Effective schools are widely recognized as those in which the adults who work there are committed to their own learning and where learning is at the heart of everything undertaken, in effect learning organizations. In such learning cultures, there is a perpetual process of change and development and such schools have become known as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Such PLCs are discovering that one of the most successful ways of supporting continuous development is through the use of in-house structured research which identifies relevant learning needs at all levels and strives to meet these needs through the school’s provision. In the 21st century, very few schools operate in isolation and collaboration between schools or groups of schools has become essential for their improvement and for the development of the education system as a whole. The use of in-house research both within and across schools increases the validity of both the learning and the collaboration, which, at its most effective is based on willing participation, trust, and notions of professional partnerships, where all parties are willing to learn from each other, whatever their official or apparent status. Although barriers to this development of cross-school PLCs through in-house research do exist, notably pressures from a competitive environment with a focus on measurable outcomes, a lack of resources including time, the growth of such communities is proving powerful through the use of student voice, staff involvement and leaders’ firm beliefs. Furthermore, a new kind of educational leadership is emerging which depends much less on hierarchical structures and more on openness to new ideas, acceptance that progress is often uneven and rarely simplistic, and a recognition of the importance of personal qualities of all those involved, including the leaders.
David Middlewood and Ian Abbott
Poi Kee Low
With the growing diversity of professions working in schools, interdisciplinary partnership and collaboration are growing quickly the world over. Apart from traditional teaching and learning concerns, awareness of children and youth mental health issues and socio-emotional wellbeing, grew readily since the 2000s. Rising in tandem with this trend is the number of psychologists, social workers, and counselors joining educators to support children and young persons in schools. Challenges such as misconception of roles, differing perceptions as well as cross-disciplinary misunderstanding threaten to prevent concerned professionals in working collaborative to help children and young persons in need. Fortunately, this aspect of interdisciplinary partnership in schools gains the much-needed attention in research from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the Americas. Models and frameworks suggesting best practices for interdisciplinary collaboration emerged in school psychology, counseling and social work literature. Also growing in tandem is research in methods of measurement and evaluation of such collaboration as well as studies on pre-service professional training on interdisciplinary collaborative skills in the related disciplines.
It is evident that in many educational systems there has been a partial dissolution of the traditional single school model towards more flexible modes of organizational link-up, taking the form of increased collaboration among schools. The early 21st-century climate of rapid technological change creates a need for collective knowledge creation and information sharing at classroom, school, and system level. Different forms of networks, collaboratives, and federations have become an established part of many educational landscapes and have arisen for a number of reasons. Some have been “imposed” on schools, others have been “incentivized” by the offer of external funding, but many have arisen because of the efforts of educational leaders who want to “make a difference” in their locality, which assumes their essential “good.” Within education, networks are regarded as one of the most promising levers for large-scale reform due to their potential to re-culture both the environment and the system in which policy-makers operate through increased cooperation, interconnectedness, and multi-agency. School networks contribute to capacity-building across the education service through the production of multiple solutions for potential, multifaceted, and intractable problems. Networks foster innovation, providing a test bed for new ideas while offering a platform for gradual innovation, distributing the risks and the workloads among different schools. Moreover, they provide capacity-building, reflective practice, and an inquiry frame of mind besides raising achievement and enhancing student outcomes through the sharing of resources and professional expertise. Networks enable schools to overcome their isolationism and move to form community relationships. Notwithstanding the benefits generated by collaboration, some of the ambiguities surrounding the setting up of school networks focus on: network purpose; collaborative inertia; collaboration and accountability; trust and relationships; conscription and volunteerism; identity and autonomy; competition and cooperation; lateral agency; and power inequality. There is no simple, single solution to leading networks, due to the very nature of a network making it difficult to define who its leaders are, resulting in leadership that is defined by activity rather than by formal position.
