Are YOU Well Connected!

by Lori Korinek, Ph.D., and Sue Land, M.Ed.

Would others describe you as "well connected"? Do you know whom to ask or where to go when you need to get something done or need some help?

Successful people in every field make many critical connections and accomplish remarkable things by effectively using their connections. So, too, do educators. Call it "making connections," "establishing relationships," "effective collaboration" with kids, colleagues, and the community - it's all about joining with others to accomplish the enormous task of educating today's students. The days of teachers working in isolation behind closed classroom doors are gone. The challenges have become far too complex and demanding for educators to persist in "going it alone."

There are many obstacles to connecting with others in our schools that you might be thinking of as reasons not to collaborate - time constraints, subject and departmental differences, scheduling and personality conflicts, reluctance to ask for help or share ideas, etc.  But in the long run, the benefits of working with others - for educators, students, and school communities - far outweigh the inconveniences. Educators who successfully collaborate with others report a higher degree of daily satisfaction and sense of reward from their profession; they are happier people. Relationships with colleagues make complex tasks more manageable by reducing individual planning time while increasing the available pool of ideas, skills, and resources, which gives educators the capacity to attempt innovations that would typically be beyond the power of one individual (Inger, 1993; Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000).  Interconnectedness better prepares teachers to support each other's strengths and accommodate needs, helping to prevent stress-related problems that often result in burnout and teacher turnover (Billingsley, 2004). Overall, successful partnerships allow educators to work smarter, not harder.

Educators are not the only - or primary - beneficiaries of effective teaming. Virtually every major report on successful schools issued within the last decade identifies effective school partnerships focused on learning as an essential feature of programs that result in better student achievement, behavior, and attitudes (e.g., ERIC/OSEP, 2002; Ferguson, Kozlesky, & Smith, 2005). Students can see consistency and coherence in their school's curriculum, instruction, and structures as well as feel the improved climate when educators put a premium on partnerships. Educational change expert Michael Fullan (2002) stated, "The single factor common to successful change is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, schools get better. If relationships remain the same or get worse, ground is lost" (p. 16).

Numerous formal and informal possibilities for school partnerships exist. Leadership, grade-level, and departmental teams; co-teaching and consultation teams; coaching and mentoring; communities of practice, study groups, and lesson study; professional development training sessions; and conversations about teaching and learning offer just some of the ways educators can collaborate and "get smarter together" (Inger, 1993). Technology can support and increase the efficiency of collaborative efforts through email, shared calendars and documents, communications, conferencing options, and other means. (Tech Bytes in this newsletter explores some of these options in greater detail.)

Rich connections seldom happen by accident. Educators need to be intentional about making and using their connections to support students and to maximize their own potential as successful professionals. Here are some ideas to get you started. The theme of this year's T/TAC W&M Link Lines newsletters is "Powerful Partnerships: Connecting for Student Success." T/TAC W&M quarterly e-newsletters offer insights into making valuable connections in the areas of instruction, behavior, co-teaching, transition, and working with families and state advisory committees. The articles and resources provided along with the guiding questions in this article will help you examine your "connectedness" and be more deliberate in establishing and enriching your partnerships with students, colleagues, and community members. All involved will benefit while keeping our eyes focused on the ultimate prize - student success.

Click to download The FRAME®  - Making Connections insert

References
Billingsley, B. S. (2004). Special education teacher retention and attrition: A critical analysis of the research literature. Journal of Special Education, 38(1), 39-55.

ERIC/OSEP Special Project. (February 2002). To light a beacon: What administrators can do to make schools successful for all students. ERIC/OSEP Topical Brief. Arlington, VA:  The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Available online.

Ferguson, D. L., Kozleski, E. B., & Smith, A. (2005). On ... transformed, inclusive schools: A framework to guide fundamental change in urban schools. Washington, DC: National Institute for Urban School Improvement funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education.

Fullan, M. (2002). The change leaders. Center for Development and Learning. Retrieved on June 16, 2009, from http://www.cdl.org/resource-library/articles/change_ldr.php 

Inger, M. (1993, December). Teacher collaboration in secondary schools. CenterFocus, National Center for Research in Vocational Education. Berkeley: University of California.

Murawski, W. W. (2009). Collaborative teaching in secondary schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Walther-Thomas, C., Korinek, L., McLaughlin, V., & Williams, B. (2000). Collaboration fo inclusive education: Developing successful programs. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.