Teaching Profession

Teachers in Fla. District Push Back on Mandated Collaboration Time

By Madeline Will — August 22, 2016 2 min read
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Research has shown that when teachers collaborate, their practice changes and student learning improves. Because of this, many educators want more time to work with their colleagues.

But when the superintendent of Palm Beach County district implemented a requirement that all teachers spend 90 minutes a week in group meetings, he received an onslaught of complaints and objections from the local teachers union.

According to the Palm Beach Post, union officials said the mandate took away from teachers’ planning time, in which they contacted parents and graded papers. They threatened to file a federal unfair labor practice complaint.

“This will cause them to have to do even more things outside of their contracted hours, or they won’t be as prepared as they should be,” Kathi Gundlach, president of the local Classroom Teachers Association, told the paper.

After about a week, the superintendent, Robert Avossa, dropped the plan, calling the opposing teachers “isolationists” and “divisive.” He said that while many teachers within the district already do collaborative planning, he wanted to make sure that the same collaboration was happening across the board and that there was enough time to make substantial progress.

But he told the Post that he realized he “can’t mandate people to do something that’s not in their heart.”

“If you don’t want to sit at a collaborative meeting and you’re forced to go, this is what you’re going to do—you’re going to sit with your arms crossed, and you’re going to sit there and complain about being there,” Avossa said. “So you know what? You don’t want to be there? Don’t go.”

Other educators have noted that buy-in can be the key to successful collaboration (that, and not scheduling it at the expense of planning time). Last year, educator and author Roxanna Elden told teacher blogger Larry Ferlazzo that collaborative planning is great for teachers, but it works best “when everyone in the room wants to be in the room.”

“With that in mind, our best support may not come from a group of colleagues thrust together by administrators when they’d rather be catching up on grading,” she said, advising teachers to build their own personal “board of advisers” who they can collaborate with.

Indeed, Palm Beach County teachers and union officials took issue with Avossa’s characterization of teachers being opposed to collaboration, saying that teachers in the district already work together and want to collaborate more—but not via a bureaucratic decree.

“Teachers are by nature collaborators,” one middle school teacher said. “We opposed top-down micromanagement ... Dictate is not a synonym for collaborate.”

Source: Image by Flickr user Creative Sustainability, licensed under Creative Commons

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.