Collaboration is the process of working together to achieve a common goal. In teaching, the common goal is always improved learner outcomes.
Teacher collaboration involves:
Active collaboration is particularly important for creating a growth-based learning environment and for increasing student learning progress. Research shows that teachers who work together and learn from each other are more successful in improving student outcomes than those who work alone.
Active collaboration requires a shift from managing the learning of a single group of learners to taking collective responsibility for the success and wellbeing of all learners. Innovative learning environments (ILEs) are changing the ways that teachers teach, plan, and inquire into teaching together, but regardless of the teaching environment, effective collaboration requires a shift of thinking from “me” to “we” and from “my learners” to “our learners”.
We must stop allowing teachers to work alone, behind closed doors and in isolation in the staffrooms and instead shift to a professional ethic that emphasises collaboration. We need communities within and across schools that work collaboratively to diagnose what teachers need to do, plan programmes and teaching interventions and evaluate the success of the interventions. We need communities that promote and share professional development aimed at improving teacher effectiveness and expertise, that devise performance ‘dashboards’ to show success in learning and achievement and that build a coalition of the successful.
Teachers at Stonefields School discuss teacher collaboration in an innovative learning environment, including the shift they have taken from individual to collective effort. The teachers discuss the mentoring, support, dialogue, and questioning that come from teaching in a shared space.
Collective inquiry is at the heart of teacher collaboration because it brings teachers together as learners, with a shared goal of improving learner outcomes. In professional learning communities, all teachers contribute as equals, seeking to understand and respond to what is happening for their learners. The focus is on problem-solving together, drawing on both research and student evidence to inform and evaluate changes to practice.
Collective inquiry fosters a trusting and open learning community in which mistakes are an accepted part of learning.
Teachers at St Patrick’s Silverstream discuss the benefits of participating in a professional learning community. They comment on the importance of taking ownership over your teaching practice, examining its impact, and being open to making changes.
Key benefits include:
All members of learning communities benefit from effective collaboration.
Educators and students at the Grow Waitaha Eduhui in Christchurch share the impacts of collaborative teaching and learning. Teachers are seeing higher levels of student engagement and improvements in achievement. Students comment on the benefits of working collaboratively and having agency over their learning.
Dr. Julia Aitken discusses the benefits of students being able to observe teachers collaborating, a skill that has many real-world applications. She comments that effective collaboration may involve working constructively and professionally with people you don’t naturally get on with.
To collaborate effectively, teachers need to be deliberate about developing their collaborative capabilities. This includes:
This diagram from Stonefields School illustrates key factors that contribute to collaborative teaching.
Relational trust is a prerequisite for engaging in challenging conversations and for creating an environment where participants are open to their practice and the outcomes they achieve for students being made transparent. Where there is relational trust, members feel free to open up and acknowledge what they do not know, take risks, and use their knowledge and expertise to support others in the community. Trust relationships facilitate the sharing of data and information about students and the provision of supported educational pathways.
Relational trust takes time and effort to establish. Key factors that can contribute to relational trust include:
Teachers at the Grow Waitaha Eduhui explain successful collaboration is supported by:
Having a shared vision is an important part of successful collaboration. Teachers who understand the impact collaboration can have on learners, and on their own teaching practice, are more likely to commit time and energy towards collaborative practices.
A key part of the process is deciding together on the systems, approaches, and measures that will help the team collaborate successfully.
Dr Julia Aitken discusses the importance of having a shared vision for the purpose of education. She highlights the importance of understanding the “why” of change rather than just changing for the sake of it.
Teachers at Shirley Primary School developed a team charter to guide the way they collaborated. They asked:
The process involved:
Several useful resources are linked to from this case study
Professional conversations are conversations that focus on improving learner outcomes. Examples include:
Dr Helen Timperley, Professor of Education at the University of Auckland, discusses key findings from her literature review examining the research on professional conversations at schools. She describes enablers for effective professional conversations .
Developing the communication skills required to manage conflict is essential for successful collaboration.
A key challenge for all teachers is knowing how to have difficult conversations with colleagues (conversations that you might prefer to avoid).
The small stuff, often quite low level, can have huge “get up your nose” potential. How tidy, how timely, of how your hub colleagues do a wall display has the potential to cause dissonance, or what we have simply come to term rub amongst team members.”
Learning how to address points of difference with a colleague includes understanding the conversation that needs to be had, when it needs to happen, and the right person to have it with.
Kirsten Harris-Tatana from South Hornby School discusses the steps teachers employed to establish trust and build relationships that support collaboration. Using Joan Dalton's Learning Talk series, the team identified keys to building successful relationships, including:
We have watched the most synergetic teams provide time and forums to have conversations about how individuals like to be supported, how they like to be communicated with - “elephant time” on meeting agendas, where potential elephants growing within the hub are addressed and worked through.
This table shows how teachers at Stonefields School define a continuum of conflict management.
|Manages conflict: The capability to proactively address and resolve conflict through collaborative sense-making|
Enters into conversations that can be harming or unproductive for the organisation.
Conversations had in wrong setting with wrong people that has the potential to undermine or diminish trust of another.
Potential conflict is avoided and not talked about.
People function professionally, often desired outcome not achieved because of fear of hurting another’s feelings.
|Conflict addressed through sense-making conversations.|| |
When dissonance (rub) is experienced "growth mindset" sense-making conversations follow with the source (right person in the right context, right time) to move things forward.
