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The Unstoppable Power of Collaboration

teacher collaboration

Just a few days ago, I walked through the lobby of a large convention hotel. Teachers were scattered everywhere, talking eagerly about instructional strategies and sharing resources they wanted to explore further. Education conference season is well underway, and with it comes good times and collaboration with colleagues both near and far. With in-person interaction paused for so long, it has been easy to forget why partnering with others is beneficial beyond measure, but the truth is, nothing replaces face time with others. It might be tempting to continue avoiding the kinds of exchanges that necessitate inconveniences like traveling to other locations or even driving a half hour out of the way, but the potential rewards of being in closer proximity to others usually winds up outweighing all the trouble. 

Rewards of Conversation

Talking about instruction is inherently satisfying, which is why teacher workspaces during lunchtime are littered with colleagues discussing how their morning classes went and sharing ideas to tweak lesson plans for the afternoon. Sometimes these informal discussions center around classroom management, and other times the conversation is more focused on how to best help students achieve learning outcomes. Either way, the collective intelligence of whoever is in the room has the power to create a space for all to share their best thinking. Even when a fellow teacher experiences a problem and no solutions are readily available, the mere act of voicing concerns and being given space to vent holds value, provided that everyone remains mindful of not becoming steeped in consistent negativity. 

Solving Problems of Practice

When conflict or difficulty arises, it helps to work with colleagues who can suggest a variety of avenues for achieving a workable resolution. Recently, I engaged in a discussion with a fellow English teacher who is passionate about writing instruction, and we discussed how difficult it can be for students to retain their voices in what they create. Both of us shared some ideas for making that struggle a little easier. For example, I like to give students the option a few times a year of writing about a topic of their choice, which some kids find liberating and others find challenging. When it’s time to share their work, students draw a classmate’s paper at random and anonymously share the pieces out loud. Then, members of the class are asked to guess whose paper has just been read based upon the possible clues that exist both in the content and the voice. After I explained this idea, my friend had some additional enhancements to share, and we both walked away from the exchange feeling more equipped to engage students with new techniques for building writing voice.

Increasing Career Longevity

One of the reasons that the pandemic was so traumatic is that people are not meant to exist in silos. We are inherently social creatures and when cut off from others, we do not thrive. The same holds doubly true for teachers; when we work in isolation, it becomes too difficult to cope with the challenges of the profession alone. Without teacher “buddies” to talk to, not only do we miss out on the power of great ideas, but we also risk leaving the profession prematurely out of frustration. By now, everyone knows that an already existing teacher shortage became ever more dire during the pandemic. There was no single reason for this phenomenon. Rather, a combination of factors from untenable working conditions to constant illness and disruption only served to make the experience worse for everyone. However, one less discussed contributor to this mass exodus was the loneliness so many teachers felt as they worked alone, without the benefit or joy of meaningful interaction with the people who best understood their struggles: fellow educators. The more that can now be done to rebuild professional communities, the better off everyone will be.

Elevating One Another

How many times have we now heard that together, we are better? It might be a cliché, but it holds true. Research has shown the power of accountability, which is a word that tends to unfairly come with negative connotations. In its purest form, being accountable to others means that we continuously strive to raise the bar of our own practice, both for the sake of students and to do the best work possible for personal and professional growth. For anyone who has slipped into the “I got this” mode of instructional practice by tuning out the diverse range of voices around them, now would be a good time to do some self-exploration about what it really means to embody a growth mindset of constant improvement. One thing is certain: nobody gets better by being a lone wolf, nor do students receive equitable opportunities to succeed.

While going to conferences is a lot of fun and incredibly enriching, leaving town is not necessary to garner the benefits of getting the most out of collaborative practice. Instead, finding ways to increase interaction with others within our spheres of available influence is the most valuable move teachers can make to experience positive change. That way, everyone avoids the pitfall of working alone (a trap that is all to easy to fall into) and instead has the chance to experience the kind of thought partnership that brings enlightenment and joy.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS