Collaboration is a word used frequently by teachers: we expect our students to develop collaborative skills, and we are often placed in positions where it is essential to our work with colleagues. Building collaborative relationships, however, can be tough for teachers who are new to the profession or new to a school. It can be stressful to find your place with a new team and in an unfamiliar working environment. You may feel that it is better to simply observe, stay quiet, or ‘go with the flow.’ And while you should certainly take your time to get oriented in your surroundings, you may actually find that your work life will be much easier over the long run if you start collaborating as soon as possible.

Who you collaborate with will largely depend on the teaching role you have been assigned. For example, if you are a homeroom or classroom teacher, you will likely work most with other teachers that  also teach the same grade level, that support your class in areas like special education, ESL/ELD, or planning time subjects. Do you teach a subject like core French? You may find that you need to collaborate most with homeroom teachers and other French teachers in the building. By collaborating with teachers who work with the same students or in the same subjects, you can gather valuable insights on students or share content and strategies that you can use in your practice.

Getting Started with Collaboration

Strong teacher collaboration is intentional, organized, and grounded in norms of mutual respect, trust and professional relationships. Of course, friendships often emerge in the process, but it is certainly not a condition or an expectation. Though it may seem like introducing yourself and sharing details about your day is just ‘small talk’, these interactions form the basic foundations of a professional relationship that can evolve into productive collaborations as the school year unfolds. 

In most cases, opportunities to collaborate will be orchestrated and structured by your administrator or team lead. It is completely normal to start out feeling overwhelmed, shy, or unsure of what you want to say in these meetings, especially if you are a new teacher! Keep in mind that collaboration skills will not always come to us naturally. We become better collaborators by thinking critically about the way we interact and communicate with others in a professional context. 

When teachers plan for productive collaboration, and think critically about how to work more efficiently together, they can benefit from the expertise, resources, experiences, and strengths that they collectively bring to the workplace. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of collaboration, and how it can enhance the learning experiences of students. In the second part of this blog, we will explore some of the the attributes of strong teacher collaborators.

The Benefits of Teacher Collaboration

While it can be tempting as a new teacher to focus solely on your own planning and classroom, remember that collaboration is incredibly rewarding and can actually make your workflow much easier. Here are some of the best reasons to collaborate with your team.

1. Gather Important Information and Insights About Students

The students in your classroom are diverse with unique cultural, linguistic, and family backgrounds that you will want to know about so you can plan lessons that are relevant and responsive to their identities. Your colleagues will be able to share so many insights about the learners you teach, either because they taught them in previous years, work with them in activities like clubs or sports, or have access to information in their student profile or portrait. When you build collaborative relationships with your colleagues, you will find it much easier to get to know the students in your classroom.

2. Save Time on Planning Your Programs

There are so many demands on the day-to-day practice of a teacher, from assessment to classroom management to communicating with families. When you make time to collaborate with other teachers in your team, you can share lesson plans, resources, assessments, and other activities that you might otherwise have to research and plan. Thinking of planning a literature circle but cringe at the idea of reading through a stack of young adult novels? Divide and conquer the work with your team. Looking for a summative social studies assessment that will work for an emergent speaker of English? Your colleague may have something they have already used with success. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when you have so much experience and expertise at your fingertips.

3. Start a Co-Teaching and Co-Assessment Practice

Co-teaching and co-assessment are often overlooked when we collaborate, and can be the perfect way to take some of the the stress out of teaching while also having fun. Why not use your collaboration time to co-plan lessons and instructional cycles where you team teach a single group of students? There are many ways to do this: for example, you can try mixing classes into a large group, teaching a single part of a lesson while your colleague teaches the other, or having one colleague lead while the other circulates and assesses. 

4. Collaboration Makes Work more Fun

Teaching has its tough moments, and having the support and input of a colleague or team of colleagues can make the journey much more fun and rewarding. Collaboration is a great avenue to connect with your colleagues and simply enjoy the process of teamwork, sharing experiences, or just being with another group of adults!

Moving Forward

This is just a handful of the reasons you should make an effort to collaborate more with the teachers you work with. In the next article we will go into more detail about what it takes to be a strong teacher collaborators.

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