David Duran and Ester Miquel
Many educational reforms highlight the need for collaboration, understood not only as a competence to be learned but also as a way of learning and teaching. Two types of collaboration can be found in classrooms: peer collaboration and teacher collaboration. The first focuses on how the teacher restructures interactions between pupils organized in pairs or groups. This permits cooperative learning practices, either by peer tutoring or through systems of cooperative learning. By implementing peer collaboration, the teacher is able to develop a new and transformative role which facilitates functions such as continuous assessment or immediate personalized attention, which are more difficult to carry out in environments where a traditional teaching approach is used. However, both the organization of the classroom for peer collaboration and this new teaching role require teacher training. Experiential learning is a key aspect of the training. Different levels of teacher collaboration exist, but the most complete is co-teaching: two teachers planning, implementing, and assessing the same lesson for a group of students. Co–teaching allows teachers to attend to the individual needs of their students; that is why it is such an important tool in inclusive education. Furthermore, it is a learning tool for teachers. Co-teachers can foster mutual observation, reflection, and planning of innovative practices, making working together a form of professional development. However, to ensure that pupils receive better attention and that teachers learn from each other, there has to be teacher training, and again, it must be addressed from an experimental perspective.
Linda Blanton and Marleen Pugach
Dual certification refers to a teaching license both for general primary and/or secondary education and special needs education simultaneously. This term is unique to the United States, where licensure policy has traditionally offered options for teacher candidates to earn an initial stand-alone license in either general or special needs education, and contrasts with initial teacher education policy patterns outside the United States, where teachers are not typically permitted to earn an initial license for special needs education alone. Various forms of dual certification have existed in the United States for many decades, but until recently they were not the norm. Contemporary teacher educators and policymakers in the United States have adopted and encouraged dual certification as a way of supporting the preparation of teachers for effective inclusive teaching. As a result, dual certification is viewed as a means of restructuring and expanding the entirety of the preservice, initial teacher education curriculum to become highly responsive both to the increasing diversity of students and to the wider range and more complex needs of students who struggle in school, among them students with special needs. Because dual certification addresses the vital question of how best to prepare initial teachers for inclusive teaching, its fundamental, underlying concerns transcend specific national structural or policy issues regarding licensure. Instead, dual certification reflects a focus on the content of initial teacher preparation writ large regarding what kinds of redesigned, reconceptualized clinical, course, and curricular experiences might be most effective in preparing teachers for high-quality inclusive teaching practice. Dual certification calls into question the nature of teacher expertise, challenging basic beliefs about where the responsibility of general education teachers ends and where that of special needs education teachers begins. In this way, dual certification can be viewed as a specific national policy vehicle that addresses common international concerns for developing appropriate preservice curricula that are responsive to the demands of inclusive educational practice. Implementing dual certification is not without its challenges, however, as reflected in some of the early and ongoing attempts at implementation. Therefore, it is critical both to anticipate potential pitfalls as well as to identify potential solutions that are appropriate to the fundamental purposes of preparing teachers for inclusive practice.
Shridevi Rao, Nadya Pancsofar, and Sarah Monaco
A rich literature on family-professional collaboration with families and caregivers of children and youth with disabilities has developed in the United States. This literature identifies key barriers that impede family-professional relationships including deficit-based perceptions of families and children with disabilities, narrow definitions of “family” that limit the participation of some members such as fathers or grandparents, and historical biases that constrain the participation of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) families. Principles for building collaborative relationships with families include honoring the strengths of the family, presuming competence in the child and the family, valuing broad definitions of “family,” and understanding the ecology of family routines and rituals. Practices that help facilitate family-professional relationships are building reciprocal partnerships with various caregivers in the family including fathers as well as extended family members, adopting a posture of cultural reciprocity, using a variety of modes of communication with families, and involving families in all aspects of the special education process such as assessment, planning, prioritizing of skills, and identification of interventions. Pivotal moments in the family’s journey through their child’s schooling, including early intervention and transition to post-school environments, provide opportunities to build and strengthen family-professional relationships. Each of these moments has the potential to involve families in a variety of processes including assessment, planning, and articulating the goals and vision for their child/youth. A focus on strengths, collaborative partnerships, and family agency and voice is at the core of strong family-professional relationships.