Educators and researchers agree: Collaboration among teachers is critical to improving teaching and learning. Unfortunately, collaboration is a learned skill, and one that many teachers are working to master. If collaboration is so important, how do teachers develop the requisite skills?
Successful peer coaches offer us five keys to collaboration.
1. Build a trusting relationship with peers based on personal and professional friendship.
2. Teachers who have worked with coaches tell me that they want to learn with and from a peer, not an expert. Friendly peers still need expertise to collaborate effectively.
Educators should adopt and use norms for any collaborative meeting. Meeting norms, like starting and ending on time, and remaining focused, are important. Collaborative norms, like discussing ideas not people; respecting others’ ideas, and; taking responsibility for your learning are critical to successful collaboration.
Learn and routinely use a few key communication skills, like active listening, paraphrasing, clarifying questions and probing questions which are essential to building educators’ capacity to improve teaching and learning. Using these skills assists teachers to formulate strategies and develop answers to the issues they are facing.
3. Don’t expect to change teaching practice overnight. Start small, and build on initial classroom successes. Successful small steps produce more steps toward innovation.
4. Take some risks, innovation depends on it. But not alone. Collaboration with trusted peers encourages risk taking and increases your likelihood of successful innovation.
5. Observing peers is a powerful tool for changing practice. Done poorly, the reflection that follows observation can destroy collaboration. Focusing on student learning, not the teacher, is one strategy to keep reflection positive and meaningful. Learn and use protocols- like the Success Analysis Protocol- which anchor reflective conversations on what the students are doing and learning.
Your next step toward effective collaboration is to find resources, like a successful coach, and start to develop these key skills.
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Garmston, R. & Wellman, B. (1999). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers.
Markow, D., & Pieters, A. (2010). The Met Life survey of the American teacher: Collaborating for student success. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED509650.pdf.