Teacher collaboration helps both the student body and the school as a whole can benefit.

The importance of teacher collaboration

By learning from one another, teachers can hone their skills and adopt new teaching practices, which can obviously increase the effectiveness of their lesson delivery.

In addition to this, a collaborative culture is created when teachers work together, which helps to boost morale among the staff and provides teachers with a supporting and enriching working environment.

A few additional areas we’ll cover include:
  • Benefits of teacher collaboration
  • Effective teacher collaboration strategies
  • Teacher collaboration tools

Traditional classroom setting

Working in a traditional classroom setting can be a lonely or isolating experience for teachers. As much of the day is spent with pupils, it may take some time for teachers to build strong teams within the staff. Furthermore, teachers within the same school may feel they are in competition with one another as they strive to achieve the best results when it comes to student attainment.

Unfortunately, these practices can have a detrimental effect on the school, the students and the teachers themselves.

New collaboration strategies

New teacher collaboration strategies are on the rise. New collaboration strategies are helping to create bonds between teachers and ensuring that an individual teacher’s best practices can be spread across the school so that everyone benefits from their innovative and original teaching strategies.

Large school collaboration

In larger schools and school districts, collaborative teaching is often achieved by forming grade-level teams among the staff. Teachers who work with pupils in grades five and six may collaborate with teachers who work with students across grades four to seven, for example.

As these members of staff are teaching students around the same age and expected attainment levels, their lesson plans, teaching methods and learning strategies can be shared in order to create the most enriching environment.

How can teacher collaboration be achieved?

Collaborate virtually

The range of academic and administrative tasks teachers are required to carry out leaves them with very little free time. In fact, the vast majority of teachers work additional hours in order to ensure their students get the best education. Virtual collaboration enables teachers to work with one another but doesn’t add to an already busy schedule.

As teachers aren’t required to meet face-to-face or attend extra meetings, virtual collaboration is ideal when time constraints are already an issue. There are numerous brands and companies which offer free common drive services and some schools may have an internal network which can facilitate this type of collaboration.

Once the common drive has been set up, teachers can simply upload documents and materials they think may be useful to their fellow colleagues.

The types of documents shared via virtual collaboration often include:
  • Lesson plans
  • Curriculum strategies
  • Unit mapping

As all teachers are required to create these types of documents, individuals may benefit from seeing how other teachers formulate these materials. Emulating their work or using a mutually agreed template ensures teachers benefit from the expertise and experience of the teaching community as a whole and that they have access to the most useful documents.

Plan, plan, plan

Although teachers already face numerous time constraints, the benefits associated with teachers collaboration have led many schools to incorporate scheduled collaboration time. If principals, school directors and leadership teams commit to creating time for collaboration in the schedule, teachers and students can reap the benefits of this new approach to learning.

Enabling teachers to meet together in subject groups, grade groups or as a whole teaching body ensures they have time to work with one another, rather than simply working alongside each other. As well as encouraging teachers to share materials and teaching strategies, this face-to-face form of collaboration can provide professional support to teachers when they need it most.

Individual teachers often face a number of challenges throughout each school year and being able to discuss and problem solve with colleagues who are familiar with the difficulties of working in a school environment leads to increased confidence, more effective resolutions and a happy working and learning environment.

In order to facilitate face-to-face, scheduled collaboration, leadership teams can incorporate a number of strategies, such as:
  • Providing extra support via substitute teachers to enable teachers to take time to collaborate with colleagues
  • Leadership-led scheduling processes so principals are aware of the need to manage the time constraints experienced by teachers
  • Allowing teachers to take time to attend state or national conferences, workshops and continuing development programs as a group
  • Organize regular school meetings for all staff to share experiences and ideas

A simple technique to encourage on-going collaboration is to ask staff to leave their doors open when it’s appropriate to do so. All too often, teachers are stuck behind a closed door and are physically isolated from other staff. By requesting staff keep their doors open, it encourages their colleagues to connect with them throughout the day, leading to organic and natural collaboration.

