Time is precious, especially during the school day. To maximize student learning, teacher collaboration is essential. In my experience as a classroom teacher, a curriculum coordinator, and an administrator, I’ve observed that these five ideas work well for teacher collaboration.
1. Scheduled Planning Days With No Students
Teachers and instructional coaches need time to plan without interruptions and for a prolonged period of time.
Teacher collaboration days that are dedicated to various groups of teachers working (together or independently as needed) are important. This type of longer, more involved planning allows teachers to build deeper relationships, work without interruptions, and build a foundation for the upcoming school days.
Ideally, there would be eight planning days a year. A possible schedule would be two days at the start of each quarter—even better if it’s before school begins for students in the quarter. Not all schools or districts have the luxury of creating their schedules in this way, but if it’s possible, it’s worth making the time for this.
2. Welcome Clubs and Activity Periods
Welcoming new faculty members and continuously building strong relationships with all members of the school community are often left out of teacher collaboration. If schools want teachers to collaborate, the first thing that needs to happen is mutual respect and understanding between colleagues. Making relationship building a priority creates a positive working environment.
A welcome committee or dedicated club can make it easier for new teachers to connect with people throughout the school, not just their teammates.
For example, a faculty-led club can plan monthly activities. I was once a co-facilitator of my school’s Aloha Club, which planned events like a train ride with families, a ghost tour, karaoke night, bowling, and even an outdoor obstacle course. This bonding allowed us to collaborate easily as we worked on larger-scale events that impacted the entire school.
Time could be used in the planning day (with no students) to have faculty and staff share something to teach during an activity period. For example, an administrator might teach basic jewelry making, or an educational assistant might teach bullet journaling, or a teacher might share the basics of pickleball. This could occur, perhaps four times a year, for 60–90 minutes in the non-student planning day. This time builds meaningful relational capacity between teachers and stakeholders.
3. School-Level Opportunities and Teacher Learning Programs
Experienced teachers also benefit from opportunities to grow their collaboration. One way is to offer them paid leadership opportunities within the school or leadership programs outside of the school to grow their professional learning network.
For example, paid roles like being an official mentor for a new teacher or a department lead would allow seasoned teachers to build their collaboration skills in a new way. This is moving into leadership territory, but in order to facilitate good collaboration with others, a leader needs to be in the group. Gaining opportunities in leadership shows teachers a new perspective within a collaborative group and ultimately benefits student learning.
Another option is to have teachers who have played many roles within a school learn how to collaborate with educators outside of their school. Many school districts and teacher unions have dedicated teacher leadership programs.
Additionally, a quick online search reveals several national fellowship and learning programs for educators—for example, the Department of Education’s Effective Educator Development Programs, such as the School Ambassador Fellowship, and the National Education Association Foundation’s Global Learning Fellowship. Schools can celebrate and encourage teachers with experience to apply and enroll for these types of opportunities. As a result, new ideas will come into the collaborative space and enrich student learning.
4. Dedicated Planning Time with a Clear Purpose
This is one that teachers mention all the time. Dedicated planning time with other teachers is crucial for teacher collaboration. An example of this would be within the working hours for teachers on campus. Subject departments meet once a week for an hour before classes begin, teams meet once a week during a dedicated period, and academy leads meet once a week in the mornings with an academy director.
However, having time to meet is a waste of time without clear expectations. For example, school leadership can set expectations for departments to work on aligning standards to content, learning intentions, success criteria, and disciplinary literacy. Teams can focus on interventions and meeting the needs of all students socially and emotionally. Lastly, academies can plan a culminating project to showcase learning (usually for the end of a semester).
5. Pineapple Chart for Classroom Visits
I was introduced to the practice of pineapple charts at my former school. Instead of asking teachers to visit other classrooms without knowing what would be occurring in that classroom, teachers sign up for specific days and periods when they are using a particular strategy or doing an activity that they feel confident in showing. In the beginning, teachers are asked by the instructional leaders at school to sign up as a way to get the chart started, but eventually it should become something that runs itself.
Granted, this isn’t for every school, but it’s a way to make classroom visits feel like a menu of options and for visiting teachers to know what they’re going to observe. This is rather different from having teachers go into rooms looking for school initiatives, like having teachers observe if learning intentions and success criteria are posted in the classroom. Pineapple charts put the responsibility for learning on the visiting teacher instead of the visit serving as a check-in on the teacher being observed.
This process also allows differentiated professional learning because teachers can select what they want and need to learn more about. These visits also help with teacher collaboration because visiting a peer and learning from them builds relational capacity across the school.