Creating a school culture that ensures positive outcomes for all students requires an “all hands on deck” approach to meeting the needs of the school community. Yet, bringing staff, teachers and parents together to do the work of the school is not easy. Collaboration cannot be coerced nor compelled. Rather, school leaders must help all members of the school community feel a sense of pride and ownership in their work.
By Sharon D. Kruse
Kruse is the author of the AASA book Building Strong School Cultures: A Leader’s Guide to Change, published by Corwin Press.
The following tips can help you build a culture of collaboration in your school.
Focus on a clear outcome. The best collaborative projects focus on improving student success and making the school a better place for children to learn. As important as those goals are, words like “success” and “better” lack specificity, making it difficult for people to understand how they can contribute to those goals. Instead, clearly state the desired outcome of a collaborative project, such as “build a new playground,” “develop a tutoring program” or “explore ways for students to participate in service learning.”
Expand leadership opportunities. While it may seem counterintuitive, asking staff, teachers and parents to take on leadership roles—doing more work rather than less—can have positive results. Expanding leadership opportunities develops a critical mass of school members who have leadership skills. As more members become adept at helping the school achieve its goals, more work can be accomplished. Expanding leadership opportunities also reinforces a core tenet of collaboration: equality among all parties.
Create meaningful opportunities for work. People are more willing to collaborate on work that has a significant personal meaning for them. Organizing people around projects in which they feel personally invested will create more synergy for the project, energizing faculty, staff and parents and advancing a collaborative culture. Use a short interest inventory to get a sense of what projects are meaningful to members of your school community. List areas for which you have immediate need, such as data collection and analysis, short- or long-term planning, communication, or afterschool programming and ask respondents to indicate their interest in those areas. Provide several blank spaces for school community members to answer questions such as, “What talents or skills could you share with the school?” and “How would you like to become involved with making our school a success?” Then organize committees around areas of shared interest and provide a charge (or let them develop their own charge) that can focus their collective effort.
Coordinate efforts. Managing collaborative work is vital to success. You can coordinate and manage efforts in several ways, including online through chat rooms and blogs or at committee meetings during which members regularly report on their progress. Capitalize on work across teams. For example, the fundraising group might share their list of contacts with other committees so community agencies are not asked multiple times to donate money or time to the school.
Celebrate the work of others. Finally, celebrate your successes! Find ways to publicize your ongoing collaborative work, giving credit to those who have taken on new roles. As projects draw to a close, focus on the ways collaborative work has enhanced the school and the neighborhood. Use your celebrations to recruit new partners and fortify future collaboration. In this way, collaboration becomes rooted in the school’s culture.
When staff, teachers and parents work together, schools can be happier, healthier places where shared goals are reached and everyone feels a sense of belonging.
For more on this topic, read Building Strong School Cultures: A Leader’s Guide to Change by Sharon Kruse and Karen Seashore Louis, published by Corwin Press (2009).
About the Author
Sharon D. Kruse is a professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Leadership at the University of Akron. During the past two decades, she has studied school leadership and successful school improvement practices as a researcher and as a consultant for schools and school districts. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.