When teachers collaborate rather than work entirely alone, they show greater confidence and competence in teaching and stronger commitment to their profession. This is because they have access to their colleagues’ ideas, become more aware of and less guilty about their problems, are able to find morale-boosting support when things go wrong, get feedback on how to improve, and develop stronger beliefs that, together, they can have a positive impact on their students’ learning. Secondly, my colleagues and I have studied high performing countries and systems, and professional collaboration is an integral feature of all of them.
Here are 8 suggestions from my own [Hargreaves’] research and policy advisory work.
- Identify, acknowledge and build on the ways that educators already collaborate.
- Establish the expectation that teaching is a collaborative profession, not an individual one. Teachers’ judgments must often be made alone but the basis of those judgments should be established by how teachers work together.
- Ensure that learning teams commit to doing some things early together rather than just talking about things. Action gives focus and purpose and it is through doing things together that ideas get developed and refined.
- Establish a norm of collective responsibility for participation and results. Move forward from a culture of “my class” and “my students” to “our school”, “our community” and “our students”.
- Identify and value the varying strengths of the team. Don’t expect everyone to be good at everything or collaborate in the same way. Some members will be “ideas” people; others will be better at organization and follow through. Some will be good at working with people; others at creating a virtual platform for colleagues to communicate. Some will be loud and “bubbly”; others will be quieter and more restrained. Find a way for all participants to contribute something of value.
- After taking time to build relationships, set a clear direction, and develop some indicators so you will able to see if you are making progress towards your goal.
- Make the learning team meetings into professional learning events, not just a series of meetings. Good meetings should be like good classes – actively engaging people in different ways. Design innovative and effective learning processes, bring tasty food, stretch and relax, and celebrate when you achieve your goals.
- Don’t be afraid to use protocols like Japanese Lesson Study, or acting as a critical friend with warm and cool feedback. Structure the interaction so everyone can participate properly and so that active listening occurs.
The world is finally starting to realize that we cannot create societies of highly skilled and successful learners unless we have professionally run schools and school systems where well qualified and highly valued teachers are able, encouraged, and expected to collaborate for the benefit of all students.