How Can We Promote Teacher Collaboration?

I’m interested in ways to encourage teachers to analyze their own instructional practices. What strategies does your school use to invite teachers to collaborate with one another through classroom observations and feedback outside of performance appraisal or review?Potvin_a65x65

–Andre Potvin, Principal,Lester B. Pearson Catholic High School, Glouchester, Ontario, Canada

Videotape and Discuss Lessons

At Price Lab School, we spent more than two years participating in training through the Center for Authentic Intellectual Work (http://centerforaiw.com). Each teacher in our school videotaped himself or herself teaching a lesson, and teachers shared these videos in small focus groups. The group watched the lesson and provided the instructor with feedback. Although it’s not always easy seeing yourself teaching or getting feedback from colleagues, it gave us time to have constructive conversations about the quality of instruction, teacher assignments, and student work. Ultimately, these discussions led to changes in instruction and student assessments (both formative and summative). I believe that feedback from other teachers, who know the complexities of teaching, is one of the best ways to improve instruction.Lockhart_amy

–Amy Lockhart, Teacher, Malcolm Price Laboratory School, Cedar Falls, Iowa

Start with the Staff Room

A good place to begin spontaneous interaction and sharing is the staff room. Teachers can connect in a comfortable way, and conversations often lead to colleagues getting interested in what is being done in other classes. That’s what takes place at our school, where such informal observations have become popular. Sometimes I step into a class and find three teachers observing because they are interested in the successful strategy they heard about in the staff room. The teacher who is being observed does not feel threatened at all because it is not part of any appraisal system; it’s just one colleague sharing her know-how. Some of our teachers have become experts in different areas, and share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues. It’s a give-and-take interaction that benefits not only teachers, but also students. Pouiller_p65x65

–Patsy Pouiller, Deputy Head, Primary, St. Andrew’s Scots School, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Offer a Choice of Professional Learning Communities

Teachers and administrators in our district consistently identify our professional learning communities (PLCs) as the best opportunity for collaboration that we offer. Our PLCs are voluntary; they are collegial groups of educators who come together regularly to learn about and focus on a topic. There are two nonnegotiables: PLCs must help teachers put what they learn into action; and they must provide an emotionally safe place where teachers feel collegial support and are free to take professional risks. Some of this year’s PLCs are Unleashing the Digital Artist in Each of Us (K-12 teachers), Comprehension and Collaboration (K-6 teachers), Integrating Technology using Bloom’s Technology Taxonomy (K-12 teachers), and Helping Students Become Better Editors of Their Own Writing (4-7 English/language arts teachers). Kappler-Hewitt_Kimberly

–Kimberly Kappler Hewitt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Oakwood City School District, Dayton. Ohio

Schedule Regular Collaboration Opportunities

We use a range of strategies to invite teacher collaboration. First, we have designated model classrooms for both literacy and math, in which a coach works closely with the classroom teacher to implement new curriculum and strategies and provide support and feedback. Second, we have weekly grade-level meetings during the school day in which teachers collaborate, set up observations, and provide feedback to one another. We also have early out every Monday so teachers can take part in weekly professional development; they spend much of this time working together to analyze student data, discuss lessons, and plan instruction. Finally, we have monthly intervention meetings in which classroom teachers and support staff meet to collaborate on the intervention work they are providing for specific students. Knuth_d65x65

–Doreen Knuth, Principal, Bloomer Elementary School, Council Bluffs, Iowa

Establish Professional Learning Communities

I have found that a Professional Learning Community (PLC) works best for moving toward a culture of collaboration. The first step in creating an effective PLC is to develop a shared vision, mission, and goal. If all teachers on the PLC have buy-in, the collaboration will be meaningful, providing more effective learning experiences for students without any need to include performance incentives. Many resources exist to assist in developing PLCs–including websites, books, blogs, and videos that provide sample materials and information. In addition, there are conferences dedicated to establishing an effective school PLC, such as the Arkansas ASCD Annual Conference that will be held in June 2011. Developing a PLC is an ongoing process, but every step toward establishing an effective PLC is a step toward meaningful teacher collaboration.Lacour_Misty

–Misty M. LaCour, Assistant Professor of Education, Southern Arkansas University, Magnolia, Arkansas

Got a question? Each month in Educational Leadership‘s “Among Colleagues” column, practicing educators draw from their own experience to share advice about challenges their colleagues face. Send your question, along with a 100-word description to elsubmissions@ascd.org, with the subject line “Teaching Dilemma.”

11 COMMENTS

  1. I love an idea from the book my school has been using as a book study this year,

      The Collaborative Teacher
      . Eric Twadell describes in his chapter a process called Lesson Study. It is based on the Japanese model in which teachers collaborate on a unit of study so the team has ownership over the lesson. Then one team member volunteers to teach the lesson first, with his peers observing, to see what needs to be tweaked. After the observation, the team collaborates again on how to make the lesson better, and another team member teaches the lesson while his colleagues observe. The lesson may go through a couple of evolutions, but then most students get to see the very best lesson, and the teachers are certain to be aligned and confident. I think this is a marvelous plan because it gets teachers on board, and it benefits students exponentially. Time, of course, is the most important way to get teachers collaborating and is required to make Lesson Study work.
  2. I have found Twitter to be one of the most useful ways to communicate and collaborate with teachers from all over the world. Hashtags and chats such as #edchat (a chat where educators chat 2x each Tuesday) and #edtech are great ways to hear what other teachers are saying and start communicating with them!

