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Let's Talk


Forget the in-service workshops and the highly qualified teacher requirements. It could be that the best way for schools to improve teachers’ performance is simply to let them talk to each other—at least according to one researcher. In an award-winning study of Pittsburgh public schools, Carrie Leana, a professor of organizations and management, found that the openness of a school’s communication networks was a more important factor to students’ success on math and reading tests than teachers’ credentials or experience levels.

Leana suggests that school leaders spend less time worrying about formal teacher training and performance evaluations and more on “encouraging interaction and connections among the faculty.”

Asked what school administrators had done in response to her findings, she said: “Nothing.”


I agree with this idea of allowing teachers to engage in conversations about teaching. However, I am an experienced teacher and now an administrator. Too often the discussion turns into a gripe session or a blame session.

So, how do we provide structure for these conversations?

I suggest allowing the teachers to come up with their own agenda in advance (1,2, or 3 topics max per session if short sessions) and limit each topic to a specific amount of time. Move on to the next topic when the initial enthusiasm wanes, time is up, or griping begins. Plan specifically to revisit topics that generate the kind of conversation that participants mutually agree upon as being worthy of revistation for whatever reasons they decide. Suggest that the conversation lead to ways/means to improve some aspect of education such as instruction, learning, student behavior/classroom management and so forth.

I think that a meeting of inexperienced teacher and an experienced teacher is necessary. The improvement for the inexperience teacher is inevitable when communication is up between them all. Also, I believe that experience teacher need to be very open minded in the conversation and only guide the conversation in order to work and embrassed new ways of thinking
thank you so much

In response to Suzanne's question--from my "outside" experience as a parent, I would suggest that there are multiple overlooked opportunities for teacher communication on a daily basis. Every year my student brings home 5+ separate sets of "classroom expectations" to be read, signed and sent back. Does this make sense, or might teachers collaborate on a clear set of across the board expectations (and really, outside of format, these things don't vary all that much)--based on experience, research and some clarity about what these things are supposed to accomplish.

Most of the schools in my experience are in the midst of some formalized "improvement" experience. To the extent that I have been able to review planning documents, it is clear that each portion is written by somebody different, with different strengths (and for the most part very little is widely known or implemented). The math portion generally does better with measureable goals. The language arts portion usually excels in grammatical correctness (but is wordy and cannot commit to anything measureable). The science people have a clue about writing and applying a hypothesis about what they believe might work (and why). Clearly these people are not TALKING to one another--what a lost opportunity. As a result, the plan is not very good, but is submitted and filed away--with new people to start all over again the following year.

I have attended parent nights when it was clear that NOBODY had engaged in any advance planning, or felt any sense of responsibility for how things went (made one think they really preferred that parents not even show up). This is another opportunity for staff to communicate with one another--set goals (beyond how many people show up--what do they want to happen?), and figure out how best to reach them. Here's a revolutionary idea--some parents could be included in the planning!

Communication doesn't mean inventing new things to talk about--it means consulting with one another meaningfully about the things that you are already doing.

I think that Suzanne – the first person to post a response – asked a great question! How do we provide structure for teacher conversations so that they do not turn into gripe sessions? I’ll post a couple of ideas and then look forward to reading ideas others post.
1. First, a productive conversation about instruction needs to have a clear purpose. Where does it need to lead? (A good source for answering that question would be student data . . . in what area do students need teachers to be more effective instructors?)
2. After determining a focus – stick to it. Teachers need to have norms and specific procedures in place to keep conversations on track.
3. Teachers need specific time set aside for these conversations and they need to occur on a regular basis. Occasional meetings just don’t get the job done.

I agree with William in that teachers need to have some autonomy in setting their directions. I think, however, that this should be within specific parameters that guide their conversations toward examining, reflecting on, and improving teaching for today’s students. In fact, I believe that these are the truly important conversations that teachers should have!

Few people who are not enmeshed in the everyday routine of the school day understand how difficult it is for teachers to find the time to converse and collaborate in meaningful ways during their work day. Adult isolation is the norm in our schools. I am constantly encouraged by the school leaders who are making time for teachers to collaborate!

Thanks so much for this focus on how important teacher social networks are!


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Recent Comments

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  • Margo/Mom: In response to Suzanne's question--from my "outside" experience as a read more
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