Collaboration

Having been in the classroom for over 30 years it often can be enlightening to look back and think about the elements of the classroom that were so pervasive and how that has changed. Years ago the practice of collaboration in the classroom was usually met with skepticism from the parents who felt that when their child worked on a team or in a group on a collaborative project that their work would be diluted or other children in the group would be able to “get by easily” because of the work of another child. It was not uncommon for teachers to feel that if they collaborated with other teachers they would not get credit for their good ideas or another teacher would take credit for it.

Collaboration, thankfully, is a concept that has become more of an important element to the school and classroom. In today’s educational landscape collaboration and the role it plays has become a focus for school transformation. Teachers in the Perpich Center Arts Integration Network engage in powerful professional learning experiences in which collaborating with colleagues is embedded in the program goals. Arts Integration as well as other interdisciplinary curriculum  frameworks provide the on-ramp for collaboration. They require that teachers effectively collaborate to plan, implement, assess and reflect on student learning.

The National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) published their research data in a report titled Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works. Although focused on literacy learning, NCLE data indicated educators in every subject area and role were eager to work together to deepen literacy learning. An important theme that emerged from this data is that teachers strongly value the time to co-plan with colleagues to create new lessons or instructional strategies and to analyze how their students are developing. Teachers want the time to collaborate on what they can do together to advance student progress.

On the flip side of this, in the survey data from the NCLE respondents reported about support for working collaboratively that:

-       Only 32% have a chance to frequently co-create or reflect with colleagues about how a lesson has worked

-       Only 21% are given time to frequently examine student work with colleagues.

-       Only 14% frequently receive feedback from colleagues.

-       Only 10% frequently have the opportunity to observe the teaching practice of a colleague.

Thirty years was a long time ago and times have changed, or have they?

Read more:

What Teachers Need and Reformers Ignore: Time to Collaborate”  Washington Post, April 11, 2013.http://goo.gl/fJY7c

Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works. (2013) Research National Center for Literacy Education/National Council of Teachers of English. National Council of Teachers of English http://goo.gl/dOR9o

Comments

Shelly Flaten's picture

Re: Collaboration Shelly Flaten

Submitted on

I agree that collaboration is often seen as "unnecessary" or the "fluff" that teachers want, but rarely have time to do.  Students often benefit more when their learning is done collaboratively with other students. It would make sense that teachers would benefit and improve their learning if able to collaborate with other teachers. I am very fortunate to be in a school that has built in professional development time each week. I see so many advantages to this scheduled and focused time. Great progress that has been made due to this purposeful planning. I'm also blessed to be part of an inclusion model as I work with special education students in a regular education English classroom.  I can already see the benefits of being able to teach along side a brilliant teacher and discuss students/lessons as they happen.  Our discussions about how to put together a lesson, how to help specific students and how to help each other is truly enlightening! This needs to be as much as a priority as CCSS because without taking time to "process the process," I feel we are just going through the motions.  Good enough never is. Collaboration pushes me to be better.  We can all be better and that helps our students learn that they can be better, too.

Heather Young's picture

Re: Collaboration Heather Young

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I feel like our district in the past couple of years, has really pushed professional collaboration.  So much that we take two days per month to meet in our grade level teams in regards to what's working, what's not, etc.  Kids always enjoy collaboration - however, one must also take into consideration that some kids use collaboration as a way of not having to do a task asked for or show that they along understand the skill.  I like to mix this up in my classroom- varying from individual work to large group work to small group work- partner work, etc.  Collaboration can be a VERY positive and exciting way for learning to happen if done the correct way.  :-)

Cathy Rikkola's picture

Re: Collaboration Cathy Rikkola

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I work in the same building as Heather and, like her, feel very fortunate that we are actually given time to meet with our grade level teams. We have spent a lot of time discussing what works and what needs to be improved and I greatly value the input of my fellow teachers. 

Lori Wester's picture

Re: Collaboration Lori Wester

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I think we keep going around in cycles.  The names change but the good concepts keep coming back up.  They are just calling them something else.  I would love to team teach, I believe both the students and myself would benefit.  There is so much more to educating children then test scores.  

Bill Gates's picture

Re: Collaboration Bill Gates

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I believe that educators can feel isolated at times and not be given enough opportunities to collaborate.  I come from a strong retail background (21 years) and we called it "Management by Wandering" whereby we went to shop our competition to see what they did well and what we did better. Signage, greetings, sales staff, nametags, attire, merchandising, parking lots, bathrooms, etc. were observed and noted.  Our staff would then meet to make changes and to pat ourselves on the backs for a job well done.  We can do the same thing in education by observing a colleague, sharing ideas, mentoring, noticing, asking, etc.  The team effort is important and a vital part of growing our craft. Why not approach teaching with many ideas shared for a common goal?  It takes a village... we are all part of the educational village let's share ideas and grow.

