Program Goal X: Collaboration, Ethics, and Relationships

The Education Department recognizes that collaboration with others, both inside and outside of school, is essential for success in the teaching profession. Since children often come to school with such complex social, educational, and medical problems, no single person or agency can possibly meet all of their needs (Welch and Sheridan 1995). This necessitates cooperation and collaboration not only with other teachers, but also with parents and other professionals in the community. Areas in which teachers collaborate include establishing goals for learners, developing school curricula, coordinating instruction, interpreting state and local mandates, and implementing student services (Wiseman, Cooner and Knight 1999).

Collaborating with Other Professionals: Johnson, Pugach, and Devlin (1990) found collaboration between educators to be absolutely essential. The increasing ethnic and linguistic  diversity as well as the large number of students with special needs make it necessary for educators to work together in order to meet the needs of these students. Collaborative efforts on behalf of students with special needs often spill over to other students in the classroom, and the whole learning community benefits from the knowledge and expertise being shared. Collaboration among professionals also provides good role-modeling for the students who, when they enter the world of work, will be expected to work in teams and collaborate with others.

As noted by Stones (1994), collaboration is of critical importance for fostering professional growth.  When teachers actively share experiences and use professional colleagues as support for reflection and problem-solving, they are more likely to make good decisions.  Not only does reflection through interactions with others lead to stronger decision-making, but Brookfield (1995) contends that it also leads to stronger communication skills as teachers become better able to justify and explain their actions in a confident and informed manner.

Collaborating with the Community: Clandinin and associates (1993) noted that collaboration between school professionals and those from their surrounding community assists community-building efforts, both inside and outside of school. The community as a whole has a strong impact on the way children feel about themselves and their attitudes toward education. The ethnic, religious, cultural, and socio-economic diversity found in the community are important factors that are strongly linked to students' success in school. Family background, health, and socio-economic status all impact students' interest in and motivation for learning (Hindle, 1993). Since it is essential that educators understand their school's community and their students' backgrounds, parents are an invaluable resource because they know their child best Littky, et al (2004). Activities and events in the community can serve as examples or starting points for discussions and classroom activities. Community events and issues that are important to students can be used to build curriculum and increase the relevance of instruction. An added benefit of collaboration with the community is that it encourages good public relations between education professionals and those outside the educational setting. Such collaboration also increases community understanding of and support for school.

One approach to achieving community collaboration is through the development of full-service community schools. As described by Joy Dryfoos (2002), such a school operates in a public school building and is open to all community members "before, during, and after school, seven days a week, all year long. It is jointly operated and financed through a partnership between the school system and one or more community agencies" (p. 394). In order to be successful, all members of the community, including young people, teachers, administrators, parents, community agencies, and business people must work together in making important decisions regarding the school and its programs. According to Dryfoos, these schools encourage students to provide community service and often employ a full-time community-school coordinator who works in conjunction with local agencies to provide a range of services needed within the community. This model is often effective, not only in improving collaboration, but also in such important areas as academic achievement, attendance, student behavior, and parental involvement (Dryfoos, 2002).

Promoting the Development of a Learning Community: As Richard DuFour (2004) noted, the concept of promoting school improvement by developing professional learning communities has become quite popular. However, due to our department's emphasis on the Benedictine values of concern for community and respect for all persons (Klassen, Renner, and Reuter, 2001), we have always emphasized the importance of developing a community of learning. We share Martin Haberman's (2004) view that for a school to become a learning community, its members must "share a common vision that learning is the primary purpose for their association and the ultimate value to preserve in their workplace . . ." (p. 52). We are also in agreement with Haberman that modeling a love of learning is the surest way to promote enthusiasm for learning among students.

In describing the successful learning community at the Met High School in Rhode Island, Littky, et al (2004) stated that school staff must view themselves as participants in all aspects of the learning process and model good learning habits throughout their daily interactions. Other important attributes of learning communities include the continual sharing of ideas; collaboration, such as through team teaching and working together on program development and research; valuing a sense of community or camaraderie; and egalitarianism (Haberman, 2004). Students and parents are important partners in the vision of a learning community described by Littky, et al (2004). At the Met High School, students collaborate and support one another's learning and view their peers as resources in their learning and success. Parents are asked to provide at least 10 hours of service to the school each year and are welcome to be in the school building at any time. Additionally, both students and parents participate in school decisions for creating policies, solving problems, and even in hiring. In other words, for a school to truly be a learning community there must be a culture of collaboration, not only among school staff, but among students and parents as well.

Collaboration and Federal Laws: Federal laws promote and in some cases require collaborative efforts in meeting the needs of students. The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) emphasizes the necessity for collaboration among educators. parents, and community agencies in developing and implementing appropriate Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities (Villa, Thousand, Nevin and Malgeri, 1996), and the No Child Left Behind act of 2002 requires every school district to develop processes for ensuring meaningful ways to engage and collaborate with parents (Hoang, 2010).

Ethics also play an important role in an educational decision-making. An educator's words and actions make a substantial impression on students and play an important role in shaping their character (Nash, 1996) Therefore, it is important that educators are guided and live by a code of ethics based on the kind of ethical behavior our society values. The Code of Ethics of the Education Profession  established and adopted by The National Education Association (2002-2012),  the Code of Ethics for the Catholic School Teacher (CSB/SJU, 2011), The Code of Ethics for Minnesota Teachers (Minnesota Office of the  Revisor of Statutes, 2003),and the Education Department's Guiding Principles for Faculty and Students of the CSB/SJU Education Department, which are provided to students in our Teacher Education Handbook (CSB/SJU, 2011), are resources that provide such guidance.

Legal Issues: Increasingly, the courts have become involved in and have an impact on what takes place in schools (Farris, 1999). This situation requires that teachers become aware of legal issues ranging from teaching contracts and tenure to issues involving students and their rights. McCarthy (1989) recommends that educators have knowledge about the following issues: Educational employment and termination, including conditions of employment and teacher termination; teachers' rights outside the classroom, including freedom of speech, political activities, and lifestyle choices; academic freedom, including curriculum censorship, academic assessment, and grouping practices; student discipline, including punishment, regulation of student expression, search and seizure; teacher liability, including student injury and educational malpractice.

To lessen the chance of being involved in litigation, McCarthy advises educators to always engage in actions that are fair, reasonable, and based on educational objectives. Educators should regularly review their actions, policies, and practices to verify that they are based on the educational mission of their school. Educators should also always keep in mind that in all of their actions inside and outside of school they are role-models for students and are held to higher standards than the general public.


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Updated July, 2012 by Edmund J. Sass