Discussion 2

Goals for collaboration

Many researchers have concluded that teacher collaboration tends to be more successful when teachers have goals and shared values. Shared goals may both encourage and result from collaboration. This discussion outlines four potential goals of working more collaboratively. They are not mutually exclusive. You might adopt one of them or several of them, or you may want to develop your own goals.

What can research tell us about the importance of shared goals when teachers collaborate?

A comprehensive 2015 review of the literature on teacher collaboration found that shared goals, among other conditions, is mentioned across many studies as an important factor in facilitating teacher collaboration, while a lack of clarity around goals is an oft cited factor hindering collaboration.8 The process of collaborating can also lead teachers and schools to develop shared goals.9

What goals would you like to achieve together with other teachers?

GOAL 1: To create and maintain a positive climate for teachers and students.

Teachers should work together to improve the school’s climate. Schools can be more successful when teachers and students enjoy being at school and interacting with one another. When teachers work at schools with a positive climate, they are better able to reach their full potential in the classroom, which can lead to improved outcomes for students.


  • Working with other teachers to identify what a positive school climate would be like, and creating a vision that outlines what teachers can do to improve the climate.
  • Setting time to engage administrators in creating a vision for school climate and in determining what they can do to improve the climate.
  • Understanding how students experience the school’s climate—for example, by enlisting student leaders for feedback and assistance.
  • Checking in regularly with teachers, administrators and students to talk about the climate of schools and how to improve it.

GOAL 2: To improve student learning.

Helping students learn is the main goal of teaching. Therefore, teachers should work more collaboratively to help all students learn. For instance, teachers can collaborate to develop formative assessments of students, can discuss their findings of those assessments and can work together to understand the implications of those findings for their students. Teachers can work together to identify how students are learning, where students need help and how to adjust their instruction. In addition, by working together to better understand students’ social and emotional lives, teachers can develop and share knowledge that can help more students succeed. Where effective approaches to specific challenges don’t currently exist, teachers working together can engage in joint problem solving to come up with innovative solutions, try them out and see what they can learn.


  • Working together to establish milestones for student development, using metrics such as reading or math proficiencies or other metrics appropriate for your school.
  • Working together to establish milestones for students’ social and emotional competencies.
  • Expanding teachers’ data literacy to understand what kinds of information about students would be helpful, how to gather that information, how to interpret it and how to use it to help improve learning.
  • Exploring ways to help students assess their own progress, and providing students with feedback to help them stay on track with their goals.
  • Collaboratively designing opportunities for students' own collaboration with their peers across classrooms and grades.

What can research tell us about collaboration and student achievement?

Analysis of nearly a decade of data from schools in an urban North Carolina district, one of the largest in the country, showed that teachers achieved greater increases in their students’ standardized test scores in schools with supportive professional environments—especially those with more peer collaboration and a positive school culture—than did teachers in schools with less supportive professional environments.10 Other research analyzing two years of data on more than 9,000 teachers in 336 Miami-Dade County public schools showed that schools with better-quality collaboration—meaning where teachers reported their collaboration in instructional teams was both “extensive” and “helpful”—had higher student achievement gains in math and reading.11 This held true even controlling for other characteristics of those schools’ students and teachers, meaning the researchers could be more confident that the difference was related to the quality of collaboration at the school and not to differences in the students and teachers themselves.12

Are you surprised by these findings about teacher collaboration and student achievement? Why or why not?

GOAL 3: To help teachers improve their skills and capacities.

Teachers should work together to help one another develop as teachers. Sharing instructional practices, content knowledge and other techniques can help all teachers become more effective—especially new teachers.


  • Exploring with teachers and teacher leaders what kinds of professional learning and ongoing support teachers need, including teachers at different stages of their careers.
  • Considering replacing professional development that is not ongoing with frequent and regular opportunities to support teachers' professional learning.
  • Establishing mentoring programs, such as pairing effective veteran teachers with new teachers or taking fuller advantage of other mentoring arrangements.
  • Establishing teacher teams, within grade levels, subject areas or other configurations, to engage in joint problem solving around teaching and learning challenges, to try out possible solutions and to share what team members learn.
  • Creating an induction program for teachers new to the school that is comprehensive and lasts throughout the school year.