Alexis Jones's picture

Re: Collaboration Alexis Jones

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I agree that teachers can often feel isolated. I feel that the higher up the grade level, the more isolated teachers are. In elementary schools, there seems to be more collaboration and time set aside to meet as a whole grade level. At our school, every elementary PLC is dedicated to working as grade level groupings. As you move up into the middle school, where I currently work, there is some collaboration. We set aside some time to meet together or work out projects or schedules as a grade level. As you move into the high school, that collaboration becomes almost nonexistent. Perhaps it is because grade levels are mixed in the high school or the groupings are focused more on subject than grade level. I think every teacher would appreciate some extra time set aside to meet with colleagues!!

Todd Pierson's picture

Re: Collaboration Todd Pierson

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I think the collaboration our high school teachers experience in the Arts Integration Project is very unique for many teachers. High school teachers are used to collaborating with other teachers in their content area--if they are in a school where there are other teachers in their discipline. So many of the very small rural high school teachers are a department of one--as art teachers have been for a long time. Maybe its only natural to come together and integrate across content areas!

Becky Klingfus's picture

Re: Collaboration Becky Klingfus

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I agree about feeling isolated.  Being in a small school (and small district) where there is only one section of everything and more or less one teacher per subject in the middle/high school there isn't much time to collaborate during the course of the day.  Very rarely will two people have a prep at the same time or any other common time to be able to plan other than outside of the school day. At the middle/high school we are trying to do a little more across curriculum units other than those of us involved in the PAINT program.  It always seems to boil down to time or lack there of more than anything.

Sarah Gehring's picture

Re: Collaboration Sarah Gehring

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Also a teacher from Glenville-Emmons, I completely agree with Becky.  It is truly very hard to find the time with in the normal school day to collaborate.  It is tough as well, especially being a one section school, to have someone to bounce content related ideas off of.  It is great when we can get together with other districts for Staff Development days, etc. with other content alike teachers - but those opportunities is few and far between.

Rachel Weizenegger's picture

Re: Collaboration Rachel Weizenegger

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Shelley - Great statement!

I feel that collaboration is a strong learning tool, but it is only one tool. I also believe that in order for it to truly bring about success for the student and the teacher there needs to be time within the school day for collaboration on a continual basis. 

Jonica Marshall's picture

Re: Collaboration Jonica Marshall

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What a great way for students to learn side by side in achieving the same goal. So many times a handful of students are left not understanding the whole process but with the collaboration of great teachers those students can be reached. When I am able to collaborate with my fellow teachers I see different viewpoints particularly in regards to the assessment piece. Bringing all of our goals together is practical and a way to get every student involved.

I grew up in the times mentioned in the beginning of this article and remember this philosophy being stated. If only I had teachers working together for my education, I believe I would have looked at the different areas in education as a whole. 

Jean Fairchild's picture

Re: Collaboration Jean Fairchild

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Teachers have been sharing ideas with their peers for a long time and now "harvesting" ideas quickly and easily thanks to Pinterest and TPP. The move for collaboration takes the sharing to a new level. Teachers are now working to make instruction more relevant and effective. Collaboration with your peers takes time, patience, and understanding. Not everyone is ready or willing to give up their best idea or discover that their method could be improved. It's exciting and scary at the same time.  

Jennifer Considine's picture

Re: Collaboration Jennifer Considine

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Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce or create something.  On a regular basis (weekly?), I ask co-workers to read project descriptions and letters to make sure my meaning is clear.  This week alone I double-checked with a librarian on a parent letter for the book fair, co-teachers on a field- trip permission form, and the principal on a personal letter to a parent. I believe this basic form of collaboration has been happening for years. I know that it's time-consuming, but their consideration is so helpful. We ask our students to have an adult peer-edit their paper, sign their permission forms, and help them stay organized.  As teachers, we are good role models to our students' efforts because we have been collaborating for years.

Todd Pierson's picture

Re: Collaboration Todd Pierson

Submitted on

Byron and I collaborate like this all the time. Seldom do we publish or email something without having the other person review the wording and content. This kind of collaboration is a necessary first step for the kind of shared planning that takes place in many arts integrated units.  

 When teachers are actually able to co-teach a unit, a whole host of new considerations come into play.  Co-planning and co-teaching involves exploring and sharing how we teach our subjects and finding ways to integrate with other teachers' instructional approaches.  It requires sharing assessment strategies that may differ from one discipline to another. Co-teaching (teaching together in the same room) can be even more challenging, since many teachers have, for years, been alone in their classroom. 

