Collaboration is valued and routine in professions such as health care, scientific research, architecture and the performing arts. But K–12 schools have not historically been expected to embrace or foster collaboration. Teachers often work in isolation, separated from other teachers, making it difficult to benefit from their colleagues’ expertise or to share their expertise with others about how to help more students learn. This is sometimes described as the “egg crate” model of education. Approaches to organizing and improving schools that are focused only on individual teachers do not allow colleagues to help one another solve problems, share critical information about students, develop their abilities or make progress together on achieving schoolwide goals.
A growing body of research shows that getting beyond the egg crate can be helpful: When teachers work more collaboratively, student outcomes can improve, teachers can be more satisfied in their jobs and teacher turnover can decrease. In situations where teachers are already working together regularly, taking stock of how well that collaboration is functioning and how it might be improved or expanded can help to further advance teaching and learning.
The goal of this discussion guide is to help teachers and principals decide whether and how to collaborate and how to do so effectively. The guide can be used in a variety of settings, including in schoolwide or districtwide meetings for professional development, in teacher-in-service trainings, in faculty meetings or in meetings with principals. Using this guide, teachers and principals can make decisions about how to work more collaboratively and at what scale to collaborate.