The Collaborative Response Model (CRM) that we currently see in place in some of our EICS schools began in its infancy as an extension of an Elk Island Catholic Schools AISI Year 5 project. (For a short video on the process take a look at http://jigsawlearning.ca/collaborative-response-at-madonna-catholic-school/ )
Much of this work is accredited to the research, practice and implementation of Kurtis and Lorna Hewson who presented to EICS in 2013 as part of the work of AISI, cycle five. The goal, not that of a silver bullet, but to “ help schools make sure that all students are engaged learners and that no child slips through the cracks” (Hewson, 2015). The CRM process is not a substitute for quality teaching, but provides a means for staff to collaborate and provide quality interventions, strategies and accommodations to ensure that every child who presents as a concern to staff has their needs addressed to support their learning.
Collaborative, school-based professional learning is the most effective process for ensuring that adult learning positively affects student learning. Learning Forward’s belief is that in a learning system, the school is the primary center of learning, and teachers learn best with and from one another (Manning, 2018).
The process at Our Lady of the Angels, and at Madonna Catholic was built on the foundation of providing supports for students and building the capacity of staff. Within the framework, conversations and situations then emerged and admin realized these too needed to be addressed. For example, when the population of immigrant families began to grow in the school it became evident that not only did our ESL students need supports, but also our teachers needed the professional development and supports to implement ELL strategies in the classroom. As teachers and educational assistants grew in their practice and efficacy, student success rose.
The process of CRM brings with it additional success stories. As teachers utilized embedded time to work together with their colleagues, shared their best practices, developed assessments, dug through data, met with consultants and could talk about what was happening in their current grade, with current students, and just-in-time scenarios they grew professionally and the culture of the school changed.
Teachers don’t know what they don’t know. As leaders in our buildings we have the ability to affect grassroots practices in our schools and in our classrooms. The CRM process is for district and school leaders and those who are interested in restructuring educational systems to identify, respond to, and support learners and the teachers working with them (Hewson 2016).
Leadership and Best Practices for CRM
Only principals who are equipped to handle a complex, rapidly changing environment can implement the reforms that lead to sustained improvement in student achievement. And at the heart of school capacity are principals focused on the development of teachers’ knowledge and skills, professional community, program coherence, and technical resources. Fullan, 2002
We all understand the complex, diverse classrooms that our teachers now work in. Coupled with goals, initiatives and expectations set forth by the Ministry and our school division, as leaders we have the daunting task of trying to fit all the pieces together. However putting all the pieces together does not guarantee that school improvement and student achievement will improve. School improvement depends on principals who can foster the conditions necessary for sustained education reform in a complex, rapidly changing society (Fullan 2002). This is where the CRM model fits in.
As school leaders we are bombarded daily with requests for our time and duties that we rarely have time to complete. However, I remember one of my mentors saying “You can choose to look busy and efficient by ‘majoring in the minors’, or truly working to make a difference for your students and staff by making a commitment to ‘major in the majors’. This has stuck with me for many years, and when trying to prioritize what needs to happen in my school, whether it be setting a to do list for a particular day, week or school year or longer, I always weigh the task at hand with this simple principle. Will that task be just ‘busy work’ that makes it appear that I am engaged and focused on school improvement? Or is the task at hand something that truly is major and will make a difference in school culture by improving the conditions for staff and students that enhances learning and achievement? Granted, there are always the minors that can be labeled as major on a particular day or days. I think of the managerial issues that we are all faced with and are crucial to our roles as leaders, balancing budgets, hiring staff, issues with students or parents. However when these become our only focus – day in and day out, we are managing leading, not leading to affect change.
This is why the Collaborative Response Model rings true as a ‘major’. It has been my experience that this model has been the most effective process that has singularly improved learning for staff, affected achievement and success for students and lead to a culture change within my school communities. Honestly, with all of the demands on teacher time and TEBA (teacher employee bargaining association) affecting directed teacher hours of employment, I believe that embedded collaborative time that honours a dedicated process for school leaders and staff will dictate the model for school change in upcoming years. CRM creates a niche where all voices can be heard and all members of staff have the opportunity to be supportive. With TEBA, teachers with young families, new teachers and seasoned masters, it’s an opportunity for leaders in the school to have a venue within the school day where both change and support can happen.
