Ideas for schools

Teacher Collaboration

Planning Time

Planning time can be used by teachers to work individually, in teams, or meet with parents. Some elementary principals are careful to schedule Art, Gym and Music so that grade level teams’ planning time coincides. Then that they can work together if they wish.

Collaboration Time

When district contracts do not include time for teacher to collaborate, some schools have found creative ways to carve time out of the day for this important activity. Some teachers meet informally at lunch, before or after school. Others use their planning time to meet. For collaboration to work, teachers need to be comfortable asking each other questions and sharing what they know. One teacher said, “When we compete against each other, the children don’t learn.”

Team Planning Time

Teachers meet as a team once a week after school, with the grade level counselor and a resource teacher to talk only about students. For example, they discuss how are they helping fragile learners, emotionally struggling emotionally students and how to motivate students on the high end. They also plan parent conferences and do data analysis.

High School Department Meetings

These high school department chairs meet every two weeks and hold the meetings in different classrooms throughout the school to give teachers the opportunity to see each other's rooms. Each week different chairs serve as host, prepare the agenda and facilitate the meeting.

At an other district, full staff meetings are held at the high school twice a month, departments meet once a month and curriculum units meet less frequently. At least one of the full staff meetings is used to discuss standards in a specific subject matter area. They recently held a session where teachers were asked to look at their students’ data and report back by department what was discovered.

Collaborative Activities

When teachers find the time to work together, they participate in some of the following activities:
  • Share classroom management ideas.
  • Individualize time for students.
  • Organize group projects.
  • Meet in groups by grade level to review student work and student outcomes.
  • Review curriculum to make sure it is up to date and productive.
  • Consider different approaches to teaching the subject matter
  • Identify new teaching materials.
  • Work in grade level teams to design lessons together.
  • Meet with specialists, for example Reading Recovery teachers meet to better understand their program.
  • Create a formal peer-mentoring program for all teachers, not just new teachers.
  • Set up substitute teachers so that teachers have time to observe each other’s classrooms with the attitude that, “You can be a prophet in your own land.” They have identified each team member’s expertise.
  • Form a book club. The books they have studied included “Why are All Of the Black Students Sitting Together In the Cafeteria,” “Good to Great “, “Zapped”, “Essential 55”, “Protecting the Gift”, “When Race Becomes Real”. Book clubs have encouraged strong relationships between colleagues and have increased their knowledge.
  • Work together to apply for School Improvement Team (SIT) funds.
  • Plan mini lessons to support new learning center programs.
  • Create a new writing block program using the modules created by teachers from another school and plan professional development workshops to support it. As part of the learning process, teachers teach each other’s classes.
  • Have conversations about how to make the school work better to successfully accomplish school objectives.
  • Focus on meeting the NCA standards
  • Revise the school mission statement.
  • One group of teachers looked at student data and identified a need to improve writing, so they voted to add meetings to the calendar to improve the 6+1 traits writing program. They examined student writing and shared student work.

Creating Time to Collaborate

Schools have created a variety of collaboration arrangements that differ by grade level.
  • Design district policies to make collaboration between teachers systemic by embedding staff development and collaboration time into school schedules.
  • Time for both planning and collaboration is built into school schedules, by releasing students early one day a week.
  • To emphasis how important collaboration is principals were asked to hold in-depth discussions about collaboration at their annual planning meeting.
  • Create collaboration time by holding a monthly talent show. The principal facilitates the event while the teachers meet.

  • More Collaboration Ideas

Using Collaborative Time Better

Organizational Consultant

To improve teachers’ use of time when they hold meetings. She partnered with Michigan State professor Nancy Colflesh, Ph.D., an organizational and educational consultant to learn how to hold a productive meeting. They adopted building group-meeting norms, including procedures on how to reach consensus. They use the Five Finger model of consensus building, Jigsaw and Walk-around. It has increased their ability to brainstorm.

Meeting Away From School

Teachers use "day-aways" to meet across grade levels and within grades teams to discuss school improvement plans, race and equity. They work with cohorts, primarily in reading and math, at least once per month. The meetings are voluntary, but teachers attend regularly.

Tuning Protocol

A High Schools organizes a 35-minute meeting to talk only about students' performance. These meetings are meant to facilitate a meaningful conversation, not just griping. During the meeting, they use the Tuning Protocol. The process presents a relatively risk-free way to get feedback. It prevents attacks and rebuttals. It helps presenters avoid becoming defensive. They set aside time for one person to present uninterrupted. Then people can ask clarifying questions; the audience discusses what was presented and presenter takes notes and then all discuss what was said.

Meeting Management

Teachers attended a very good workshop on teacher study groups. These experiences helped them set ground rules at their first meeting. They agreed to start on time, stick to the agenda, and to not allow any side bar talk. Meetings are very productive and people feel they can disagree, but in a respectful way. Initially they felt the meeting was a success if at the end people were not upset. Now they have moved to issues that directly affect students.

Dynamic Systems Thinking

One group of teachers took part in a district pilot program called Systems Unification, part of Dynamic Systems Thinking. Teachers were asked to think about what activities needed to be completed so that the school could achieve their goals. Teachers learned to identify students’ needs and everyone was made to feel responsible for students’ progress.

Teacher and Staff Learning Communities

Study Groups

Solving Problems Together

Teachers meet to ask questions and look for answers together. They asked, "Why can’t we bring Korean students to the next level in writing workshop?” Two teachers volunteered to research the Korean educational system to better understand the circumstances their Korean students experienced before they came to the United States. They also examined Russian school systems. Other focuses included 6 + 1 writing traits and writing workshop.

Learning Together

Teachers started reading "Brain-Based Learning: The New Science of Teaching and Training" by Jensen, Eric, a book about brain-based learning to learn more about brain research. Reading it helped them with regular education, autistic, ADHD and ADD students. The teachers started to understand why they were not progressing with certain students. They handed the books out to parents, who created a study group of their own.

See Books for a list of books used in Book Talks and Study Groups.

How to Encourage Book Groups
  • Teachers can receive professional development plan credit for participating in them.
  • The district administrator has a well-stocked library with 10-15 copies of appropriate books that colleagues can borrow.
  • A teacher professional development committee meets twice a month. They plan school-based activities including best practices, book groups, and reading on the achievement groups.
  • Teachers participate in one of 17 Equity Team discussion groups. Teacher read articles on their own time, Blog about them and discuss issues face to face at faculty meetings.
“When we compete against each other, the children don’t learn.”