  3. In authoring our book “Classroom Walkthroughs to Improve Teaching and Learning,” we found a number of walkthrough models (both nationally known as well as grass-root models that heavily involved teachers in the design and implementation of of walkthroughs. In those models, teachers were the observers and were the ones to provide feedback and professional conversations around the school improvement initiatives of the school. One great model was the UCLA SMP Classroom Walkthrough (reference: Breaking Through to Effective Teaching: A Walk-Through Protocl Linking Student Learning and Professional Practice authored by Patricia Martinez-Miller and Laureen Cervone). Another great model is the Instructional Talk-Throughs from the Edmonton Public Schools (Alberta, Canada). Go to http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin494.shtml. Another good example of a grassroot model of walkthroughs is the work being done by Robin Wiltison, principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, Beltsville, Maryland (Prince George County Public Schools). She can be reached at robin.wiltison@pgcps.org. Also, teachers at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Maryland actively drive their own designed walkthroughs they do with each other. The contact there would be Moriah Martin whose e-mail is Moriah_A_Martin@mcpsmd.org. All of these examples illustrate where teachers took the lead in not only being the observed, but also the observers working to improve teaching and learning in their respective schools.

  4. we use a number of strategies to bring about collaboration within our division. We have a peer coaching model that is called Literacy Walk and Talk which is directly linked the school and divisional priorities that brings about real change in student achievment. The best think we can do to bring collaboration about is to give time for educators to talk, focus the discussion with a structure so the process reamins collaborative not collblabrative.

  5. We would like to suggest our new book is entitled Collaboration and Coteaching: Strategies for English Learners, published by Corwin Press in August 2010. Much has been written about the cognitive, academic language needs of ELLs. Many guidebooks and professional development materials have been produced on teacher collaboration and co-teaching for inclusive classrooms. Similarly, much has been published about effective strategies mainstream teachers can use to offer more culturally and linguistically responsive instruction for ELLs. However, very few resources are available to help general education teachers and ESL specialists to collaborate effectively on all grade levels to support ELLs’ academic, linguistic, literacy, and sociocultural development. We hope that this book will fill that gap and offer a user-friendly, comprehensive guide that considers all levels and types of collaboration, both instructional and noninstructional.
    Recognizing that a variety of ESL program models, diverse local needs, and considerable regional differences in ESL services exist, we respond to this diversity in our book by addressing current collaborative practices from informal and occasional exchanges of teaching ideas, to systemic or formal initiatives such as curriculum alignment and parallel teaching, to the highest level of collaboration, which is co-teaching or team teaching.

  6. My school is in the second year of “official” PLC grade level meetings. While we have always had a PLC approach to the whole school environment with monthly professional development, the grade level approach is new. It is interesting to read comments like the one from Kimberly Kappler Hewitt about the optional PLCs. I find that it is taking us a long time to get our feet wet and benefit from the team time. I wonder if things would feel differently if we were more of that optional school environment. At the same time, I know that it is very important that we continue to work together. Much like Doreen Knuth’s school, the students dismiss early on Mondays. It would be great if teachers were not as protective of their time and could use that time to work together to better our teaching.

  7. I am a high school teacher, we works in a content area setting and in most cases, teach across grade levels. My school like yours has always had a Professional Learning Communuty approach. This has always included the entire staff, but Over the years we found out that most teachers are not very comfortable opening up and relating their issues and their challenges in a general staff development meeting. Recently, the decision was taken to meet as content area teams to reflect on our practices and decide on ideas to modify or fine-tune our approach. Participants are relaxed in the smaller groups and trust is paramount if the PLC is to be sucessful. I like your statement that it is important that we continue to work together. The grade level or the content area PLCs are new to us as well and we found that they are very important as the help to make us better teachers so that we can better help our students.

  8. Our school uses grade level meetings about once a month. Also, we are able to participate in volunteer professional development groups. I think when you try to force some professional development on teachers, they do not take it to heart. By being able to choose what you want to improve on and who you are working with, the intrinsic motivation grows. Currently, I am participating in a focus group on grading. There are several grade level accounted for (K,1,2,3,4,&7). I love getting all perspectives on the topic. All teachers feel very comfortable to discuss practices and how to improve strategies in the classroom.

  9. Our school uses PLC’s to help us collaborate and reflect with our colleagues. This helps us learn new teaching strategies, and we read and discuss educational books. I like the idea of videotaping. We did that when I was a student at the university, but have not done it since. It would be a good way to critique the strategies being used in the classroom.

  10. Our school has a variety of approaches in order to foster a collaborative culture where teachers and all members of the educational community can communicate openly about student achievement. Our school has Classroom Walk-Thoughs based on the UCLA model, where teachers and staff circulate through three or four classes for 5-7 minutes each, and convene outside the class to discuss student engagement. It is a non-judgemental way to focus on the positive aspect of student learning. A fishbowl discussion takes place later that day to record patterns and trends. In addtion, teachers collaborate at grade level meetings on a weekly basis, which could include Special Education teachers, Math and Reading Specialists and other staff members. Also, we meet with vertical teams once a month in order to compare student work across grade levels. The educational community makes decisions as a whole, and the staff feels comfortable to communicate openly and honestly. Trust is a big part of the collaboration that takes place at our school.

  11. Our school previously had a waiver in which the students came 15 minutes early every day, and we banked the minutes, in order to dismiss one hour early on Tuesday each week for meeting time. We combined this with our contracted 2 hours per month for professional development. This gave us a chance to have grade level, staff, committee, and professional development meetings every month. However, some teachers did not feel this time was well-spent and voted against it for this upcoming year. We did not have enough votes to keep the waiver. So now instead of having 6 hours per month for meeting time, we will only have 2. I am wondering if you, or anyone else on this blog, has any suggestions as how to best utilize 2 hours per month to accomplish all of our goals.

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