I have been lucky in my teaching career to always have incredibly bright and innovative teachers with which to collaborate. When I started my career, my mentor and I would brainstorm for hours and create lessons together. I learned from her experience, and she learned from my willingness to go out on a limb and try something daring with students.
When I came to Hickory, I was blessed with a colleague who really pushed me to be my best. She found innovative ways to use technology, we collaborated to create units that engaged our students, and we were driven to make our classrooms inviting and challenging. I can honestly say my interactions with these ladies made my classroom better for my students and for me.
When teachers say that they collaborate, they may mean many different things.
Sometimes they may be referring to working together in a classroom to instruct a group of students.
At other times they may be describing grade level or departmental meetings they attend to discuss their content.
They may also be reporting on the efforts on a committee or a staff meeting.
Last week, I visited two classrooms where I saw the same concept being taught. These classrooms were just doors from one another.
In one class, the teacher was presenting the information on an overhead, writing definitions for students to copy, discussing with students the information, and providing examples of the concept.
This was a good lesson. Information was facilitated; students were listening and attentive and felt free to ask questions.
However, when I visited the next classroom where the same concept was being taught, students were engaged in completing a graphic organizer. The teacher provided students with opportunities to demonstrate their learning by using leading questions, and Think-Pair-Share activities for the students in the classroom.
This was a GREAT lesson.
Students caught on quickly, and the teacher was able to cover more material at a faster pace due to the fact that she incorporated so many different student-friendly teaching methods.
This situation is not isolated. We see it all the time. I can’t even tell you the number of times that I have walked into a colleague’s classroom during my planning period, saw something great going on, and later asked the teacher to collaborate with me so that I too could improve my classroom practice.
Friend and Cook’s (1992) definition of collaboration states that “collaboration is a style of direct interaction between at least two co-equal parties voluntarily engaged in shared decision making as they work toward a common goal.”
The following characteristics can be used to further describe teacher collaboration:
It is voluntary.
Teachers may be required to work in close proximity, but they cannot be required to collaborate. They must make a personal choice to work collaboratively in such situations.
It requires a shared goal.
Teachers collaborate only when they share a goal.
It includes shared responsibility for key decisions.
Although teachers may divide their labor when engaged in collaborative activities, each one is an equal partner in making the fundamental decisions about the activities they are undertaking. This shared responsibility reinforces the sense of parity that exists among the teachers.
It includes shared accountability for outcomes.
This characteristic follows directly from shared responsibility. That is, if teachers share key decisions, they must also share accountability for the results of their decisions, whether those results are positive or negative.
It is based on shared resources.
Each teacher participating in a collaborative effort contributes some type of resource. This has the effect of increasing commitment and reinforcing each professional’s sense of parity. Resources may include time, expertise, space, equipment, or any other such assets.
It has emergent properties.
Collaboration is based on belief in the value of shared decision making, trust, and respect among participants. As teachers become more experienced with collaboration, their relationships will be characterized by the trust and respect that grow within successful collaborative relationships.
Think about your own planning periods and grade-level or departmental meetings or even planning periods.
How much time is allocated for sharing of ideas about how to best teach a specific concept, unit, or event?
How much better could your classroom be if you put two (or more) heads together?
It is based on parity.
Teachers who collaborate must believe that all individuals’ contributions are valued equally. The amount and nature of particular teachers’ contributions may vary greatly, but the teachers recognize that what they offer is integral to the collaborative effort.
Collaboration is not just important for our students – it is crucial.