A new school year is just that. Something about the word new brings a refreshing feeling to the unknown. As you walk into your classroom door and compile a list of 500 things you need to do before your students walk in on the first day, think about creating a plan to collaborate more. Use these strategies to work smarter, not harder, while working with your team this school year.
Improving the role that teachers play is not a job one can do alone. Teachers need opportunities to work in a collaborative setting. In Vol. 72, No. 2 of Exceptional Children, "Learning From Collaboration: The Role of Teacher Qualities," the authors quote Pugach & Johnson, 2002, p. 6:
“In collaborative working environments, teachers have the potential to create professional development schools, teacher study groups, teacher-researcher partnerships, professional learning communities, peer-coaching, collaborative problem-solving, and teacher-mentoring."
What can we do as teachers to create this within our school community?
Before getting too caught up in the school year, consider working together as a team to create a working agreement. A working agreement is a forever-changing document that is created in a collaborative setting. Every voice on the team shares an expectation that they hope the team will agree to. As a team, everyone decides on four to seven expectations that the team will abide by while they meet.
I’ve created three working agreements now in the workplace and one in my classroom (check out my "Creating a Working Agreement: Revisiting Classroom Expectations" post for how I did this with my kiddos). These agreements are powerful in that they are created as a group and created with the group in mind. My colleagues and I have a great respect for the agreement. It reminds us all of what we expect of others and ourselves when we meet.
Start with Values
Come together with your team and discuss what each of you value in student learning. Take notes of this information on a whiteboard or poster — something visual that everyone can see. Once everyone has shared what they value, come to a consensus on what is valued as a team. What you value as a team creates the guideline for the impact you will make. Let team values be the focus when coming together to create learning experiences for students. If your team values "hands-on and engaging learning," keep that in mind when planning what a learning experience might look like.
Before starting a meeting, set an agenda that can realistically be followed. Again, have this posted on a whiteboard or poster paper. The agenda is a guide for the time you have together as a team. It is a visual reminder of what is planned for discussion and decision-making. The agenda also helps to keep the time spent together somewhat guided and on topic.
A useful tip that has helped us stay on topic is to create a parking lot box on your visual (whiteboard or poster paper) for items you want to talk about that are not on the agenda. These are thoughts, questions, and suggestions that people would like to share, but not at that particular time. Putting them in the parking lot lets the author know that their thought has value and it will be addressed at a later time.
The most important piece of collaboration is the ability to communicate and communicate well. Have trust in your team and be willing to share your thoughts often. Try to use only one voice at a time. Actively listen as colleagues share their ideas. Come up with a system that works for your team when it is time to make a consensus. One strategy we use is the “Fist to Five” strategy. Team members show a five all the way to a fist to show how strongly they feel on the given topic. Read more about the fist to five activity here.
It’s funny how important we as teachers value the relationships we have with our students and yet we don’t do the same with each other. There is so much to be said about nurturing strong relationships and how that helps us accomplish goals. If possible, plan a more social gathering with your colleagues. Try and connect outside of the workplace and gain an understanding of where others come from. Not only is it nice to get out and talk about something else besides work, it gives you and your colleagues an opportunity to build upon the already established relationship. Connecting socially allows for the opportunity to just have a good time together . . . no school talk necessary.
Looking for more suggestions on effective collaboration? Check out this blog on Scholastic’s site with six models for collaborative teaching.
Thank you for reading.