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Collaborating as Educators
posted by: Melissa | September 05, 2012, 08:23 PM   

Teaching has often been characterized as an isolated profession. For centuries it was one teacher in one building or one classroom. Even when we have a team to work with, we often find ourselves isolated from other teachers and disconnected from the families of our students. It's well-known that the isolated nature of teaching is one of its weakest points and discourages talented individuals from considering a career in teaching.

In 2009, Edutopia wrote about what can happen when teachers collaborate effectively. Teachers who work often, closely, and deeply with other teachers, gain new ideas and get authentic feedback about their strategies. The Edutopia blog contends that collaborative professional development has been proven to be the most effective way to improve teachers' practice, which in turn improves student learning.

The benefits of collaboration are so clear that many have tried to improve the process and make it meaningful. The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement recently published a list of questions, designed to ensure that mandatory collaborative sessions are effective. They warn that we, as teachers, can often be roadblocks to proper collaboration by having negative attitudes, or swerving off topic into personal issues. They also point out that if you're not focusing on the end objectives, data, and sharing new discoveries, collaborative groups are likely to feel like they are spinning their wheels.

More recently, Edutopia listed nine things teachers can do in order to build a collaborate environment in your schools. Edutopia's list is not limited to just collaborating with other teachers, but also building a collaborative environment with parents and among students as well. For example, they start off by recommending the old classic of "calling home" for collaborating with parents. They also recommend using team-building exercises at the beginning of the year to try and mitigate the formation of cliques among staff.

For building school-wide collaboration they recommend stepping out of your comfort zone of interacting with just the teachers across the hall and in the classroom next to you and reaching out to other grade levels, departments, and parts of the building. They stress the importance of being helpful and positive (instead of negative and critical) in meetings and recommend showing up to meetings early. They also give a very novel idea of using post-it notes as a way to interact with other teachers in your building. The post-it can be a great way to pass on feedback, ask for help, or just give a quick pick-me-up to another teacher. You can write a short message and stick it in a fellow teacher's box, on their desk, or on their classroom door – wherever you think they'd be most likely to notice it.

And, of course, Edutopia recommends building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) and utilizing it often. This means finding a community that is vibrant and active and actually asking for help when you need it. It also means looking at where you're spending your time. If the sites you're visiting are sucking up your time, but not actually helping you, it may be time to re-evaluate your PLN.

With the unquestionable benefit that collaboration can bring to your classroom, and resources like the ones listed above to help you improve it, it should be easy to make this upcoming school year a more collaborative one.

Do you have any tips to add?

Comment below.

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