mutual accountability and collaboration. BASRC evaluators (McLaughlin and Talbert, 2000) reported statistically significant relationships between measures of teacher community and gains in students’ SAT-9 scores between 1998 and 2001, as well as strong correlations between teacher community and student survey measures of teacher-student respect, student initiative in class, and students’ academic self-efficacy.
Newmann and associates (1996) reported that strong norms of teacher collaboration in schools were associated with more effective implementation of reforms and continuous improvement of practice. They found five elements to be critical to the effectiveness of professional learning groups: (1) shared norms and values, (2) focus on student learning, (3) reflective dialogue among teachers, (4) deprivatization of practice through public discussions of instructional cases and problems among colleagues, and (5) collaboration on curriculum and instruction (Louis and Marks, 1998). Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider (2002) studied relational trust in schools and found that building social trust among faculty and between faculty and students pays dividends in the levels of engagement around reform initiatives and improved student achievement. They argue that this is especially critical in urban settings, where the work is especially hard. While organizing groups of teachers to work together can result in functional communities that focus their efforts and resources on instructional improvement and teacher learning, merely creating group structures by no means guarantees such positive outcomes. Supovitz (2002) found that simply making structural changes that support school-level teacher groups (e.g., providing release time) may not result in collaboration around instruction or improved pedagogical decisions. Groups may develop that are not engaged in instructional improvement. McLaughlin and Talbert (2000) reported similar findings in their study of high school departments.
Developing teacher groups focused on improvement of instructional practice requires intentionality and support. For groups to work toward instructional improvement, they require time for individuals to work together, for example, shared planning periods. However, the expectations about the use of this time must also be clear. DuFour (2000) also noted the importance of active leaders who help the group identify critical questions to guide their work, set obtainable goals, monitor progress, and ensure that teachers have relevant information and data (e.g., measures of student learning).
Connecting teachers to work groups, teams, and departments that are focused on instructional reform can be an effective means of improving learning environments for students, but it will require leadership, time, and resources to develop. Collaboration, critique, and analytic discussion of practice are essential aspects of a functional teacher group, but these features are often antithetical to existing school and teacher cultures.