A Tale of Two Teacher Collaborations

Every day—in classrooms, in staff rooms, in online communities—teachers come together to collaborate. We love to connect, build community, share ideas, and help each other better serve our kids. But is it always effective?

When the goal is to improve how we serve our kids, not all collaborations are created equally.

Which Approach Shifts Teaching to Impact Student Learning?

Let’s compare two approaches to teacher collaboration. The following pictures are the same, and the context is the same: a team of second grade teachers is collaborating with an instructional coach/EL specialist to increase EL engagement in academic conversations about texts.

Compare the different conversation dynamics. How are they similar? How are they different?

Collaboration Scenario A

Collaboration Scenario B

Reflect and discuss with your colleagues:

  • How are these collaboration scenarios different? In each, who has the problem? Who has agency to solve it?
  • Which approach is more effective to move teaching to impact student learning? Why?
  • Which approach is the default with your colleagues or teams?
  • How do you want to collaborate to move student learning in your setting? What types of protocols and/or shared agreements help you collaborate in the ways you most value?

The research is clear: The most powerful professional learning occurs when educators collaborate to set ambitious goals, co-plan, co-observe, co-support, and co-reflect and co-evolve teaching. This type of job-embedded teacher inquiry has a greater impact than workshops or keynotes or conferences.

This is why ESSA defines professional learning as “sustained (not stand-alone, 1- day, or short term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused”(S. 1177-295). This is why these practices are central in the Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning.

How Will You Collaborate for Equity?

When we are driven by the vision that every child can succeed, and we look honestly at the data of inequities, there is an urgent call to action for K-12 education to evolve in new ways. We are the change agents—we, the teachers in the classrooms; we, the principals in the schools; we, the coaches and teacher leaders; we, the partners helping schools thrive.

As you collaborate with your team, and across roles and silos, which type of collaboration do you embody?  Which do you lead? The one where a leader hands off strategies and teachers either love them or say “that won’t work,” or the one where all stakeholders focus on a shared vision of student excellence and shared ownership and agency in taking the risks, and making the changes in that get results for our kids?

I am a keynote speaker, author and educational leader helping educators teach and lead for equitable schools. My books include EL Excellence Every Day, Breaking Down the Wall & Opening Doors to Equity. I'm a descendant of colonizers and enslavers deeply committed to transforming my family legacy for healing.

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