A former kindergarten teacher, Vincent J. Costanza, Ed.D. currently serves as the principal of Campbell Elementary School in Metuchen, New Jersey. Vincent has led organizations in both the public and private sectors, including directing the New Jersey Office of Primary Education, Statewide Early Learning Challenge Grant, and Division of Early Childhood Education (NJDOE), which governed Birth through Third Grade programming for the New Jersey Department of Education. During his tenure at NJDOE, Vincent served as an active member of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE), eventually filling the role of Vice President. Throughout his career, Vincent has demonstrated a long commitment to serving others, which has included serving in AmeriCorps and on the Governing Board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and his local school board in Robbinsville NJ.
Collaboration is hard. Collaboration takes time. Collaboration is often uncomfortable. So why do it? One of the main responsibilities we have as leaders of a complex organization, such as an elementary school, is to meet the needs of children now, while we simultaneously prepare them for success in the future. In short, our charge is to pay attention to the practices that we know children need to be successful in school and in life.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2023 “The Future of Jobs” report, which predicts how technology will transform the workplace that our children will enter, the ability to work with others, which is a cornerstone to the top 15 skills identified in the report, are exactly the ones that our children need now and in the future.
As educational leaders, we know that we shouldn’t wait until children are in high school to support these essential skills and we need to model them as adults in our own decision making. How do we go about doing this work with young children?
First, the collaboration that happens in the classroom gives students a sense of ownership, a sense of belonging, and a sense that their voice is being heard. For instance, at the elementary level, there are a variety of ways that collaboration happens. Some examples include participating in school-wide surveys on scheduling, collaborating on class expectations, what students want to earn as a class, self-assessment opportunities, and individualized behavior plans. As educators, we want to empower our students to collaborate with one another, not just with the teacher. Students use self-questioning strategies to help collaborate through different stem challenges or even conflicts between classmates. Using the self-questioning strategies allows students to talk out their conflicts in a collaborative manner.
Second, the collaborative process, at the school level, refers to shared decision-making, goal alignment, teacher voice, and psychological safety. This collaboration has a positive impact on student performance, teacher turnover, and teacher self-efficacy. All three are linked and interdependent. Collaboration involves a degree of power-sharing, a flattening or democratization of the traditional hierarchical school power structure. It requires a process of dialogue, an exchange of views, and a sharing of information, building from individual views towards a shared perspective. The collaborative process is relational and reciprocal and must be built on a foundational belief in partnership; a partnership that requires a deep and ongoing reflective process.
There’s simply no way to manage the daily operations or curricular implementation that’s necessary for child growth and development without a system in place to gather perspectives from multiple stakeholders within and outside the building. Essential pieces of this system include bi-weekly meetings with building leadership (curricular leaders, child-study team, union leaders, etc.) monthly advisory committees with grade-level representatives as well as our school leadership team. What’s the rationale behind all these meetings?
In addition to modeling the types of practices that we want to see for children, research indicates that collaborative decision-making benefits children by creating systems that help to improve student performance.
All educators need a commitment to supporting each and every child in an intentional, meaningful, and ongoing manner. What children need is to be provided with support that will assist them now and will benefit them in the future.
Above all else, our children need good models. As architects of society, educators must work tirelessly to be exactly the collaborative models that our children deserve. While this work is not easy, this work is worth it.