Form collaboration teams

If principals and school leadership teams take a role in creating specific collaboration teams, participation tends to increase. Rather than collaboration being an extra issue for teachers to contend with, it simply becomes part of the working environment.

Depending on the size of the school and the workforce, collaboration teams can be made up of numerous people or just two or three teachers. Pairing teachers up based on the grade levels they teach is often most effective, as these members of staff will have similar day-to-day experiences and will be using similar teaching materials which can be shared or created jointly.

In addition to this, school leadership teams can look at personalities, strengths and weaknesses when creating collaboration teams. Pairing a newly qualified teacher with an experienced teacher may boost the confidence of the newer teacher, whilst introducing new concepts and teaching methods to the more experienced professional, for example. Similarly, pairing a more confident colleague with a more reserved member of staff can help individuals to take a more active role in the school system and also highlights how a more sedate approach can be beneficial in some areas.

Add structures to teacher conflict

Simply working in the same industry or the same school does not automatically mean that teachers will get on well together or will be the best of friends. Different ways of working, personality clashes and competing objectives can affect any working relationship and teachers may not always want to work with each other.

Adding structure to collaboration is an effective way of resolving any conflicts which may arise and ensures both individuals and teams have a specific focus. Whilst teachers may not like the idea of being ‘forced’ to work with a colleague they’re not particularly friendly with, setting a team goal helps to minimize any prior issues the team may have experienced and encourages participants to work together to achieve their objective.

One of the most effective ways to ensure teams comprised of conflicting teachers is successful is to set agendas which are strictly focused on the students. If the team has a particular objective of reviewing a student’s work, for example, they will feel they have carried out a task which benefits the student and the school as a whole, regardless of whether they have bonded well with their team members.

Although teams may focus on students to begin with, this process allows individuals to recognize the benefits of working with colleagues, even if they have previously clashed over some issues. Even colleagues who do not particularly like each other are able to recognize the strengths each of them bring to the school environment. As this happens, teams are usually more willing to collaborate with each other and realize the benefits that can flow from collaboration.

Create lesson plans together

Planning lessons in advance is a key part of teaching and two heads are always better than one. When teachers plan their lessons together, they have the opportunity to learn from one another and can brainstorm how to approach tricky subjects or learning aims. As teachers will often be familiar with the same students, they can also speculate as to how classes will respond to a new topic and strategize new teaching methods.

Lessons can sometimes be planned well in advance, with teachers determining how to deliver the curriculum across a semester or a school year. Individual lesson plans may be created with a short-term view, however. This enables teachers to be flexible and adapt the curriculum plan according to their students’ needs. If pupils have struggled to grasp the concept of osmosis in science lessons, for example, an extra lesson may be spent on this topic before the class moves on to a new area.

In order to increase flexibility and cater to the students’ needs, teachers may need to plan lessons the day before they take place or the week before the class is due to be held. This can place a considerable amount of pressure on teachers, particularly as they are routinely planning numerous lessons for varying classes.

When planning lessons in pairs or teams, teachers find that the pressure of devising the plans is lessened. Instead of attempting to cope with the administrative demands of teaching alone, teachers can collaborate and find the most effective way to plan lessons for their students. When specific class materials are needed, teachers can also share their resources and reduce the time it takes for each individual teacher to prepare a lesson.

Time for teacher collaboration

There are various ways in which teacher collaboration can be structured and schools should try various approaches to determine which works best for their staff. Although some teachers are resistant to collaborative teaching methods at first, simply asking them to try the new approach can be the most effective way of introducing collaborative teaching permanently. Once teachers begin to see and experience the benefits themselves, any reluctance typically dissipates and teachers are keen to continue working in a collaborative way.

A pilot collaboration task, such as asking teachers to brainstorm a particular issue in teams, is an ideal way to introduce the concept and emphasizes the beneficial effects collaborative teaching can have. Once in place, teachers should feel under less pressure as an individual and this shows in both their teaching and their attitude.

With collaborative teaching, all members of the school community can benefit from the cohesive and united approach fostered by teachers.