Teaching is one of the hardest yet most rewarding jobs in the world. For many teachers it's the "students" that make it worth it, but there's something else that’s integral to the teaching experience: collaborating with your colleagues.
Teacher collaboration is key to not only teachers and institutions but also for the overall benefit of students.
What is Teacher Collaboration?
Teacher collaboration refers to members of a learning community working together to improve student learning and accomplishment. Collaboration is an ever-evolving, continuous process that has only developed over time via social media and new technology.
The appeal of teacher collaboration lies not only in the capacity to draw on a variety of perspectives and ideas but also in the ability to share responsibility for education.
Besides benefitting the student, teacher collaboration also helps induce creativity in teaching and encourages bonding between educators. But despite the importance of teacher collaboration, few educators devote the necessary time and effort to the process.
Why is Teacher Collaboration Important?
Learning becomes a lot more effective for students when teachers collaborate to share information, expertise, and ideas. Teachers who are comfortable giving and receiving help without sacrificing accountability are more likely to collaborate effectively.
As a teacher, once you start co-teaching and co-planning with your colleagues, you’ll find the following benefits come to life:
- Creative Lesson Plans: Teachers who communicate and exchange ideas have a larger repertoire of teaching tactics to choose from, promoting creative learning. You can persuade your colleagues to explore new ways or have the opportunity to help a peer with one.
- Better Understanding of Student Data: Teachers are better able to deconstruct important data from both formative and summative tests, which can then be used to execute effective solutions. You can also develop shared responsibility for holistic development of your students.
- Building Bonds between Educators: While teachers should not feel like they are being forced to collaborate, having the chance to share ideas and information reduces professional isolation and frustration, boosting staff morale and satisfaction. Regular collaboration with colleagues also helps create a sense of community and bonding in educators.
- Increased Academic Effort: Because collaborating teachers stay on the same page, they can raise the degree of academic rigor to match the fundamental competencies they want students to achieve. As a result, the benefits of collaboration between teachers reflect on students' academics.
What are the Challenges of Effective Teacher Collaboration?
In the Global State of Digital Learning Survey, more than 30% of teachers and nearly 50% of administrators report that teacher collaboration is a top priority for them, but almost 30% of them also believe that getting teachers to collaborate is a big challenge.
On top of that, the pandemic has posed new challenges on teacher collaborations, as educators have had to teach, communicate and monitor students' learning without being physically present.
While teacher-student interactions lie at the heart of the teaching process, their relationships and interactions with colleagues constitute a key professional dimension that has also been seriously affected by the pandemic.
Overall, some of the most common challenges of effective teacher collaboration include:
- Lack of Time and Planning: Many teachers and administrators believe that the school day is not long enough. Thus, the most prevalent barrier to effective collaboration is a lack of time to devote to the task at hand. While this argument may be used to hide other concerns, such as personality conflicts or a fear of being judged, it is nevertheless worth mentioning that planning time is a vital resource for educators and should be included in their teaching responsibilities.
- Personality Conflicts: Collaborative groups are made up of people with different personalities and beliefs, leading to ineffective outcomes. Especially amongst educators who may have varying ideologies, lesson plans, and teaching methods, personality conflicts are a cause of concern.
- The New Normal: Adjusting to virtual modes of teaching has proven to be a challenge for many educators. While they are already distanced from students, collaborating with colleagues comes with its own set of challenges, such as adjusting to new software, changing teaching methods, changing the structure of learning, etc.
How can Effective Teacher Collaboration Help You?
A study of over 1,000 4th and 5th-grade teachers in New York City showed that teacher collaboration helps raise student achievement.
Aside from the apparent advantages for kids, teacher collaboration fosters collaborative cultures over time. Teachers can form true cooperative teams through collaboration, in which they share goals, participate in mutually beneficial professional growth, pool resources to improve student accomplishment, and advance their skills, knowledge, and ideas about student learning.
Teacher collaboration also helps individual educators solve problems, gain motivation to keep up with colleagues and come up with improved teaching methods while also giving them a chance to bond and socialize.