The process of CRM for me personally began 7 years ago when I could see the vision and light at the end of the tunnel that Kurtis and Lorna were guiding our division towards. There were ( and still are ) many reasons we could use to cause us to abandon the process. All of them though are what I see as the ‘minors’, the roadblocks that as a leader I have to be careful not to classify as major and that will interfere with the process and cause all the pieces to come tumbling down.
Below is a list of what I have found to be essential learning’s. These non-negotiable’s can be tweaked and must be tailored to meet the currently reality of the school community, but cannot be neglected.
Start with the vision and belief that CRM can, and will change teaching practice and lead to success for all students. If, as the school Principal you don’t believe in the process and stand behind the notion that CRM can, and will affect change in your school, improving student learning and behaviour and building capacity in your teachers, you are defeated before you start. You won’t have all the answers when you start, as CRM requires flexibility, as it needs to adapt to your school, your culture, and your staff.
CRM cannot survive if only the Principal, or another school team member is the driving force for school improvement and student achievement. It has been my practice to visualize the school into teams, and then these teams provide input to everything from required PD, purchase of school resources and even budget and staffing allocations. Here are just a few of the key components of how distributed leadership provides the foundation of the CRM process:
- Core Leadership.
- This refers to a team that includes the Principal, Assistant Principal, Counselor and Facilitator. This team meets regularly and sets the weekly, monthly, and year plan for how CRM will be scheduled, additional topics and supports that may be needed (dependant on the school year plan and division year plan). Of prime importance is that this team meet (even briefly) before the scheduled CRM meetings to plan anticipate challenges, brainstorm ideas and genuinely support each other during the meetings. This ‘bottom hand’ provides common language, trust and support. Without these, the team with collapse and the processes will flounder,
- School Lead teams.
- These teams are school or division leaders who have a voice in coaching and supporting staff and students on many levels. These may include the school literacy and numeracy coach, division consultants or even community supports such as OT’s, or Speech Pathologists. It has been our process at OLA or at Madonna to bring in these leaders when it became evident (by the admin participating in collaborative sessions) that teachers required supports. They were either asking for them, or as a leader, you were able to see that common language, programming or process was not as unified or supportive as it could be,
- Data and Assessments.
- Leadership teams must be open to digging through achievement data, tracking student improvement and not shying away from courageous conversations with staff. The best way you can support and motivate teachers is to create the conditions where they can be effective day after day, together. And this isn’t just about intra-school collaboration It’s about inter-school and inter-district collaboration. It’s about the whole profession ( Fullan and Hargreaves, 2013), and
- Planning and Budgeting.
- Finding and allocating funds and then scheduling time that ensures that teachers have regular embedded time to collaborate can become the singular factor that causes administrators to quit before they even begin. Thinking that teachers won’t want to plan for someone to cover their classes may also cause admin teams to balk. It has been my experience, that if planning begins in April before the onset of the scheduling and budgeting is complete, that the process can be incorporated successfully at all grade levels. Possibilities include:
- Take a look at your budget. I’ve chopped time from 6 sick days to 5, (because the process supports teachers, I’ve found that sick time was reduced in both schools I have worked in),
- If you can only work in embedded time every 4-6 weeks, then start here, and
- Schedule or block in CRM before other factors start affecting the time table:
- In one school, we had master subs scheduled to come in who planned and implemented DPA/Phys Ed minutes as well as literacy support or library blocks. This way teachers did not have to create sub plans, and
- When teachers are aware of the dates and times of the CRM time, and that admin values this as sacred time, they are able to plan field trips, speakers and special projects around CRM.
Sustainability is more than financial. Sustainability includes fiscal responsibility, but also requires social and moral responsibility to others, the community and making a difference in the lives of children. Key components of sustainability are developing the social environment, learning in context, cultivating leaders at many levels (and ensuring leadership succession), and enhancing the teaching profession. Keep in mind that building teaching capacity and honouring their professional growth and time leads to sustainability in every classroom. This is priceless!
