Teacher collaboration has always been essential, but even more so during the past two school years as we faced new challenges in our practice. With all of us experiencing transitioning learning environments, we had to be flexible in our practice and open to new possibilities. When it came to professional development, in the absence of being together in the physical space, we had to explore and learn what worked the best.
Leveraging the right digital tools and spaces, we were able to keep learning going and continue to build our professional learning communities.
As educators, we know there is tremendous power in collaboration, especially when it comes to preparing our students with essential skills for the future. For teachers, collaboration means that we can continue to grow professionally, become better each day and also have the support that we need when we need it.
What are the top benefits of teacher collaboration?
Collaborating with other teachers does not just impact our growth; it also leads to more benefits and potential growth for our students. We often hear about the importance of building meaningful relationships, but teaching can become an isolating profession as we know and may have experienced. Because of this, it's important that teachers have a community where they can work together in the same school or school district, or even on a global scale. With so much technology available today, there are many different ways to do this.
Over the past two years, we've all seen and experienced the benefits of being a connected educator and how collaboration makes a difference in our practice, helps us stay relevant and current with teaching methods and digital tools, and provides us with the feedback we need to grow. We know that we have to make it a priority so that we can provide the best learning experiences for our students. If teachers can select somebody to work with, aimed at a certain goal, share responsibility for creating a lesson or take turns observing one another, it can provide a lot of benefits for everyone involved, including:
Boosting student achievement
Research shows that teacher collaboration helps to raise student achievement. When teachers have more conversations focused on the content area, it helps provide more for students. So, we must build relationships and learn about our colleagues in order to understand our strengths and areas of need. The more resources we have and the more we can rely on one another, the better.
Continuous professional development
Additionally, professional development can be done by choice through teacher collaboration. We all need a way to continue learning. We need a support system in place that we can bounce ideas off of, provide us with feedback to help us grow, and provide our students with engaging learning opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.
Modeling desired behaviors for students
We should model collaboration for our students in our classroom because we know it is a skill they will need in the future. Through collaborating, we learn about our colleagues, understand their challenges and offer solutions, and build relationships that benefit our students and us. We can connect in different ways that also help us to build our skills, encourage us to take new risks, and benefit our own SEL skills, which are equally as important.
More opportunities for learning on the job
When we collaborate, we have a better view and understanding of what learning looks like in other classrooms. We can communicate about the methods that we are using and which ones are working and how it is helping our students to achieve more. Through collaboration, we build our own comfort and confidence by having a network to learn from which adds accountability to the work that we're doing.
Where to begin with teacher collaboration?
Start by finding some colleagues to collaborate with. What happens is that you end up becoming a mentor to one another and share a safe space with what has often been called a “critical friend.” We all need feedback to grow and through collaboration, we promote the giving and receiving of feedback as we work together toward a common goal, to solve a problem, or figure out new methods to use in our classes.
In the absence of being together in the same physical space, finding a tool or tools that we can rely on whether it's social media, a voice message, jumping on a quick video call, or having a collaborative space and posting a question, there are tons of options. Just find something that will work for both of you that is accessible and that will enable you to grow as an educator.
How to strengthen teacher collaboration in schools?
There is always so much happening during the school day that there can be challenges in finding the time to collaborate. Having options set up, especially with the technology tools that are available, helps us to facilitate collaboration in ways that were not available before.
For example, some schools may have Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) with special time set aside during the day for teachers to engage in a learning experience to build skills in a certain area, plan curriculum, or even do something like a book study and increase their awareness about a topic of interest.
Here are more ideas to help you find the time for teacher collaboration:
Have various meeting options
Since meeting during the school day or after school can be a challenge, relying on tools like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or Zoom helps to facilitate the collaboration in real-time. Even teaching next door to someone doesn't mean that you're guaranteed to have time to have a conversation let alone collaborate. Using some of these tools opens up more opportunities that meet people's different schedules and gives them an opportunity to really focus on the art of collaboration.
Use messaging tools
Using voice tools like Voxer, or messaging tools like Slack or even Microsoft Teams are great options for collaboration. Teachers can form small groups, ask questions, share resources and create a space for professional learning and networking to happen. However, using your learning platform is also a great way for teachers to share materials and be part of a community space.
Social network communities
When we look at social media options, teachers can join groups on Facebook and LinkedIn or communities on Twitter. Finding a group to collaborate with is much easier today with so many ways to facilitate the exchange of ideas and more importantly, the building of relationships. You can even use a hashtag on Twitter to search for content or seek educators to set up a collaboration.
Any of these options would make a positive impact on educators when it comes to collaboration. There are times we get stuck and wish we could just reach out and ask somebody for help. We can also use different digital tools as ways to collaborate asynchronously with a lot of additional options.
We use a Google Jamboard, create a Padlet or start a Wakelet collection. These are available for everyone to contribute to and the best thing about some of these options is that you can include audio or video. Another tool that's great for giving feedback and responding is using Mote. Having a few quick options like these to post in a space at your convenience makes a huge difference.
Teacher collaboration equals outstanding results
“It takes collaboration across a community to develop better skills for better lives.” Jose Angel Gurria
When teachers collaborate and model that for their students, they see the benefits of working together on group projects or on cross-curricular lessons. Collaboration is essential and it helps us when we can share the work that we are doing in our classrooms, which I refer to as “sharing our teacher talent.” When we have time or space set aside to work with the same grade level or content area teachers, it brings so many more opportunities for our students.