7 Tips For Collaborating In Schools
Master Teacher Guest Blog Series
Part 5: Learning Is Social
Post 1 of 3
Despite being surrounded by students all day, teaching can feel isolating sometimes, even lonely. If there aren’t specific expectations for collaborating with colleagues, it is easy to view collaboration as more effort than it’s worth.
Here at BetterLesson, however, we view collaboration as essential to a teacher’s development. Whether collaborating with a TeachCycle coach in virtual meetings, collaborating with digital teammates in our online workflow tool, or collaborating with a team of teachers face-to-face in your own school, we want to support teachers to learn from each other because learning is social!
Today, Master Teacher Regan Aymett argues that collaborating with colleagues is critical to both her growth as a teacher and the growth of her students. She outlines seven tips for making the most of whatever collaborative time you have. Enjoy!
Collaborating as a team is probably the most beneficial thing I do to help my students learn. By sharing mistakes and achievements, my team can become stronger in our instruction. As our instruction improves, we can improve learning outcomes for our students, which is the focus of our collaborative team.
I have distilled what I believe are the seven practices that enable efficient collaboration and allow it to be a catalyst for both improved student outcomes and teacher development:
- Establish a Consistent Time and Place
To ensure that collaboration remains a priority, it is necessary to devote dedicated time to working together. Depending on your school’s schedule and the schedules of your particular team, this time may be daily, weekly, monthly, or even by quarter. What is most important is to establish a time that works for everyone involved and to stick to it. For example, our grade level team meets every Tuesday, in my room from 10:00 to 10:40. If we do not get everything accomplished on our agenda, we schedule another meeting that week.
- Set Behavioral Expectations
Prior to the meeting, we set norms that we generate as a school in a professional development. We outline specific expectations for ourselves early in the year, reference them at each subsequent meeting, and adjust them as needed. Most of the norms seem like common sense, but it is essential to set a standard for behavior expectations. Since we create our norms, we are more likely to honor them and hold each other accountable for adhering to our expectations.
- Set Roles
After establishing our norms, we establish roles for our team members. For our meetings, we have a leader, timekeeper, recorder, and a person to keep us on task. These roles help our meetings flow smoothly and allow everyone to contribute. We find that it is best to rotate responsibilities from time to time so that everyone has a chance to serve in each role.
- Send an Agenda in Advance and Stick to It
As the team leader, I send out our agenda for the weekly meeting in advance. Typically, this agenda consists of the standards we will be teaching in the upcoming week. It is helpful if everyone comes to the meeting prepared to discuss specific standards and share their ideas on lessons that would support these standards. Once we agree upon what the standard really requires at our grade, we begin designing a common formative assessment. Having a common formative assessment sets a standard of rigor for our entire grade, which ensures all students are going to be held to the same level of proficiency.
- Analyze Data
After we have all taught the skills and assessed our students, we look at our data as a team. Based on the data from all of the students in our entire grade, we have a conversation around trends in student achievement. If one teacher has a group of students that did exceptionally well on a skill and others did not, we ask the successful teacher to share their strategies. This creates an opportunity for our grade to learn from each other.
- Plan Instruction
As a grade level, we look at our data and plan remediation activities for our students that were not proficient on the assessment. We also plan extensions for those who were proficient. Our instruction for remediation and extension may include centers, stations, homework, or small group activities. Collaborating as a team allows us to break up the task of planning so many different activities and ensure that each plan is appropriate, thorough, and standards-aligned.
- Grade as a Team
Our team often grades writing task as a team because the rubric is quite detailed. It is helpful to collaborate and focus on analyzing student work. After we have analyzed the work and collectively decided areas of weakness in our grade, we begin planning new writing activities to help our students grow.
The conversion to team collaboration can be an adjustment for teachers accustomed to working alone. In my experience, however, I have found collaboration time to be invaluable to my growth as a teacher and the growth of my students.
Regan Aymett is a 1st and 2nd-grade teacher in Shelbyville, Tennessee. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and was a member of BetterLesson’s ELA Master Teacher Project and Science Master Teacher Project. Please click to access her ELA curriculum and her science curriculum.