The process that we currently see in place at Madonna Catholic and Our Lady of the Angels was organic and evolved over time. CRM requires vision, patience and perseverance and true grit. Keep your visionary focus, lean on your colleagues and your team and success will be on your side. You may also find it very valuable to keep a reflective journal as your start to move forward. We look back to see how far we have come!
- Start with commitment and belief in the process,
- Select your team players and motivate them to jump onboard. Your vision (which may now includes other voices) will drive the process forward and support buy-in. Basically, you are providing the ‘carrots’ that draw others to the process, i.e., dedicated time to meet during the day, collaboration with colleagues and PD that affects their students, their classes, and the current culture and context of the school and the year at hand,
- Start planning for implementation:
- Best scenario is to plan your day(s) of the week or month where you see CRM working best into your timetable,
- CRM can be implemented to start with teams meeting every 6 weeks to as often as every week. Jigsaw learning has a ‘doable’ 6 week cycle that can help: http://jigsawlearning.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Collaborative-Team-Meeting-Cycle.pdf,
- Sell the process to your staff,
- If you are going to have subs come in to cover classes you will want your staff to do minimal planning. We used our subs to cover classes of DPA, Phys Ed minutes, or library classes, RAZ kids or Mathletics times to not take away from Core teacher time with students,
- Ensure that the subs you are using are committed to the schedule that you’ve set out – consistency with subs and planning allows teachers to be supported and that this doesn’t become more work for them, and
- CRM time is sacred time. Field trips, school events, and interruptions create inconsistencies with the practice.
- Ask for help.
- There are staff in the division who have gone through the growing pains of beginning the process,
- PD – School visits, chats with teachers just beginning or experienced in the process to hear their best practices,
- Become a member of the Google community with Jigsaw Learning. http://jigsawlearning.ca/ Here you will find resources, supports and ideas for CRM at all levels – K-12 as well as admin and Division supports, and
- Check out the ‘bible’ of CRM in Alberta Schools – Envisioning a Collaborative Response Model: Beliefs, Structures, and Processes to Transform How We Respond to the Needs of Students by Kurtis and Lorna Hewson and Dr. Jim Parsons.
- http://jigsawlearning.ca/envisioning-a-collaborative-response-model/Remind yourself to timetable CRM into your personal calendar. Although as an administrator it is impossible to be at every session, being a part of the process is where the magic happens…..walkthroughs become focused, staff become collegial as well as collaborative….shift happens!
- Celebrate, reflect and involve your staff as you move forward. Honouring your team and those you lead and asking them to assist in the planning builds efficacy and support the process. Honouring the team with their own learning space or room dedicated to professional learning, and providing healthy snacks and coffee, tea and water goes a long way too, and
- Believe! If you build it, they will come!
Be sure to visit the Jigsaw Learning website for more success stories and supports: http://jigsawlearning.ca/collaborative-response-model/school-stories-collaborative-response-model/
- Hewson, K, , Hewson Lorna, and Parsons, Jim (2016). Envisioning a Collaborative Response Model: Beliefs, Structures, and Processes to Transform How We Respond to the Needs of Students. Jigsaw Learning.
- Fullan, Michael (2002) The Change Leader Beyond Instructional Leadership. Educational Leadership Volume 59 Number 8 Pages 16-21.
- Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. Teachers College Press. New York, NY:
- Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (2013) The Power of Professional Capital With An Investment in Collaboration, Teachers Become Nation Builders. JSD. Learning Forward June 2013 | Vol. 34 No. 3. Accessed from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/JSD-Power-of-Professional-Capital.pdf
- Hirsh Stephanie and Tracy Crow (2018) Becoming a Learning Team https://learningforward.org/publications/blog/learning-forward-blog/2018/01/30/collaboration-is-the-answer
- Joseph, Matthew (2018) How to Be a Collaborative Leader. eSchool News Accessed from
- Manning, Tom (2018). Associate Director of Consulting and Networks Learning Forward.