Sense-making is inculturated as "how we do things in our team". Relationships deepen as a result of how the sense-making conversations are carried out.
In innovative learning environments (ILEs), teachers often work directly with another teacher (or teachers) to meet the learning needs of a large group of learners. Benefits of this approach include:
Dr Julia Aitken discusses the benefits of working in a collaborative learning environment. Teachers are able to provide targeted support to small groups of students. Collaborative learning environments provide opportunities for teachers to learn from each other through observation and feedback. Dr Aitken provides examples of ways secondary school teachers collaborate across disciplines.
Educators from secondary schools around Canterbury share their cross-curricular approach to collaborative teaching and learning.
Participants of the Canterbury Delving Deeper Conference 2016 share how a change to more collaborative practice has worked for teachers and learners.
ILEs provide opportunities for teachers to structure the way they work with students in different ways, depending on the learning needs of the students.
Models of team teaching include:
Read more about models of team teaching:
Planning and assessing collaboratively helps teachers to better meet the needs of diverse learners.
Collaborative planning provides opportunities for teachers to work to their strengths. At secondary schools, collaborative planning can help to make cross-disciplinary connections evident, with students exploring key concepts in different contexts.
Anita Head, year 5–6 team leader at Halswell School, discusses the enablers of student success within their innovative learning environment. Shared planning via Google Docs has been important to ensure that each staff member understands what's happening for each of their students. Anita explains, "The key things that have enabled successful learning for our students have been that the staff are all working collaboratively together. So we’re learning from each other and developing any of our needs and our strengths in our own practice and we’re able to offer a wider range of opportunities for the students.
The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning by identifying gaps in what students know, understand, or can do. Because most assessment occurs naturally through everyday classroom interactions, collaborative assessment can require some creativity. For example, some schools track information on behaviour and learning using SMS. (The SMS has been set up to produce a monitoring grid once data has been submitted via text, so teachers only have to enter the data once.)
While larger classes may mean it takes more time to get to know students and their learning needs, having more teachers means that while one teacher works with a group, another can gather data from individual students. Conducting one-to-one formative and summative assessments provides a much clearer understanding of individuals’ skill levels. This data can then enable teachers to group and regroup learners for activities according to the skill being taught or practised. Share data gathered through online tools that work best within your team, for example your SMS, Google spreadsheets or docs.
Supporting students to use online tools to demonstrate their learning provides teachers with easy access to their learning processes, enabling virtual feedback and feedforward.
Lisa Dovey, year 7–8 team leader at Halswell School, discusses the benefits of collaborative teaching. Her team uses Google Docs and Google Hangouts to support collaborative planning, teaching, and assessment. She explains, "We do a lot of planning together, which is really fantastic. It means that all of our strengths are put together."
Formal assessment tools can be used to provide valid and reliable information on student learning. Here are some examples:
Other examples of assessment tools are available via TKI .
Teachers from South New Brighton School describe how they constructed a collaborative space from a traditional classroom with their students.
Team leader, Lisa Dovey discusses the benefits of collaborative teaching at Halswell School.
Anita Head, leader at Halswell School, discusses the enablers of student success within their innovative learning environment.
Gabrielle Nuthall, teacher at Halswell School, talks about the preparation that took place before they transitioned into their ILE.
Rotorua Central Kāhui Ako leader, Nancy Macfarlane explains how their community of learning developed their action plan and strategic framework.
Kaikohekohe cluster principals, Lee Whitelaw and Tracey Simeon explain how their achievement challenges are based on research, which informs teacher PLD.
Principals, Tracey Simeon and Lee Whitelaw, talk about how they share teacher practice between the schools in their cluster and what their learning focuses on.
Tracey Simeon, Principal at Tautoro School, talks about how the primary schools and high schools in their cluster work together and the importance of doing so. “I think that’s probably the strong point of a cluster, is that we get away from thinking that this is my school, I own my students.”
Lee Whitelaw describes how the Kaikohekohe cluster principals and lead teachers collaborate closely.
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The goal of Grow Waitaha is to assist schools to achieve pedagogical change in a meaningful and manageable way, with a network of support, and to put learners at the centre of that change. This page links to Grow Waitaha's list of resources on approaches to collaborative teaching.
This research project investigates the key components necessary to create effective co-teaching relationships and environments.
Gina Benade researched what leading effective and disciplined collaboration within and across schools looks like to better understand how this process can enhance and influence student achievement.
Using a range of examples from New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, this paper makes the case for new approaches to designing learning and teaching and how we might achieve this. It also provides a model for long term PLD within schools.
Hattie explores developing collaborative expertise across of all parts of the education system – collaboration horizontally (from teacher to teacher, from school to school) and vertically (from teacher to school leader to policy-maker).
A summary analysis of the study by Ronfeldt, M., Farmer, S., McQueen, K., & Grissom, J. (2015). Teacher collaboration in instructional teams and student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 52 (3), 475-514.
Creating the conditions for effective teacher collaboration has been seen as a critical component of the work that leaders have been engaged in at Stonefields School since it opened in 2011.
This publication is designed to support Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako by bringing together research findings about effective collaboration in education communities. It is supported by the publication Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako: working towards collaborative pratice.
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