Students discuss in a group.

Rabbi David Saltzman Ed.D May 2, 2022

Using a Strategy Showcase to Create a Collaborative Teacher Community

Rabbi David Saltzman Ed.D

BetterLesson Instructional Coach and Director of Teaching and Learning

When our school launched instructional coaching through BetterLesson last year, we started with about 20 teachers including educators in their first to the fourth year as well as several veteran teachers.  As they worked with their coaches to learn new strategies and implement them in their classrooms, we noticed an exciting trend: teachers were feeling empowered and noticeably growing their practice.

Inspired by this growth, we began to examine ways we could help teachers who did not have the chance to participate in coaching grow as well–before next year’s coaching cycle began.

The Problem

Schools thrive on combined and cohesive effort as much as teachers’ individual agency, but, like many schools, we knew we had room to grow our culture in both areas. Before taking any action, we asked ourselves the following questions.

  • How can our school promote teacher agency and autonomy?
  • How can we create a culture of collaboration and cooperation?

On our final professional development day of the school year, we organized a workshop that helped answer these questions and begin to shift our school culture.

The Solution: Strategy Showcase

We knew that we had a unique opportunity to leverage the knowledge, growth, and experience of our coaching participants to help all the educators in our school grow. That’s why, working with BetterLesson, we conceived of a new idea called Strategy Showcase. We wanted teachers to break free of their classroom walls, demonstrate their growth, and share their accomplishments with their colleagues.

The Goals

Goal 1: Teachers should be in charge of their professional development and promote teacher agency.

Goal 2: Create a culture of collaboration and cultivate community amongst the staff.

The Method

We accomplished these goals through two paths. First, we offered all teachers the option to present their strategies or ideas to their colleagues. We hoped to recruit willing teachers by providing a safe space for teachers to take risks and share their challenges and growth. Additionally, offering this opportunity to the entire staff would create diverse presentations from various subject teachers and support staff. There would also be presentations from teachers in the Early Childhood, Lower School, and Middle School divisions. We sent a Google form explaining the Strategy Showcase, its purpose, and how to apply in order to recruit presenters. Here is the email (feel free to adapt it and use it in your school).

Setting Teachers Up for Success

Fifteen teachers signed up and took the risk to present and put themselves in a position of vulnerability in front of their co-workers. Many of the volunteers were coached during the year through BetterLesson and shared their growth and strategies they developed. Topics included: Teacher Language & Academic Choice, Jigsaw Research ProjectLiterature Circles, and Academic Choice Boards.

Once the list of presentations was set, we put teachers in charge of their professional development by offering them a choice of which workshops to attend. After we distributed a list of all the workshops and locations, teachers were able to direct their professional development pathways. Every seven minutes, there was an announcement, and teachers rotated to their next choice. After four rotations, the session concluded.

Faculty Response

After the professional development day, we administered a survey. This graph shows teacher responses from the showcase. The results speak for themselves.

BL22_Blog_Strategy-Showcase-graph89% of the respondents rated the showcase a 4/4. Does that ever happen in a professional development workshop?

The individual responses demonstrate that we accomplished our goals to develop teacher professional development choice and agency and create a culture of collaboration. Here are some examples of teachers responses:

It was nice to have the option to choose which presentation to attend.

I loved visiting our colleagues to see what worked well. I learned so much in that time.

I appreciated making a choice to attend the workshops from which I felt I would gain the most. There was a good sampling of choices. Also, having colleagues present (in addition to specialists) gave the sessions another air of relatability and relevancy.

The ability to choose and see wonderful examples of innovation by our peers. The ability to learn from each other and take pride in the successes happening every day in our school.

For Next Time…

Almost all of the feedback was positive. Some teachers made some suggestions to improve the Strategy Showcase. When we run it again, we are considering the following adjustments based on their feedback.

More Time at Each Session

Teachers wanted to learn more, have time to ask questions, and see an example of the strategy in action. Seven minutes was not enough to do all of that. In our planning, the goal was for teachers to be exposed to other ideas and follow up in the future with the teacher experts, but teachers wanted more in the moment. To service those needs, at our next PD we chose three popular ideas and gave teachers more time to explore and learn with the presenter.

Presenters Also Want to Learn

Another point was from the presenters themselves. They wanted to see their colleagues in action. The next time, we will build time into the schedule for the presenters to visit others.

More Time to Decide

We distributed the list of presenters a few minutes before the showcase. Based on feedback, teachers wanted more time to think about and consider which strategy they wanted to attend. Therefore, the next time we will provide the lists at the start of the day and provide more time for teachers to decide where to go.

Lessons Learned

Collaboration and Community can be Cultivated in Small Groups

We have been working to create a unified school community over the last few years. We have the Early Childhood, Lower School, and Middle School in the same building. That’s about 200+ staff members working on different floors, teaching their own students and with separate administrators. It’s a challenge to find opportunities for everyone to work together. Our attempts at providing professional development to the entire staff in mixed groups were unsuccessful. The group was too large, and it was impersonal. However, when teachers learned in small, more intimate groups with teachers from all divisions, meeting presenters from all departments, and doing the activity with the entire school simultaneously, it provided a sense of unity and cohesiveness.

Teachers Want To Share Under the Right Conditions

There is a wealth of wisdom amongst our teachers. Each one has diverse experiences and areas of specialty. The challenge is when and how teachers can find the time to be resources to their colleagues. With the administration providing structure and a format, teachers were willing to take risks and felt safe to share with others. Not everyone is ready to take this leap, and the presenters were appreciative that a forum like this made it easier to volunteer, prepare, and share.

Modeling Teacher Agency Opens the Discussion for Student Agency

With BetterLesson’s coaching assistance, we have been promoting and advancing opportunities for student agency and choice in the classroom. We designed the Strategy Showcase intending to model teacher agency. Teachers realized how much more engaged they were when they had some elements of choice. Providing this experience with an opportunity to debrief at future grade-level meetings helped shift teacher mindsets about student autonomy.

Next Steps: BetterLesson Coaching for Everyone

With the successful pilot of the first BetterLesson cohort, followed by the Strategy Showcase accomplishment, we enrolled all 70 Lower School teachers with coaching through BetterLesson through the 2022 school year. We’re looking forward to another year of continuous growth!