instruction.
  • Providing teachers the opportunity to brainstorm and think-tank  together regarding  curricular innovations and  instructional design (either in small groups or by grade levels)
  • Encouraging faculty and staff to share their teaching and programming accomplishments and successes; and  even those valuable experiences which were not totally successful;
  • Allowing faculty to compare notes, assessments and concerns regarding students; and, the sharing of ways in which they (teachers)  overcame and/or responded to these academic, social or emotional barriers and/or obstacles.

Critical to the success of these learning/teaching challenges is the need for the principal, head of school, department chair and/or supervisor to carve-out common planning time for teachers to meet, share, reflect and dream together. This common planning time should not sacrifice lunch breaks or personal down-time but rather integrated into the teacher’s daily schedule, on a rotating basis.

At first blush, these suggestions appear to be logical and simple. But as we know, nothing is simple, especially when teachers are invited to work together collaboratively. To be sure, there will always be a cadre of teachers who would rather work independently, are unable to share and who are somewhat introverted. Then there are those teachers who are very collaborative, giving , extroverted and cannot share enough.

In these instances it is important for the supervisor to help create a balance in order to help modulate expectations without force feeding a specific approach.  Remember, it takes time and tremendous  patience to create and build a school culture of teacher collaboration. In addition, these expectations must be included (from the get-go) in a teacher’s repertoire of requirements and expectations. In fact, the “collaboration” requirement should be included in the teacher’s engagement contract. Having said that it will take time, guidance, direction and encouragement.

Anticipated Challenges:

As indicated, there are several challenges which school administrators must be mindful of when aspiring to create a collaborative community in a school.  They include time on task and continued supervision and guidance. Effective collaboration always requires sensitivity to time constraints and ongoing extensive supervision and follow-up. Anything less will compromise the school’s ability and capacity  to create a true community of collaborative learners. .

One of the most valued and precious commodities facing our faculty and administration is the availability of time.

As we know, schools (and teachers) are time-starved. Dual curricula, conflicting schedules, full-time vs.part-time faculty and family commitments, are just several of the challenges our teachers and schools are facing when trying to free-up time in order to help faculty collaborate with one another.

In light of these time-sensitive realities, it is imperative that the head of school and/or principal allot adequate time designed specifically for teacher collaborative projects and for collaborative professional development initiatives.

This will require that the school budget for these realities. A special budget allocation should be earmarked for this purpose which would pay for substitute faculty while the school’s permanent faculty are working together on collaborative/joint projects. This is probably the only effective way to free up time for these activities. Alternatively, the school should provide a special grant or subsidy for teachers  to work on weekends and after school hours during the week.

The second challenge relates to ongoing teacher and faculty guidance and clinical supervision.

School-based professional development and growth initiatives, whether they be collaborative in nature or assigned to an individual faculty member, should be available as a means to enhancing  a teacher’s impact and effectiveness. As such, the role of the head of school and/or principal is to help teachers and faculty identify those modalities and areas of focus which endeavor to meet this objective.

In addition, when a senior educational administrator presents a professional development series to faculty (as an opportunity for professional growth and development), it not only inspires  individual teacher training, but a desire for faculty to engage in collaborative learning.

These are just several of the realities  we face when inspiring teacher collaboration through professional development.

Finally, in the ideal world, all faculty should be assessed through ongoing and continued supervision, classroom observations, meaningful feedback, and preparedness. To this end, one of the criteria for faculty assessment may include “collaboration”.

This requirement may appear to be somewhat out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, in order to create and foster a culture of collaboration in the school, concerted efforts should be made to help train and guide faculty to become more collaborative or at best collaborative practitioners.

This challenge will not be realized overnight, nor will it be easy for all staff to embrace. Collaboration requires hard work and skill; and above all, a willingness to engage in collaborative practice.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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