The content below focuses on Santa Barbara City College. Click on their webinar presentation. It begins at 4:40.
Imagine a group of discipline-alike faculty participating in a collaborative inquiry and action process where they:
- Identify what has been difficult to teach and difficult for students to learn
- Collectively define a common student academic need based on data analysis
- Together create an instructional plan (i.e., lesson plan) with agreed upon specific lesson segments and rubrics to assess student learning
- Agree to deliver the same instructional plan
- Analyze student work
- Reflect on what specific instruction led to student learning and what needs to be improved in instruction
Imagine that this process is done through an equity lens where faculty disaggregate their student data to understand who they serve, infuse culturally-relevant practices, and are intentional about collecting student work from disproportionately impacted (DI) students in order to ensure they make modifications to instruction based on the DI data.
We don't need to imagine because such a team exists. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching a Santa Barbara City College English pedagogy inquiry and action team since the summer of 2020. Their productive struggles and effective collaboration to lift each other up and help improve their practices has been nothing short of inspiring.
So, what is faculty collaboration exactly and what does it have to do with continuous improvement in instruction with an equity lens?
In my view, no one can articulate collaboration better than my friend and colleague, Dr. Bill Saunders, long-time district/school teaching coach and advisor. With permission, I have modified excerpts of his collaboration guide for a college setting.
The term collaboration is overused these days, and it seems as if the intellectual nature of collaboration and the goal-driven nature of collaboration are often overlooked or unrecognized. Both Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage dictionaries define collaboration as: “to work jointly with others especially in an intellectual endeavor” (M-W); “to work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort” (AH).
Collaboration is more than just sharing ideas, materials, and experiences. Collaboration is an intellectual endeavor—purposefully working towards a common goal and sustaining that work together until the goal is achieved, and/or until important understandings are gained about the goal and what it takes to achieve it. Given that teaching in higher education is often a lonely endeavor with sporadic collaboration, faculty need and benefit from individual and collective time with colleagues to share in the day-to-day experience of teaching in order to increase student success and close equity gaps.
Faculty who share a common desire to improve their teaching and their students’ learning should consider establishing regular and sustainable times to meet within teams and work on their teaching—planning instruction, trying it in the classroom, analyzing student work and assessments, and refining their methods and practices in order to achieve stated goals. Done well, collaboration can contribute to student learning and achievement. It is a continuous improvement endeavor.
Collaboration contributes to continuous improvement in this manner: Multiple faculty are better than one in thinking and planning how best one might teach something. Multiple classrooms are better than one in providing a fruitful context for testing and figuring out how best to teach something. Collective planning and multiple efforts to test the plan yield more insight and experience than a single faculty can typically produce on his/her own. Having said all that, realizing the promise of collaboration and sustaining continuous improvement does not happen naturally. It requires commitment and effort from each and all members on the team. It also requires a method—how to identify problems worth working on, how to plan instruction collaboratively, how to test the plan in the classroom and preserve observations, how to analyze the effectiveness of the instruction delivered across multiple classrooms, how to refine and improve the instructional plan and delivery based on the analysis of effects, and ultimately how to identify and articulate instructional findings from the total collaborative experience.
This work is hard. Faculty expose their vulnerabilities and it can initially be the cause of significant consternation for some instructors. But it is also highly rewarding. Once faculty get accustomed to meaningful inquiry, they begin to understand that what they're constantly focusing on is their practice and NOT evaluating faculty. And by focusing on their practice, it leads to student success and addressing equity in a meaningful way.
Guided Pathways Coordinator and English faculty member, Margaret Prothero, whom I've had the pleasure of work with to shepherd the work, elaborates on the process.
When working on the 4th pillar of Guided Pathways, “ensure learning,” it is easy for the emphasis to be more focused on the “learning” and less on the “ensure” part of the phrase. This is problematic when you consider who is doing the “learning” (students) and who is doing the “ensuring” (faculty). To be truly student-centered in our work, the onus and responsibility for this pillar should lie with faculty asking not how we get students to learn but rather in determining how we can ensure that learning can and is taking place for all our students. Dr. Al’s structure and format of our Pedagogy Data Inquiry & Action Team provided us a means by which to uncover and to address needs of students in our discipline. With Coach Al’s facilitation, our team determined a specific area where student learning can improve, especially for our most disproportionately impacted students; we then created a detailed lesson together through a process of research, examination, and collaboration, with a deliberate intention towards ensuring student learning. The value of having an experienced coach kept our team action oriented and moving forward, making data-informed choices at every step of the process, while remaining student-centered and equity-minded. This kind of meaningful inquiry and action process is a true application of how we can work to “ensure learning” is happening in our classes.
 Saunders, W.,Talking Teaching Network Handbook, 2015