How to use this discussion guide

This guide is intended for groups of six to 10 people who go through the whole process together. There are five discussion sessions, each of which is designed to last 45 to 75 minutes, depending on what you can arrange in your school. Larger groups will ideally last at least an hour to ensure everyone has adequate time to participate.

The discussions are designed to be used in order. They cover the following:

  1. Benefits and challenges of collaboration
  2. Goals for collaboration
  3. Assets for and constraints on collaboration
  4. Some collaborative practices to consider
  5. Planning to implement collaboration

These groups are likely to be more productive if, at the beginning of each discussion, one participant volunteers to facilitate the conversation. The facilitator does not need to be an expert on the topic. In fact, the main requirement is that the facilitator should avoid giving his or her own opinions and focus instead on making sure everyone else has a chance to speak.

The facilitator should:

  • Resist the urge to speak after each comment or answer every question. Let participants respond directly to one another.
  • Once in a while, ask participants to sum up important points. Write important points on a whiteboard or flipchart.
  • Not be afraid of silence. People sometimes need time to think before they respond. Try counting silently to 10 before you rephrase the question. This will give people time to collect their thoughts.
  • Make sure everyone has a chance to speak; don’t let anyone take over the conversation.
  • Keep track of time.

There should also be a note taker for each discussion. This too can be a role that is alternated among group members.

Setting ground rules for these discussions

It may be helpful to set some ground rules for these discussions. Following are some guidelines that are often used in small-group dialogues:

  • Listen with respect.
  • It’s okay to disagree, but do so on the level of ideas. Don’t get personal.
  • Look at all sides of the issues.
  • Make sure everyone has a chance to speak.
  • Keep people’s personal stories and statements confidential.
  • Have fun!

Do you want to modify or delete any of these guidelines? Are there others you want to add? It is a good idea to review these guidelines quickly at the beginning of each session.

Key questions to consider before you get started

Working more collaboratively requires support and participation from teachers and from school and district administrators. To prepare for these discussions, teachers and principals should consider the following questions to ensure that the discussions are as productive as possible:

  • Are school and district leaders open to greater teacher collaboration and willing to engage with teachers about how their work is organized?
  • Has your school or district faced budget cuts that constrain administrators’ capacity to set aside time and resources for teachers to work collaboratively?
  • Who should be a part of this discussion about working more collaboratively? How do you ensure a diversity of perspectives?
  • How can you invite people into this discussion so they will be excited about participating and feel confident that their views will be heard, rather than see it as a burden?

What can research tell us about the role of leadership in fostering collaboration?

Among the conclusions of a survey of nearly 6,000 Chicago elementary school teachers is that principals can nurture “a normative climate in which innovative professional activity is supported and encouraged.”1 They found that schools where teachers said their principals exhibited inclusive leadership and encouraged innovation and risk taking were more likely to have a “professional community” among teachers.2 And according to researcher David Piercey's perspective on what the literature has shown, principals and other school leaders can model collaboration in ways that teachers can adopt.3

Does this match with your experiences of your principal or other school leadership?

Next: Discussion 1


1 Anthony Bryk, Eric Camburn and Karen Seashore Louis, “Professional Community in Chicago Elementary Schools: Facilitating Factors and Organizational Consequences," Educational Administration Quarterly 35, no. 5 (1999): 757.

2 Ibid., 768.

3 David Piercey, “Why Don’t Teachers Collaborate? A Leadership Conundrum," Phi Delta Kappan 92, no. 1 (2010): 3, 5.