The Schoolhouse Network: Location Matters

The Schoolhouse Network: Location Matters

collaboration graphicWhen a teacher has a problem, she might go to a mentor or an instructional coach—but often, she goes to whoever is closest at hand, Sarah D. Sparks wrote in Education Week.

“That’s why a new series of studies suggests that school administrators can boost teacher collaboration and build on formal teacher training by paying more attention to how teachers are assigned to classrooms within the building,” Sparks wrote.

“Clearly, it can make a big difference,” said co-author James Spillane of Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, whose most recent work was published in the magazine EducationNext.

“If you want to maximize the returns from master teachers or mentor teachers, you would want to carefully place them in a building to maximize the overlap in their [work] zone and that of new teachers … so you increase the likelihood they will interact.”

Spillane, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change and Matthew Shirrell (MS11, PhD14) of George Washington University “analyzed data from 14 traditionally laid out “egg crate”-style elementary schools in an unnamed 6,000-student Midwestern suburban school district,” Sparks wrote. “They surveyed principals, instructional coaches, and teachers about their work habits and which colleagues they had reached out to for instructional problems in math.” 

Using digital mapping software, the researchers tracked teachers’ typical paths during the day, including to key destinations like the principal’s office, restrooms, the photocopier, and the teachers’ lounge. They calculated how close staff was to each other in the building and how much of their “functional work zones”—their typical paths during the day—overlapped with each other.

“They found that teachers who were near to each other and tended to follow similar schedules were much more likely to compare notes on math instruction, even if they taught different grades or weren’t in a formal professional development group with one another,” Sparks wrote.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 1/11/18