GOAL 4: To address diversity, inclusion and any disparities associated with race in the school.

Public schools and public school teachers educate an increasingly diverse student body.13 Teachers should therefore work together to address diversity, inclusion and any disparities associated with race—such as disparities in student achievement or social inclusion. Students (and teachers) are members of multiple groups. They are shaped by and help to shape the communities to which they belong. Understanding the challenges faced by traditionally marginalized students can help schools respond to the risks students face in and out of school. Understanding the resources and networks available to students can help teachers and students alike to recognize and cultivate students’ resilience. Helping all students learn can also help more students succeed in our increasingly multicultural world.


  • Finding out whether there are disparities in students’ academic outcomes associated with race or other categories and discussing how to address them.
  • Exploring with students and observing with other teachers whether and how race and other forms of diversity may map onto social divisions within the school.
  • Developing programs to engage students and teachers in conversations about race and diversity.
  • Helping teachers get the training and support they need to engage in or lead these conversations.

What can research tell us about how schools have addressed disparities associated with race?

At “Railside,”* an urban California high school serving a diverse, low-income student body with many English-language learners, quality collaboration among the teachers in the math department led to the development, implementation and refinement of a groundbreaking equity-focused pedagogy that transformed student learning and achievement and received national renown. But a change in school leadership that occurred simultaneously with new district policies and budget cuts upended decades of work that had gone into building collaboration and creating the equity pedagogy.14

Have you tried to discuss race, diversity or inclusion in your classrooms or with your colleagues? What did you learn from those conversations?


  • Are there any other goals that you ought to consider in addition to these?
  • Which seem most promising for you to work on collaboratively?
  • How would working more collaboratively help achieve one or more of these goals?
  • How will you know if collaborative practices are helping to meet the goals that you establish?

Next: Discussion 3


*Railside is a pseudonym given to the high school by the authors.

8 Katrien Vangrieken, Filip Dochy, Elisabeth Raes and Eva Kyndt, "Teacher Collaboration: A Systematic Review," Educational Research Review 15 (2015): 29–33.

9 Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, What's Worth Fighting for in Your School? rev ed. (New York: Teachers College Press, 1996); Jennifer Nias, "Refining the ‘Cultural Perspective,’" Cambridge Journal of Education 19, no. 2 (1989): 143–46; Susan J. Rosenholtz, "Effective Schools: Interpreting the Evidence," American Journal of Education 93, no. 3 (1985): 352–88; Susan J. Rosenholtz, "Workplace Conditions That Affect Teacher Quality and Commitment: Implications for Teacher Induction Programs," Elementary School Journal 89, no. 4 (1989): 421–39; Linda Darling-Hammond and Milbrey W. McLaughlin, "Policies That Support Professional Development in an Era of Reform," Phi Delta Kappan 92, no. 6 (2011): 81–92 [all the preceding cited in L. Brook E. Sawyer and Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman, “Teacher Collaboration in the Context of the Responsive Classroom Approach,” Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice 13, no. 3 (2007): 215]; Ronald Gallimore, Bradley A. Ermeling, William M. Saunders and Claude Goldenberg, “Moving the Learning of Teaching Closer to Practice: Teacher Education Implications of School-Based Inquiry Teams,” Elementary School Journal 109, no. 5 (2009): 540.

10 Matthew A. Kraft and John P. Papay, “Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 36, no. 4 (2014): 488, 494.

11 Matthew Ronfeldt, Susanna Owens Farmer, Kiel McQueen and Jason A. Grissom, "Teacher Collaboration in Instructional Teams and Student Achievement," American Educational Research Journal 52, no. 3 (2015): 475–514.

12 Ibid., 501.

13 National Center for Education Statistics, “Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools," in The Condition of Education Report, last updated May 2016 https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cge.asp.

14 Na’ilah Suad Nasir, Carlos Cabana, Barbara Shreve, Estelle Woodbury et al., eds., Mathematics for Equity: A Framework for Successful Practice (New York: Teachers College Press, 2014).