Benefits and challenges of collaboration
Before setting goals about the intended outcomes of working more collaboratively, and before considering the assets you bring and constraints you face in fostering collaboration, you need to ask yourselves the most important question: Why collaborate? How might collaboration be helpful to teachers? How might it improve student learning? What are the downsides or pitfalls of working more collaboratively?
A) What are your successes and challenges as teachers?
- Why did you decide to become an educator?
- What do you enjoy most about your job? What do you enjoy the least?
- Where do you feel you’ve succeeded? What are the greatest challenges you face?
- Have there been times when you feel that you’ve successfully collaborated with other teachers? What made that collaboration effective?
- Have there been times when you feel that you’ve collaborated with other teachers but it was not successful? What made that collaboration less than effective?
What can research tell us about how teachers view collaboration?
Some teachers value the moral support that comes from collaboration.4 Teachers in several studies say it is helpful knowing that they are not alone in facing challenges or uncertainty.5 They have described the frequent contact with their colleagues in collaboration as an accountability mechanism similar to having a workout buddy.6 In a study of teachers at four Australian schools that were trying to implement more collaborative practices, some teachers felt collaboration improved morale, made the school environment warmer and reduced isolation and workload. However, this same study found that other teachers were negative about the collaborative practices, citing larger workloads, pressure to conform and a feeling of lost autonomy.7
Does this match your experiences working together with other teachers?
B) What are your hopes and worries about a more collaborative workplace?
Collaboration can take a variety of forms, including mentoring, teacher teams, professional communities or professional learning communities, and lesson study. Teachers can collaborate with one another schoolwide, by grade level, within a department or in smaller groups and pairs. Later discussions in this guide will explore some of these practices in more detail. But first, it may be helpful to consider how you work together currently and how working more collaboratively might be helpful and challenging.
- How are you already working together? What is it helping you achieve? What challenges
is it creating?
- Are people meeting regularly and frequently to work together?
- Do you currently have a clear and worthwhile purpose when you work together?
- Does working collaboratively help teachers improve their own instruction and the success of students and the school? Why or why not?
- Do principals and administrators view teachers as partners in shaping the goals and practices of the school?
- What are the potential benefits and challenges of working more collaboratively?
- What can you learn from one another or share with one another that can help you meet your goals for yourselves professionally, for students and for the school?
- How might collaboration help or hinder your ability to learn new skills and approaches to teaching and learning?
- How might collaboration help or hinder your ability to deal with the stresses and challenges of your job?
- Do you see collaboration as something that might be helpful with day-to-day tasks? Do you see it as something that could transform the way your whole school operates? Or do you see it as something in between?
Next: Discussion 2
4 Bruce Johnson, “Teacher Collaboration: Good for Some, Not So Good for Others," Educational Studies 29, no. 4 (2003): 343.
5 Brenda Beatty, “From Crayons to Perfume: Getting Beyond Contrived Collegiality,” Journal of Educational Change 12, no. 2 (2011): 259; Ilana Seidel Horn, “Teachers Learning Together: Pedagogical Reasoning in Mathematics Teachers’ Collaborative Conversations," in Selected Regular Lectures from the 12th International Congress on Mathematical Education, ed. Sung Je Cho (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2015), 337; Ilana Seidel Horn and Judith Warren Little, “Attending to Problems of Practice: Routines and Resources for Professional Learning in Teachers’ Workplace Interactions,” American Educational Research Journal 47, no. 1 (2010): 192.
6 Horn, “Teachers Learning,” 2015: 338.
7 Johnson, “Teacher Collaboration,” 2003: 347.