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Making Collaboration Work in Your Building

Many studies tout the benefits bestowed upon schools that encourage and facilitate teacher collaboration.  However, it’s not always the easiest practice to put into place.  It can require both time and energy that many educators feel they just don’t have to spare.  Below, Education World offers some advice to educators looking to increase their collaborative practices, without taxing too much of their personal resources.

  1.  Visit a peer.  This is the simplest way to start a collaborative environment in the modern school system.  This can be intimidating to some teachers, so go in looking for something positive, and make it clear that that’s your intention:  “I’ve heard you do great openers and exit tickets” or “You really seem to garner respect from the kids and I’d love to see it in practice”.  This assures a peer that you’re not looking to critique their classroom; you’re looking for mentorship from a pro.
  2. Go to PD together.  This is a simple method of starting discussion across content areas.  As the years go by, it becomes easier and easier for teachers to forget their passion for their content.  Science teachers forget they are scientists.  English teachers forget they are poets.  Getting excited about professional development opportunities and sharing that excitement with peers can help to both re-ignite that passion, as well as connect educators on a personal level.  Allowing time for history teachers and literature teachers “geek out” around the rhetoric of a speech together or math science teachers talk about an improbable piece of architecture can really help kindle the flames of creativity in your school.  Find professional development that can bring your teachers together around a common interest.
  3. Make data team meaningful.  Data team practices have the potential of really helping teachers find time to collaborate significantly – if done well.  If data teams are simply routines done for the sake of saying it was done, they become almost completely meaningless.  This is collaborative time that is mandated, sure, but it is also an incredible opportunity to do some really important work.  Make sure your data teams are collecting the data that teachers really want to look at.  Be flexible here.  This data could include behavioral numbers, demographics, local economics.  If you’re forcing your teachers to stare at the same piece of reading data year after year without inquiring into other pieces of the student puzzle, you’re going to lose a lot of potential excitement around talking about kids.  “Making it meaningful” can mean different things to different teams.  The key here is make sure it is teacher-led and teacher-directed.  Allow teachers to make meaningful inquiries into their students, even if it’s outside the box.
  4. Create a school content calendar.  Depending on how developed your school/district curriculum is, somewhere there is likely someone who has access to a pacing guide for the curricula being taught in your building.  If you can easily get your hands on it, in a single PLC meeting, your team could find some natural content connections within the building.  Are students in the biology classroom studying evolution during your debate unit?  Looks like you’ve got your debate topic!   Are students in physics learning about force and pull while the physical education classroom is working on the muscle systems?  Suddenly, we have a practical experiment in the works.  Finding those natural chance connections not only lessons time spent assessing student prior knowledge but they allow interdisciplinary connections that make the skills you’re working on applicable in the real world.  If chasing down this information seems complicated, initiate the work yourself.  With a single Google doc shared with the staff, folks can add their content map in a single afternoon.
  5. Flip the field trip.  Here’s a cool idea that we featured back in August of 2015.  We’ve all attended a district-wide and state-wide professional development session where we are naturally placed in a room with other educators in our field.  Next time you‘re heading in to be professionally developed, go with a gameplan in mind:  find a curricular connection.  When flipping the field trip, students in separate schools – or even separate classrooms within your school or district – might investigate a topic independently in the classroom, while using online communities to keep in touch, discuss, and work on projects together.  It can be as complex or simple as you make it.  Often, the partnership can end in a culminating group field trip where partners meet and execute their inquiry project in person.

Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Contributor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher and teacher trainer in Connecticut.