I wonder how our project teachers feel as they move into co-teaching? Threatened? Reinforced? Scared? Excited? How about you?

Leanne Carmany's picture

Re: Collaboration Leanne Carmany

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I think successful collaboration happens when everyone involved can see the benefits.  When teachers do collaborate - and vocalize it to their students - we're modeling how working together recognizes what everyone brings to the table.  For the students, we're making a connection with what we teach to what's happening in the other content areas.  Teacher collaboration then becomes an example that can be used when we ask our students to work together and see things from multiple perspectives.

Todd Pierson's picture

Re: Collaboration Todd Pierson

Submitted on

I agree that teachers collaborating can set a powerful example for students. However, its important to be very overt in showing that collaboration. Sometimes, teachers will collaborate in the planning, but teach each component in their own classrooms. Students are less likely to perceive the collaboration in settings like that. I think its most powerful when teachers are in the same room and co-teaching. Unfortunately, accomplishing that is often very difficult.

Sarah Gehring's picture

Re: Collaboration Sarah Gehring

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I agree, it can be tough to see the "light at the end of the tunnel" at times (the benefit) as we fly through our busy days teaching.  But when we are all shooting for the same goal whether collaborating on a project like we are now or in general, it can definitely ease the stress.  I also agree that it is very important for the students to see us collaborating - it builds the importance of the project(s) to them even more.

Jennifer Eberhard's picture

Re: Collaboration Jennifer Eberhard

Submitted on

Collaboration can be an awesome tool, but sometimes it seems to be onesided.  I feel that in the music department you tend to pull from all areas automatically, whether you are aware of it or not and I take the time to discuss that when students make comments like, "Is this band/ choir or is it history, math, english?  I also agree that when you get into the MS/HS setting because of the way the class set up is it makes it extremely difficult to collaborate with other disciplines.

Todd Pierson's picture

Re: Collaboration Todd Pierson

Submitted on

I can understand students resisting interdisciplinary approaches. After all, we have schooled them well in the academic silos of school.  But what would happen if interdisciplinary teaching was the norm? Would student become more adept at seeing connections across subjects? 

Of course, this kind of teaching creates all sorts of issues with the way we have organized instruction and assessment. How do we merge standards and assessments effectively? What implications are there for grading? Our project tackles concerns like these head-on and may provide a roadmap for more integration in the future!

Erica Hofmeister's picture

Re: Collaboration Erica Hofmeister

Submitted on

Collaboration is valuable and in my opinion essential in education.  It should occur in the planning and the learning process.  Students gain knowledge and insight when they coach and learn from their peers.  They can take a different approach or use different language when explaining concepts that may aid in the understanding of their peers.  Of course providing opportunities for your children to learn effective peer coaching is necessary and sometimes time consuming.  I am extremely fortunate to work with an amazing team who collaborates very well.  We have an hour of  daily common prep time that we can use to collaborate on lessons, assessments, data, etc.  We all strive to improve our craft and respect each other.

Jacque Smidt's picture

Re: Collaboration Jacque Smidt

Submitted on

I LOVE talking about collaboration with my kids. I love watching my students work together to solve problems, whether they be assigned or real-life. 

I am ultra happy in my current position. I feel that the main reason behind that is because I am 1/5 of an amazing group of women who are always willing to bounce ideas off of each other. We all have different approaches to education, but all have a common belief that our students deserve the best education we can give them. When reading the stats in the blog post, I find myself frowning as I nod in understanding. It all seems too familiar to professional situations I’ve been in in previous schools. Never enough time or flexibility for true collaboration. I now have common prep time that I use to visit and plan with my aforementioned colleagues. We share documents, we discuss student growth, we plan goals and also plan for their (our students’) futures. Collaboration is a beautiful thing when everyone is willing to go all in.

Tamara Isfeld's picture

Re: Collaboration Tamara Isfeld

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Collaboration is something that can be overlooked as an extra in education. Collaboration is a constant in the business and daily life so why do we see it as anything less? Collaboration works when everyone brings something to the table: new ways of looking at the same problem, breaking a big overwhelming task into several manageable parts, collecting data from several perspectives, giving voice and identity to everyone through a common concept. The key is to see the value, sell the idea of what there is to gain by collaborating, making the person want it.

Mandy Blumhoefer's picture

Re: Collaboration Mandy Blumhoefer

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Collaboration is a critical tool for educators to create successful lessons for all students.  Great article.

Shebalins's picture

Re: Collaboration Shebalins (not verified)

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