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What makes a good teaching community?
"Strong professional communities of teachers, by themselves, are not
always a good thing," according to Stanford University education Prof.
Milbrey McLaughlin, director of the Center for Research on the Context of
Secondary Teaching. In some cases, she warned, "shared beliefs can support
For example, one mathematics department was strong and collegial,
"But the teachers were absolutely united around one notion: Their kids are
stupid," she said.
What makes the difference between a teaching community that will encourage
student success and support strong teaching practices, and one that won't?
McLaughlin outlined several guidelines to look for:
- nVision. Developing a vision can "invigorate a department and lead not
only to changed practices but to improved faculty relations," McLaughlin
said. She cited a "vital English department that drew energy and focus from a
collective concern for writing."
- Capacity for reflection, feedback and problem-solving. It's important to
avoid rigid classroom practices and a "one best way" mentality that resists
change or serious reflection, said McLaughlin.
- Problem-solving structures and norms. Teachers must have ways to address
shared objectives together, McLaughlin said. For example, one dynamic social
studies department meets weekly to review events, swap classroom stories or
even present sample lessons. A science department encourages teachers to
visit one another's classrooms frequently as observers or participants.
- Democratic decision-making. "Teacher tracking" is avoided in highly
collegial departments - for example, the toughest "basic" courses aren't
assigned only to the newest teachers, and it's not just senior faculty who
get to teach prestigious Advanced Placement courses. McLaughlin recalled one
striking case where teachers said they would "kill" to avoid freshman social
studies. As a result, the department made the freshman course the top
department priority; together, the teachers created an outstanding curriculum
that all of them would want to teach.
- People first. Strong communities place a high priority on creating
working environments that nurture human relationships and where teachers can
share information about students. Such communities typically have "fewer
rules and regulations defining roles and responsibilities." In turn, their
teachers rely on their community for professional authority - "not on
bureaucratic routines or disciplinary orthodoxies."
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