4 Essential Ingredients for Successful Teacher Collaboration

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My first year as a teacher, I had to share classrooms, dragging behind me the wheelie crate that has become somewhat of a symbol for first-year teachers in overcrowded schools.

For the most part, teachers would leave their rooms during the hour I taught—with the exception of Barb, a veteran teacher who preferred to stick around. Barb would work at her desk while I taught, catching up on grading while keeping an eye on what was going on. After class, she would give me praise if a lesson had gone well and offer gentle suggestions if it hadn’t.

She helped me hone my craft, and admitted that she stuck around to watch me—as a younger teacher—for ideas on how to engage her students in new and innovative ways. Our conversations were philosophical and practical, and I often left her room buzzing with inspiration.

The next year, in a new school with my very own classroom, I was excited to retire my wheelie crate, and thought it meant I was ready for the big leagues. But something felt off. I missed the inspiration and ideas I had grown accustomed to gaining through my daily conversations with Barb. So, I found a new school where collaboration is not only encouraged; it’s the norm.

Collaboration is a big buzzword in education right now, as many teachers are discovering how invigorating these “grown up” conversations can be.

Based on my experience, here are the four essential ingredients needed to create a successful collaborative environment.

1. Time

It wasn’t that the teachers at my last school were against collaboration; it was that they just didn’t have the time. The 50 minutes of daily prep time they had simply wasn’t enough to get marking and planning done and still have time to meet with colleagues.

In my current school, we have 45 minutes of collaborative planning time built into our day that is separate from our hour of prep. We use it to create new projects, calibrate assessments, and have those great philosophical discussions that life-long learners love to have.

2. Administrative support

Those 45 minutes of “subject partner time” are held sacred at our school. Our administrators understand how much it fuels the learning environment, and ensure us that regardless of budgeting, scheduling, or anything else that might pop up, that time will remain in tact. In fact, collaboration is one of the key skills they look for when hiring new teachers.

3. Compromise

Collaboration, with all of its benefits, is often a hard sell for teachers. They are the “masters of their domain,” so asking them to step outside of their comfort zones can be tricky. But once teachers are given the time to collaborate and can see the positive impact it has on student learning, they’re often willing to give a little to get back so much in return.

4. Vulnerability

It’s not easy admitting that you don’t know something, and it can be tough to show your work to someone without feeling judged. But the beauty of collaboration happens when we allow ourselves to open up. The best teams are formed when we find someone with strengths that are different from our own, and whom we feel comfortable going to whenever we’re in need of help.

With new teacher turnover rates now dropping, it looks like “collaboration” has become a buzzword for a reason.