Envisioning A Collaborative Response Model: A Book Review (Introduction and Chapter 1- Re-Culturing Your School)

Envisioning A Collaborative Response Model: Beliefs, Structures, and Processes to Transform How We Respond to the Needs of Students

By Kurtis Hewson, Lorna Hewson, and Jim Parsons

Overview

This book is an excellent resource for any leaders looking for ways to create a Collaborative Response Model in their school, or looking for ways to implement effective systems of interventions. The process is clearly laid out, easy to follow and comes with templates to help guide you along the way. All templates are available here.

While on first glance, this book may appear to be challenging to read (mainly because the font is small), once you jump in, you will find that it is full of scenarios and examples that engage you as a reader. Each chapter has scenarios with questions to consider as you read; templates you can use in your own school setting; “starting steps” to help you move forward, even if you feel you have a long way to go; and real examples of Alberta schools that have implemented a Collaborative Response Model and are seeing results.

This book also comes with a study guide which can be accessed hereI recommend using the study guide as it will help you to organize your thinking and solidify your learning throughout the reading.

I will create a separate post for each chapter to allow for easy reading. You can access all posts on my main page under “previous posts”.

If at any time, you decide you must have this book, you can buy it by clicking on the cover image!

Introduction

The introduction is short but full of helpful information about how to navigate your way through the book. It gives a brief overview of each chapter, but most importantly, it explains the core beliefs that are necessary to successfully implement a Collaborative Response Model.

Core Belief #1: All students can learn

While we often hear this around schools, it is rare to find a building where all teachers truly believe this statement.

Core Belief #2: Teachers make the greatest impact on student learning

Here the authors stress that it is imperative that we recognize that teachers are the ones who know their students best, and we need to trust that they are willing to do whatever it takes to push them to the next level. They also mention that it is not just the certified staff that have significant impact on student learning, but that all staff within the school play a role in student development.

Core Belief #3: Schools cannot achieve high levels of success when adults  work in isolation

This belief is extremely important and must be in place for a Collaborative Response Model to be successful. While teachers do know their students best, this does not mean that they have all the tools to support their students in isolation. The only way we can meet the needs of every student is to ensure that teachers are working together to support every child in the school, rather than working in isolation with the students in their class.

Core Belief #4: Leadership is responsible for ensuring  structures for collaboration

This belief is extremely important, and is often the one that is met with the most resistance by school leaders, and in some cases, staff. While it can seem counterintuitive to have teachers pulled out of the classroom (and away from their students) to collaborate, providing time for teachers to collaborate must be in place in order to move the work of a Collaborative Response Model Forward.

Ultimately, in order for a Collaborative Response Model to work, you must first decide if you are on board with the 4 core beliefs. If you don’t believe it as part of a school’s leadership team, it will be hard to convince the rest of the team to jump on board.

The introduction ends with a simple statement, but one that should be in the back of your head as you read through the rest of the book:

Our kids are worth whatever it takes.

Chapter 1: Re-culturing  your school

Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The chapter begins with A.A. Milne’s quote, which made me think immediately of how often we stick to what has always been because we are not able or willing to stop and think about whether what we are doing is actually the best course of action. While I truly believe that most teachers mean well, we often get stuck in our ways and resist change. This is not because we are teachers, but because we are human. We are creatures of habit, and feel most comfortable in environments that are predictable and have a sense of order.

The purpose of this chapter is to get school leaders to start thinking about whether the school culture that currently exists is supportive of a collaborative response model. It also explains that while many schools can have a pleasant culture where people get along, this does not mean that collaboration is an accepted part of the school culture. Sharing what you did with your class, or complaining about a challenging student in the staffroom is not indicative of a collaborative culture.

While creating a collaborative school culture is essential to this model, the authors point out that “our teaching practices is so closely connected to who we are and what we believe that asking teachers to change is often viewed as a request to change their identity or sense of self” (p.22). As leaders, we need to be sensitive to this to reduce the level of discomfort that comes with a culture shift. If we are alienating our colleagues, then we will not get the buy-in necessary to to attain the seven cultural shifts that Hewson et al. state are essential for an effective collaborative response model.

Essential Cultural Shifts

The authors suggest that there are seven essential cultural shifts that must happen in order for the collaborative response model to be successful they are as follows:

1. From Reactive to Proactive Entry: While it is hard to accept, many schools have a reactive school culture. We wait for students to fail before we offer supports. In a proactive school culture, teachers know as much as possible about their students before they meet them at the beginning of the year. They have met with last year’s teacher, looked at their cumulative file, and determined what supports will need to be put in place before the school year begins. When new students arrive, they are not placed in the class with the least amount of students, but instead are placed based on their learning needs, to ensure that they experience as much success as possible.

