The power of teacher collaboration

When teachers collaborate, everyone benefits. Here’s inspiration and tips for getting started.

Sometimes we view the role of teacher as pretty independent and isolated. We picture teachers at the front of a classroom instructing students all day but rarely interacting with colleagues.

But many teachers do collaborate with each other, and the results are powerful. This week, we’re exploring the benefits of collaboration and tips for putting that collaboration in place.

Why collaborate?

Teacher collaboration benefits students, schools, and the teachers themselves. Research supports it.

In a study on teacher collaboration in instructional teams, the American Educational Research Journal found that collaboration improved teacher performance as well as student achievement.

In other studies, researchers have found that teacher collaboration can lead to a positive impact on students’ mathematics and reading achievement.

Collaboration can also help reduce turnover rates among beginning teachers, as well as improve overall teacher retention and teacher satisfaction.

What does teacher collaboration look like?

There’s no single “right way” to collaborate. The Institute of Education Sciences examined the ways in which some teachers work together and found a few key examples:

  • Teachers meet in teams to review student work against standards, using their insights to select targets for instructional improvement.
  • Teachers share planning time, learn about data to guide instructional decision making, and get regular support from a coach or lead teacher.
  • Teachers form teams to plan their own professional development and ensure that lessons are aligned across grade levels.

Of course, shared time together might be difficult for some teachers to come by. Ideally, the school provides it. If not, teachers can lobby to use some of the school’s professional development time for collaboration or consider ways to collaborate before or after school. Technology can certainly help on this front. Using apps and tools to share knowledge and data is time-efficient and, dare we say it, it’s even fun (more on this below).

Tips for great collaboration

Collaboration isn’t always easy or natural. It takes intent, patience, and skill to establish quality collaborative practices that benefit everyone. Try these tips to start out.

1. Be good a listener.

It’s impossible to work together if we can’t hear and understand each other. Harvard Business Review recently published research-based findings about what makes a great listener.

It turns out that good listening is actually much more cooperative and conversational than we might perceive. Good listeners, HBR reports, are more like trampolines than sponges: “They are someone you can bounce ideas off of… they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking.”

One way great listeners do this is by asking questions to show the speaker you’re thinking critically about what you’re hearing (and not tuning out).

2. Optimize meeting time.

We’ve all had the experience of being in a meeting that felt like a waste of time. Attendees showed up late, there were issues with conference line or projector technology, the conversation got dominated by just one or two people, or there was no clear agenda.

It can actually be quite difficult to make meetings productive and pleasant. By setting the tone and planning ahead, meeting time can be a lot more useful for everyone. Here are some tips:

  • Prepare and send out an agenda in advance.
  • Be intentional about the attendee list. Don’t overcrowd the room. Value diversity. Make sure key decision makers are present.
  • Set roles and rules. Be clear about who is presenting, keeping time, or taking notes. Have a system that allows all voices to be heard.
  • Mind the clock. Stick to the items on your agenda and begin and end the meeting on time.
  • Recap decisions made and leave with next-steps in place.

3. Leverage technology.

Nothing can replace face-to-face time with a mentor or team, but technology is an amazing tool for knowledge sharing and collaboration. Instead of clogging up inboxes with loads of emails, try using free apps and platforms to collaborate efficiently. Here are some ideas:

  • Google Drive can be used to share docs and resources, send surveys, build spreadsheets, and more.
  • Slack helps team members communicate with real-time messaging and archiving.
  • Stixy lets you share and personalize a virtual noticeboard with others.
  • Doodle can be used to find a meeting time that works for a group.
  • Mikogo or Join.me can be used for online meetings and desktop sharing.

(PS: Our free Sights Dashboard for Teachers allows teachers to share sight word lists — a great way to pool resources and collaborate!)

Do you collaborate at your school? Let us know your tips!

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