Key Teacher Collaboration Strategies
For teacher collaboration to be effective, teachers should aim to collaborate rather than feel obligated to do so. Here are a few ideas for getting the ball rolling on successful, high-quality teacher collaboration:
#1 – Develop Shared Visions and Goals
The amount of time and energy instructors devote to collaboration is determined by their level of ownership of the activity. Teachers who share a common vision and set similar goals are more likely to pitch in and have a genuine feeling of ownership.
Suppose your team determines that it is committed to creating relationships with students and student learning. In that case, you can set goals relating to that vision, discuss how to achieve them, and regularly monitor progress.
#2 – Establish Group Norms
Unfortunately, collaboration can be inconvenient and uncomfortable at times. Educators are often committed to their profession and beliefs, which makes them vulnerable in groups where others are aware of their strengths and faults. It's critical to cultivate a culture of trust, respect, and humility for everyone to prosper.
To avoid conflicts and induce a sense of community in the teachers, it's important to establish norms and regulations acceptable to all team members. Collaborating teachers should delegate duties and responsibilities through discussions as well as modes of communication and time management protocols at the very beginning.
That way, every educator is on the same page about the team's expectations.
#3 – Build Relationships
Like in any other partnership, building relationships in collaborative teams takes time and effort to foster. But the camaraderie between collaborators lies at the heart of the collaboration's efficiency.
Relationships with other educators are beneficial not just for stress management but also for teamwork, leading to higher student accomplishment. Sharing struggles and experiences with colleagues not only help educators learn from each other but also facilitates the growth of deeper bonds.
Therefore, creating relationships with colleagues lays the framework for efficient teacher collaboration, just as building relationships with students lay the groundwork for greater academic achievement.
#4 – Collaborate Virtually
Virtual collaboration allows teachers to collaborate at a distance. Teachers can easily upload documents and materials they think might be valuable to their colleagues, such as lesson plans, topic discussions, and curriculum strategies to a shared drive set up utilizing third-party platforms or the institution's internal network.
This way, teachers benefit from the experience and wisdom of the entire teaching community and access the most relevant papers by emulating their work or utilizing a mutually agreed-upon template.
#5 – Leverage Discussion to Work Through Conflicts
As educators explore new teaching approaches, dialogue leads to significant professional learning. However, while communication brings up new opportunities, it can also lead to conflict. Different working styles, personality clashes, and competing goals can all cause problems in a teacher-student relationship.
That said, teacher collaborations must first develop conflict resolution procedures, identify unified team goals, and explicitly describe the collaboration's structure. Setting a single team aim helps minimize the team's prior conflicts and encourages participants to work together.
Setting student-focused agendas are the best method for resolving existing disputes. This approach helps teachers eventually recognize the benefits of collaborating with colleagues, despite the initial focus on children. As a result, teams are more likely to collaborate and see the communal benefits from their efforts.
#6 – Find Time to Collaborate
With the hectic schedule of an educator, finding time to collaborate is a challenge. But collaborating teachers can deliver the best results if they get enough time to plan the whole process.
Most institutions give educators enough time during the workday to collaborate with their peers. You can also utilize the institution’s professional development time for collaboration.
Besides, it's important to consider how you can collaborate both within and outside of the classroom. Check up with coworkers for a few minutes before or after school. With the ongoing pandemic, you can also use virtual platforms like Google Docs, Google Meet, Zoom, and Skype.
#7 – Collaborate in a Team
By dividing responsibilities based on your abilities and interests, you can share the planning burden. Consider your own and your colleague's areas of interest when selecting how to divide responsibility, establish and discuss plans, and provide feedback on them.
In addition, when forming collaboration teams, school leadership teams might consider personalities, strengths, and limitations. Participation tends to rise when the school leadership teams play a role in forming specific collaborative teams.
Rather than being an additional issue for instructors to deal with, collaboration then becomes an expected aspect of the working environment.
If done correctly, teacher collaboration can open a range of opportunities for teachers and students alike. Sure, it isn’t the easiest feat because true collaboration needs effort. With time and dedication, however, teachers can develop collaborative teams to foster a shared vision and increase mutually beneficial learning experiences.