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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Team Building and Collaboration: A Necessary Combination

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Team building and collaboration are two of the most important components of an effective school. These are critical steps for any school working toward improvement.I have seen big initiatives, large grants, and schoolwide efforts that haven't achieved the results that were hoped for, and in some cases, the reason can be tied directly to a lack of buy-in and schoolwide collaboration.

On the other hand, I have seen some large-scale projects, as well as very small ones, in which collaboration was a key component, and when the key players actively built in a structure for collaboration, as opposed to just hoping or assuming it would happen, the project ran more smoothly.

I suggest that in most cases the reason school faculties, and district central offices, aren't collaborating is because a truly unified front has not been developed and acted on. Our general mode of operation is to do things the way we've always done them. For example, a science department, with its own budget, applies for a grant to provide professional development for science teachers. Mostly out of sheer habit, the only people involved in the grant planning, writing, and development are those in the immediate reach of the science department. Of course, this isn't an intentional effort to exclude others; it's a mind-set, a part of a culture in which we're pushed for time and overly busy.

Making a concerted effort to include others in all aspects of brainstorming, project planning, and writing, developing, and implementing projects, however, can only add to the chances of success and will yield a collaborative mind-set that continues beyond the life of a project. However, I don't think that's going to happen by wishing. It must be an agreed-on procedural issue from the bottom up and from the top down. Once we get into practice of thinking collaboratively, and concretely and procedurally working to make it happen, we change old habits.

When I work with schools and districts on team building, I have a specific chart I use for a reflection activity. I also encourage schools to print large poster-size copies of it, and I suggest to principals and school district leaders that they go so far as to mandate that all faculty actively use this kind of document. Once this becomes part of the general mind-set for planning, it encourages collaboration across the board and begins to render itself unnecessary.

What concrete efforts do you make to encourage collaboration beyond the superficial?

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Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

Comments (22) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Donna Harris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the importance of team building and collaboration. Teachers that work together as a team form a school family. Together they are able to help pick each other up when they fall. This kind of family has to start with administration. If there is no support and not a 100% buy in on the part of the leaders it is not going to be effective. I have read several articles lately talking about teacher collaboration as key to teacher development. How can we accomplish this if no one is given time to work together? How can we grow into expert teachers all alone? Everyone on my campus finds a little time here and there to try to talk about the campus needs, but mostly we worry about our own students. In the perfect world we would come together as a campus or maybe when we get administration that believes in team work.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teacher collaboration is essential to teacher development. In the article What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, teachers are encourage to collaborate with each other about students and other school issues. Expert teachers continuously seek out knowledge from professionals in their field.(National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2002)I believe that talking to other teachers can be helpful as long as your conversations are positive and focused on your concerns.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree that collaboration is essential for effective teachers and schools. It not only provides for an exchange of ideas (both in instruction and in student management techniques), but also provides some much-needed encouragment from those who are working to meet the same challenges. Working with other teachers in my school has been a lifesaver for me, and has helped in eliminating many of the problems I've encountered in my classroom. And, I'm always eager to learn about new ideas that I can use with my students; I've learned a great deal from other teachers, especially ones who are more experienced than myself.

Kati's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you that there just never seems to be enough time to collaborate. When I was in grade school we always had early release every Wednesday. Of course as a kid I just thought that it was so that we could get home early one day a week. Now that I'm a teacher I see the importance of the one hour to be able to come together as a team or staff and collaborate. We also have weekly grade level meeting but they don't always happen. Things come up, the team is too busy, on and on. This year was the worst for our team collaboration. I think that it started out great but only lasted for about the first half of the school year. By the end of the year our team meetings weren't happening and I always wondered why our administration wasn't monitoring them?

Kati's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was just curious as to what exactly you talk about when it comes to your weekly meetings. I feel like the only thing that we have time to talk about is filling everyone in with what is going on the next week. I don't feel as though we ever have time to really sit and talk about important issues like standards and assessments.

Deb Schave's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My district is only a few years into the PLC progress. I am a special education teacher and I can see what a big difference collaboration in our school has made within the various teams. I meet with my PLC at least 4 hours per month and our district provides us with 3 mornings per year in the form of 2 hour late starts. I am amazed at what a difference it has made in my teaching by meeting with grade levels. We are actually collaborating regularly and it is helping our special education students because I know what the grade levels are doing and I am part of the decision maing process. Modifications are easier as the teachers can ask me weekly what can be done ahead of time. PLC's are truly amazing!

Erin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I used this for my essay!

anonymous's picture

I work in a school district that just started Positive Learning Communities. My school has just started with the meetings and we meet 2 or 3 times a week. Teacher collaboration is huge and this is a great way to get everyone on the same page. Our administrators are very committed to making sure these PLC's are working and I feel that that is where everything starts. The first time the whole school met, our administrators said that they feel this will work and help bridge gaps that we may have and that they are committed to making these work. They need to be committed in order for the teachers to get into this and for the groups to be effective. All teachers do not teach the same material the exact same way so I think it is beneficial working together because I can learn ideas and new strategies that I can use with my student. Another reason for PLC's to be effective is that teachers cannot get off topic too much.

Tina's picture

My team building company Team Tactics (www.teamtactics.co.uk) often hold large-scale team building exercises for schools. I find the musical activities are the most popular as everyone can relate to music and the energy it creates is fantastic!

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