2. From Overall to Individual Analysis: This cultural shift is about how we look at and interpret data. More specifically we need to stop basing decisions based on the overall trends, and start looking at the specific students behind the numbers. When we look at the overall data, we are losing focus on the subgroups that exist within. If we look at the students instead of the numbers, we might notice that in order to increase overall performance, we need to focus on a specific (usually smaller) group of students who are performing well below the standard, and are therefore skewing the data. The thing to remember here is that if we focus on numbers, there will always be students who fall through the cracks. If we focus on students, we will be more effective in meeting their needs and the numbers will follow.

3. From Informal to  Focused Collaboration: This essential shift relates to how collaboration is implemented. I have found that many people do not truly understand how to collaborate effectively (I was one of those people for a long time). In order to have focused collaboration, the leadership team needs to ensure that two things are in place: a purpose or common goal must be communicated to staff, and collaboration time must be scheduled and embedded in the school timetable.

4. From Summative to Formative Assessments: The focus here is how school-wide assessments are used. When determining whether or not a student requires interventions, all school-wide assessments should be formative. This means that the results are used to identify student strengths and weaknesses, which then allows teachers to make informed decisions about which (if any) interventions need to be implemented for each individual student. School-wide assessments also need to be consistent across grades, to ensure that results are valid and accurately measure student growth throughout their academic career.

5. From Sole to Collective Responsibility: This shift requires us to accept that while teachers have the most impact on student learning, we cannot expect teachers to possess all the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the needs of every student they teach. Instead of working in isolation, teachers need to begin working together to meet the needs of every student in the school. Ultimately the success of students must be seen as a joint responsibility among all staff, and instead of asking “what can I do for my students” shift the conversation to “what are WE doing for OUR students”. In order to attain this, school leaders must establish collaborative structures and processes, and they must allow time for staff to develop trust (in each other and in the process). In order to be truly collaborative, we need to be willing to be vulnerable, and in order for that to happen, we need to trust the others involved.

6. From Pull-Out to Inclusive and Additional Support:  This shift is likely one of the most challenging ones because it requires staff to change the way we think about the traditional school model, and how students are supported. Ultimately, we need to stop sending the students who require the most support out of the room. They need to be in the classroom as much as possible. Also, instead of teaching to the middle, teachers need to focus on the students on either end of the spectrum (check out my post about Shelley Moore’s book for more information). There are so many different ways this can be done that I could write a separate post about it, but for now, the most important thing to know is that teachers need to develop their ability to differentiate instruction, and we need to be willing to provide our struggling students with more time to work on the essential outcomes.

7. From Individual to Systematic Interventions: For this shift to happen, we need to stop putting the burden of intervention on the individual teachers. We need to be able to guarantee that no matter which class a student is in, they will receive the same supports as every other student based on their needs. The problem with an individual approach is that the teachers who are extremely diligent will feel inclined to give up their free time to provide extra support to their struggling students. This, and the fact that the teachers who work hardest are often the ones who are asked to do even more, leads to the burn out of our best people! Have a systematic school wide intervention plan ensures that the responsibility is distributed equally among staff, and reduces the amount of overall stress. It guarantees that all students receive equal access to interventions and teachers are supported in implementing these interventions.

Final Thoughts

Reading this chapter was extremely inspiring for me. I have to say that I agreed with every statement made by the authors, and was excited to jump in and start making changes. That being said, it is important to remember that shifting a culture is a hard and messy process. As was mentioned at the beginning of this post, we need to recognize that there will be staff who are resistant to the changes being made, and while it is easy to criticize them for being difficult, as leaders, we need to understand that asking teachers to change their practice can be viewed as a personal attack on their core beliefs. Instead of pushing them to jump in head first, provide them with support when they want it, and focus your energy on the people who are ready to shift their practice. Eventually, the resistors will warm up to the idea and when they do, you will be there to support them.

The last thing to think about is that while all of these shifts are necessary, they are not linear. In fact it is suggested that you do not wait for the shifts to happen before implementing the structures and processes outlined later in the book. If you are constantly waiting for perfection, you will likely never make any progress.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, you can get it here. If you have already read the book and have questions, comments, or would like to elaborate on anything I just wrote, please comment below!

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