Making teachers’ workplaces more collaborative holds promise as a way to improve student learning and reduce teacher turnover. But many questions remain unanswered, including how collaborative practices are implemented, the full range of their effects (particularly over the long term) and their costs. Below, we pose several directions for future research that could contribute to efforts to improve teaching for all educators and learning for all students.
Case studies of collaborative schools
Given the prevalence of the egg crate model in U.S. schools—where collaborative practices may at best be add-ons to schools that remain fundamentally isolating—case studies of more thoroughly collaborative schools could help educators better understand the full potential of collaboration for students, teachers and communities. Case studies could help schools and districts better understand how to initiate and sustain collaboration and the pitfalls they might encounter along the way. Finding collaborative secondary schools for case studies may be much harder than finding collaborative elementary schools.
Impacts on students
How can fostering teacher collaboration impact school climate, students’ social and emotional competencies and students’ approaches to learning? Are some approaches to collaboration better than others at helping students learn? How do specific collaborative practices help teachers in situations such as working with students who are struggling academically, working with special-needs students or working in low-performing schools?
Teaching skills and practices
How might fostering collaboration relate to changes in teaching skills or in specific classroom practices?
Teachers’ isolation, stress and coping mechanisms
How might collaborative practices relate to teachers’ perceived isolation, stress or coping mechanisms on the job? Can a more collaborative workplace reduce feelings of isolation or stress for some teachers? Could it increase stress for others? How might collaboration help teachers develop ways of coping with workplace stress?
Who gets left out or marginalized when teachers work collaboratively?
Who gets left out, talked over or otherwise marginalized when teachers collaborate? Do teachers differ in how they adapt to and operate in collaborative settings by their years of experience, gender, race, sexual orientation or other variables? Can certain forms of teacher collaboration lead to groupthink that reinforces negative perceptions of some students, such as students of color, English-language learners or those who are struggling academically? What principles or approaches can help collaborating teachers reduce marginalization, increase inclusion and focus on success for all students?
Costs and finances
What are the financial costs and returns on investment of fostering collaboration, including personnel costs, time and space, as well as the potential savings through reduced turnover?
Physical space to work together
Case studies or guidelines about how to create or set aside physical space for teachers to work together productively might help administrators and teachers foster collaboration, particularly in schools that are crowded. Case studies or guidelines for architects designing school buildings that encourage collaboration could illustrate physical alternatives to the egg crate model.
Digital tools for collaboration
For-profit firms have developed many online and other digital teaching and learning platforms. How useful are those platforms to teachers, and how effectively do they help teachers work together?
Teachers’ unions can provide built-in structures for teachers to build relationships and work together. But instituting collaborative practices may also involve changing schedules, reorganizing roles and titles and hiring new staff. How can teachers’ unions help and hinder efforts to make teachers’ workplaces more collaborative?
How do parents understand, perceive and respond to efforts to make teachers’ workplaces more collaborative, particularly if those efforts involve changing school schedules that may affect students’ and parents’ work and family responsibilities?