You know, I’m not sure that PLC advocates and supporters realize just how difficult collaboration really is for classroom teachers.
It’s not that we don’t want to work together to ensure the success of our students. Our hearts have almost always been in the right places. The hitch is that collaborative work requires a measure of coordination that can be downright frustrating for teachers on novice learning teams.
Over the past six years, my own learning team has had to learn how to coordinate the following actions:
- The development of common assessments.
- The development of shared sets of essential outcomes.
- The publication of shared sets of lessons and materials.
- The organization of team-based collections of web sources.
- The organization of team-based websites for communicating with parents and other interested parties.
- The development of team-based approaches and philosophies about key issues like remediation, enrichment, grading and homework.
While managing team-based resource collections, engaging in meaningful conversations, and collaborating on shared documents are all essential practices for PLCs, they require time and energy that most teachers and teams just don’t have. Making matters worse is the common perception on the part of school leaders that PLCs are a cheap-and-easy reform strategy that carry no costs!
Organizational theorists—including Clay Shirky, one of my favorite thinkers—recognize that the time, attention and energy that teams invest in coordinating their work ARE costs of doing business.
For many learning teams, these “transaction costs” can be crippling.
Teachers quickly decide whether or not coordination is worthwhile—and if the time and energy necessary to coordinate team efforts don’t outweigh the perceived benefits of collaborative work, commitment to shared learning dies, plain and simple.
Whether we like it or not, teachers on teams have to believe that collaborative work is worthwhile before they’re going to be willing to move forward together. As much as we like to think that teachers would do anything for our students, “whatever it takes” is quickly replaced by “what’s in it for me” in the minds of already overworked teachers.
The good news—and a lesson that I try to share with every learning team that I work with—is that digital tools can help to reduce the transaction costs associated with collaboration and coordination.