Bring my student’s work to team or grade level meetings? Talk about who is better at teaching this topic than I am? Reflect on my work as a teacher? This is scary stuff for many educators! We are in a profession in which a culture of isolation has been the norm – coming out of that shell and into a collaborative culture can be daunting, overwhelming and downright scary, especially in a time of reform. But looking at student work – collectively – reveals the life of a school community in a time when we, as educators, need to move toward reflective dialogue about our teaching and student learning. And using protocols gives structure to professional conversations about instruction – allowing safe space for difficult conversations with our colleagues about ensuring that ALL students learn.
As we look to create communities of learning in our buildings, we need to consider not only student learning but also the professional growth of teachers. Protocols provide a step-by-step guideline to structure professional discussions about student-performance data, student work, instructional techniques and/or research. The Glossary of Education Reform lists the following general purposes for using protocols:
- Ensuring that educators remain focused on the specific, agreed-upon objectives and goals for a professional conversation.
- Building the foundational communication and facilitation skills essential to effective professional collaboration.
- Helping to nurture a culture of collegiality, trust and mutual appreciation.
- Ensuring everyone in the group has an opportunity to contribute and be heard during a discussion.
- Reducing the tendency toward subjective, digressive or one-sided conversations.
- Promoting focused, substantive, in-depth conversations about a specific topic.
- Encouraging active, respectful listening among all participants.
- Providing a ‘safe space’ for teachers to share their work with colleagues without being concerned about negative criticism.
- Allowing difficult questions or issues to be raised in constructive ways.
- Eliminating unhelpful excuses, complaints, or comments about student behavior from professional discussion.
- Keeping conversations focused on goals, solutions and results.
Educators in Professional Learning Communities often use protocols to structure discussions when looking at student work. The goal of these groups is to improve academics for students and teaching skills for educators through regularly scheduled meeting with a focus on data and results in which they share their expertise and work collaboratively to ensure learning for all. Debriefing sessions are the follow-up to most protocols and allow time for reflection on the learning process, the success of the process and suggestions for how the process could be improved.
The Tuning Protocol, developed by the Coalition of Essential Schools, is a “facilitated process to support educators in sharing their students’ work and, with colleagues, reflect upon the lessons that are embedded” in the collaborative analysis of student work. The steps of this protocol include an Introduction, Presentation, Clarifying Questions, Examination of Student Work Samples, Pause to Reflect on Warm and Cool Feedback, Warm and Cool Feedback, Reflection and Debrief. Warm feedback includes stating how the work meets the goals with a sentence starter such as, “I like…” and cool feedback can be reflective questions such as “I wonder if…?”
There are many other protocols to use in various situations and for specific purposes. The National School Reform Faculty and the School Reform Initiative websites are two great sources of protocols. Next time you are meeting with colleagues to collaboratively share and analyze student work, try out the Tuning Protocol, you might be surprised at the quality of discussion, the amount of active listening that occurs, and the constructive feedback everyone receives.