Collaborating Across a District—or a Country
Digital tools enable teachers to share resources and even to co-teach with peers anywhere.
The digital age has made it easier than ever to collaborate with teachers far and wide. The days of being limited to chatting up a colleague for a couple of minutes in the staff room or sharing resources at a subject-specific meeting in your district are over.
I’m an English teacher in rural Northern Ontario, and I teach at a school with just one other full-time English teacher. We’ve been colleagues for over a decade—I know his game and he knows mine. The ability to collaborate on and share electronic documents has fundamentally enhanced my pedagogy—well beyond the walls of my 300-student secondary school.
Here are some ideas about how to use these new tools—using Google’s G Suite as an example—to collaborate with peers down the hall or around the world.
Sharing Individual Documents
Google Docs and Slides documents allow teachers to create a resource together or to share resources they already have. Last summer, I used Docs to create an entire unit with two other English language arts (ELA) teachers whom I knew from my school board.
The unit was on inquiry-based learning (IBL) projects and activities for ELA classrooms. We worked on it at different times from different locations, developing a variety of resources that we could all use, regardless of the specific course or grade level.
As the project progressed, we used the editing and comment features to perfect it—without ever meeting face-to-face. When fall arrived, we had a unit that ran to more than 50 pages, filled with detailed lesson plans that taught students about IBL, activities that engaged them in IBL, and ELA-related IBL research and writing projects.
This is a task that would have been incredibly daunting if I had tackled it on my own, but working with colleagues made it both achievable and fun. And our individual perspectives created a final product that was much more refined than anything any of us could have completed independently.
Another great entry point for collaboration is to create a folder in your Google Drive and share it with other subject-based teachers—everyone can contribute resources to it via the sharing function.
I have a couple of collaborative folders in my Drive for the various ELA courses I teach, and when I get a notification that one of my digital colleagues has added something to one of the folders, I get super excited—it’s like Christmas morning.
Our collaborative folders are subcategorized into specific units. We have folders for quizzes and tests, lectures, handouts, whole units, vocabulary, grammar, writing tasks, novel studies, Shakespeare, etc. This strategy provides you with the benefit of using resources you’ve already created for a unit and adding something new without the pain of creating it yourself.
Last week I started my Grade 10 unit on The Merchant of Venice with some pre-reading activities. Next I was going to revise a study guide I’d used in the past, but I awoke Saturday morning to find a new and improved study guide uploaded by one of my colleagues to the Shakespeare shared folder. I really benefited from her revisions.
This type of collaborative experience has pushed me and my colleagues to create really good stuff. After all, if you’re sharing it with others, you want to put your best foot forward. I feel like the resources I contribute are better than those I create on the fly and don’t share.
Sharing or Co-Teaching Via Google Classrooms
Once you’ve tested the waters of digital collaboration with documents and folders, you may be ready to jump into the deep end and either share your Google Classroom or co-teach using a Google Classroom.
As a teacher whose entire course is on Google Classroom—from daily agendas to resources, links, and student comments—this was scary for me at first. Do I hide the day we watched Christmas Vacation? That’s educational, right?
All joking aside, collaboration isn’t about judgment. It’s about providing a bird’s-eye view of your classroom from a digital perspective, as well as an opportunity for other teachers to use your resources and to follow your daily practice for inspiration. I’ve invited many teachers to my Google Classroom, and have been invited by many others. All of my experiences to date have been positive.
There are two levels to co-teaching this way: allowing another teacher to view or follow your Classroom, and actually co-teaching using a single Classroom for both teachers’ classes.
I often allow other teachers to view my Classroom—this is especially handy for mentoring new teachers. Since I write a blog through our school board email system and am fairly active on social media, I often have new ELA teachers emailing me to ask about something I’ve written about or an activity I’m doing with my students. I add these teachers to my Classroom and let them follow along—they borrow whatever they like and ask me what I’m doing and how it’s going.
If you decide to co-teach with a colleague, you’ll both control what is posted and assigned. Students in both classes have access to the Classroom and can comment on and submit work. What’s exciting about this for teachers is that you’re sharing not only resources but the delivery of the course to students. Students benefit from the opportunity to collaborate with students in another class since they’re working on the same assignments.
In a larger school this strategy could be used by multiple teachers teaching different sections of the same course. It would allow for more consistency in how the course is delivered to students, as well as provide an opportunity for students to benefit from more than one pedagogical perspective as multiple teachers contributed to the delivery of the course.
Teaching collaboratively requires a change in perspective in how you approach your work. Think of teaching as a team sport—who do you want on your team?