Teacher collaboration can be an extremely effective way to both share and receive innovative teaching tips, strategies and information. According to the Teacher Leaders Network, the following have been identified as six of the key attributes of effective collaboration:
Clarity of Purpose
Often, teacher collaboration is mandated by administrators as one of the main components of teacher inservice activities. But it’s the purpose of the collaboration, and whether that purpose is clearly communicated to the participants, that makes the difference. Allowing teachers the time to collaborate is one thing; making sure they understand the specific goals of the collaboration and how to effectively collaborate is another. In addition, it is important to set clear outcomes from the collaboration with an action plan. Over the years I have been involved in many professional development activities both at my school and other statewide offerings. More often than not, I leave with great ideas from a creative brainstorming session that have no real plan of implementation and no additional follow-up opportunities.
In order to gain the most out of a collaborative experience, the participants must be personally committed to the process. In addition, they must also keep in mind the individuals who will ultimately benefit from the collaborative efforts: the students. I think this is something my school does well, as we offer several options for teachers to attend workshops that they feel will benefit them. This provides the teachers the ability to learn something they are interested in, which often leads to personal buy in, and a greater success of implementation and collaboration amongst the teachers involved.
Time is one of those things that there never seems to be enough of, and finding free time as a teacher throughout the course of a school day is nearly impossible. Therefore, many districts end up providing structured time throughout the year for teachers to collaborate. But often this proves to be futile, as the time allotted is underestimated and virtually nothing productive takes place.
What the Teacher Leaders Network suggests is allowing unstructured time throughout the day, when teachers are not required to perform tasks, for them to communicate and collaborate. Sometimes the best ideas are born from informal conversations among colleagues who share similar interests and understand what the students need. Even something as simple as bouncing ideas off one another can turn into something that could end up benefitting the school community as a whole.
Understanding How to Collaborate and Communicate
Making the most out of an opportunity that presents itself is a lesson that some people don’t realize until the opportunity has passed. Due to time constraints, it’s important to make the most of the time that you do have available. Some teachers may need guidance to stay on topic, communicate points directly and actively listen to what others have to say.
Collaboration has no purpose if the results are never discussed, implemented or supported by administration. In order for it to be effective, you must have the support of your administrators who are aware of what is being discussed and can focus the efforts if necessary. In addition, the administration needs to understand that time beyond the initial discussion is extremely important. I believe the lack of follow-up sessions is often what determines an effort’s success.
Freedom to Explore
Collaboration does not have to be limited to the individuals working within your school building. Use your time to connect and interact with other professionals in your field to discover what is happening outside of your school district. This is where new ideas are formed and can be brought back to your school for further collaboration. Join a group on LinkedIn, Ning, etc. Follow someone on Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/cteduonline) or link a Facebook Page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/CTEduOnline/196989407000425).