The teaching profession is full of passionate educators, many of whom have earned advanced degrees, who give of themselves and make sacrifices to provide excellent instruction to their students. The result of this dedication, however, can be a feeling of isolation. Turkish reformer and activist Mustafa Kemal Atatürk has been quoted as saying, “A good teacher is like a candle—it consumes itself to light the way for others.”
Teachers find themselves planning, organizing materials, making and grading assignments, and standing in front of a class alone. They often interact with colleagues with just a quick greeting or mandatory administrative meeting. This isolation may seem even heavier when teachers assume sole responsibility for the educational success of their students.
One effective way to combat loneliness and isolation and share the burden of teaching responsibilities is to collaborate with other educators. By planning and teaching together, teachers find encouragement, connections, and support.
What Is Teacher Collaboration?
Teacher collaboration happens when educators work together to create innovative lesson plans, discuss concerns about student achievement or behavior, determine student progress and challenges, and offer collegial support and encouragement in a structured environment. Many aspects and forms of collaboration, both formal and informal, can contribute to student success and decrease teacher burnout.
What Is the Purpose of Teacher Collaboration?
Teacher collaboration provides fellow educators opportunities to meet, share insights, create cohesive plans, and work together effectively. Some of the primary purposes of collaboration are:
- Identifying educational practices that consistently help students of all abilities across classrooms and content areas
- Providing a safe environment in which teachers and students build healthy relationships and develop a common understanding and vocabulary for expectations and school culture
- Sharing responsibility for student success
- Ensuring that all voices are heard and respected in professional settings, meetings, and the classroom
How Do Teachers Collaborate Professionally?
Many people have the natural ability to connect with others and share ideas. Casual interactions in the hallway or lounge about a particular student’s behavior or an upcoming lesson or activity are helpful. Enlightening newcomers about building logistics and administrative expectations is almost always welcome. But to be effective, teacher collaboration must be district- and building-wide, intentional, and specific.
Models for Collaboration
Much of teachers’ collaborative work is done outside of the classroom, in advance of teaching or after formal or informal assessments and when a new curriculum is introduced. Here are three proven ways teachers can work together toward a common goal of student success:
- Common Planning Time — Common planning time allows teachers who see the same students or who teach the same subject to work together on both instructional planning and student-centered issues. At the elementary level, common planning time allows grade-level teacher groups to work together on upcoming lesson plans and compare student performance on particular academic concerns. Teachers gain additional insight into student behavior, interests, and abilities when other teachers, such as art, music, physical education, and special education teachers, are included in these meetings.
- Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)— A PLC is made up of a group of educators who meet to focus on a specific issue or question, often with the support of a teacher with a background in educational leadership. With an eye on a school or district initiative, the PLC studies and analyzes student data. After evaluating the greatest needs and biggest challenges, members develop different approaches to solve the identified problems. Although each member of the team has a specific role to play, the spirit of PLCs must be that everyone has something to offer and everyone has something to learn.
- Critical Friends Groups (CFG®s) — Developed by the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF), a CFG is a form of PLC that is structured to develop personal connections and trust between and among educators. Up to 12 members, often randomly assigned without regard to grade level or content area, CFGs meet regularly to discuss class and student concerns, brainstorming with each other to create thoughtful solutions. NSRF’s timed protocol walks the group through the process from listening to analyzing to sharing to reflecting.
Collaboration in the Classroom
In addition to the time the best teachers spend planning lessons and evaluating student work, they often collaborate right in the classroom. There are four ways in which collaborative teaching, also known as team teaching or co-teaching, can be an effective way to meet the needs of all students.
Teaching with stations requires extra setup time, but it provides a small group experience in which each lesson can be modified for students who need extra support. When using the station teaching model, students may be grouped randomly or by ability level. Each teacher provides either direct instruction or concept review at one of the stations. The other stations may be video or computer-generated reinforcement of a concept or independent practice. This model provides flexibility for students who would benefit by remaining at any one station until they have mastered a concept.
Teachers in this model simultaneously present two related concepts. Each working with half of the class, teachers use this method to introduce mini-lessons in a smaller group setting, allowing students to ask questions and practice on their own. After a specified period of time, teachers switch places and teach the related concept to the other half of the class.
When a portion of the class is functioning either well below or above grade level, concepts may be presented in an alternate teaching model. The majority of the class, functioning at grade level or at generally the same ability level, meets with one teacher for the basic lesson. The collaborating teacher teaches the same concept but at a level more appropriate for the group, modified to either provide additional support or challenge to the students.
When team teaching, both teachers interact with the entire class, but in different ways at different times. Although interactions and cooperation should appear to be effortless and spontaneous, this model of teacher collaboration takes careful planning. While one teacher offers whole-class instruction, the other teacher may take on a variety of roles, such as:
- Modeling note-taking on a large whiteboard
- Answering questions from individual students who may need quick clarification of a point
- Informally assessing student progress
- Redirecting students who are off task
Team teaching is an ideal way for special education teachers to see their students in the general education setting while providing the support their students need to benefit from the least restrictive educational environment.
Why Is Teacher Collaboration Important?
Besides providing opportunities for teachers to get out of their classrooms and meet with colleagues, there are good reasons for schools and districts to make time for teachers to collaborate both in and out of the classroom.
- When educators and other professionals meet frequently and regularly, they begin to open lines of communication and trust.
- When group members begin to listen and trust each other, they are more likely to be open to new ideas and accept constructive feedback.
- When interdisciplinary groups share lesson plans and concepts, teachers can refer to information introduced in a different content area or class. This teaches students how to transfer knowledge and skills from one setting to another.
- When general education and special education teachers work together, they better understand how to provide appropriate services to students with various needs.
In addition, teachers who collaborate share the workload of planning and assessing as well as support and encourage each other.
Teacher Collaboration: Building Stronger Teachers and More Successful Students
Offering a variety of teacher collaboration opportunities builds strong educational communities and also well-connected and supportive colleagues. Find out how you can help create an environment of trust and respect as a passionate, well prepared, and progressive-minded teacher by earning an Online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) from American University. Both seasoned and new teachers benefit when they are engaged and feel valued by both colleagues and administrators.
Find out how you can foster a collaborative educational environment with American University.
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Edutopia, “4 Productive Team Teaching Models”
Edutopia, “A Protocol for Teacher-Focused Professional Development”
Elevated Achievement Group, Inc, “The Benefit for Students when Teachers Collaborate”
Forbes, “Stronger Together: The Power of Teacher Collaboration”
International English Language Testing System, “Three Ways to Combat the Feeling of Teaching in Isolation”
Learning Sciences International, “How to Build PLCs That Empower Teachers and Raise Student Achievement”
LinkedIn, “A Good Teacher Is Like a Candle — It Consumes Itself to Light the Way for Others”
Medium, “New School Year is Starting”
National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Collaboration: Partnering With Colleagues, Families, and Caregivers to Promote Student Success”
National School Reform Faculty, “What Is a Critical Friends Group® (CFG®) Community and How Is It Different Than a PLC?”
Research for Better Teaching, “To See the Soul of a School, Look at Common Planning Time”
Stetson Associates, “Effective Models of Collaborative Teaching”