Here are ten simple ways to establish a culture of staff collaboration in your school.
1. Open your Door.
Even without an associated team-teaching or visitation policy, just by teaching with an open door the buzz of instruction and learning will attract colleagues to your room and provide casual opportunities for collaboration. Once you feel comfortable with making your practice public you can move on to inviting parents to join your class as teaching assistants or having peers join your lessons to provide feedback on your practice.
2. Create Feedback Teams with Colleagues you Trust.
It is important that before teachers begin the team feedback process the form and language of feedback is agreed upon in a staff meeting. It is also important that teachers who receive feedback don’t feel that their performance was graded by their peers, rather that they are given the opportunity to see how a colleague would have approached the lesson differently or would have managed a pivotal moment in the lesson. When all teams have observed one another they should be afforded time in a staff meeting to discuss their observations, talk about what they would like to try or change in their own lessons as a result of the process. As staff grow more comfortable with the process create feedback groups with less familiar staff members. As an administrator encourage feedback from groups so that you can identify areas of professional development or further reading that you can provide to teachers.
3. Sharing is Caring!
Sharing via pigeon-hole is non-threatening for any teacher. However, once you have established a circle of colleagues who enjoy creating content and teaching together it will prove useful to start uploading materials to a central repository. On the school server create a central file for shared materials. Divide it by subject and continue to add to it over time. By doing this you are making your collaborative efforts available to every teacher in the school and this is essential because although some teachers will not feel secure enough to add resources to the pile, they can certainly benefit from what others have shared. Of course collaboration is not always simply what is visible and communicated between peers but is also the support networks put in place by caring colleagues. By creating a centralised digital archive of high-quality and classroom-tested teaching resources all teacher practice and student learning opportunities can be enhanced.
4. Create a Specialist Skills Whiteboard for the Staffroom.
It is a good idea to mount a whiteboard in the staffroom and invite teachers to add their specialist skills to it along with their name. You can even divide the board into subcategories such as “Arts” “Crafts” “Technology” and this will provide an easy-to-reference and highly-visible talent resource for teachers to share. Alternatively you may wish to create a board that focuses on academic skills in which case you may wish to use categories such as “EdTech”, “Literacy”, “Cross-curricular Skills” etc.
In this article I explain how you may use this process to pool EdTech skills and provide ongoing teacher-led professional development in your school.
5. Create Space for Collaboration.
Find space for a round table away from the heart of the staffroom. Make this a contemplative and inviting place by supplying soft furnishings, plants and display shelving which give a semi-private feel. Keep the shelves stocked with up-to-date pedagogical and subject-specific journals and magazines. Furnish this space with key texts that relate to the feedback given in the small feedback teams mentioned in step 2 and use this space as a meeting-point for giving and receiving feedback after classroom visits. As an administrator do not be afraid to explicitly label this space as a breakout or collaborative space for teacher creativity and ingenuity. Canvas staff to see what materials they would like supplied and make it clear that you value the initiative and collaboration happening in this space.
6. Coffee Mornings.
While this should be an enjoyable and relaxed way to start the week you may wish to increase the likelihood of collaboration by introducing fun tasks. For example, why not ask every member of staff to write down one collaborative task on a piece of paper, fold it up and put it into a hat. Examples may be “Share one resource you found useful this week with colleagues in your department” or “Have a coffee with someone from another department and reflect on one lesson you had this week” or “Surprise a colleague with a coffee this week”. Pick one suggestion from the hat and make a whole-staff effort to fulfil the task in the week ahead.
This simple action can create familiarity between colleagues, make coming to work an even more enjoyable experience and establish a culture of collaboration among staff.
7. Teacher-led Professional Development.
It is increasingly fashionable for teachers to take control of their own professional development needs. Twitter and the EdCamp movement have allowed teachers to personalise their learning and to access high-quality PD when they want it. Harness the collective talent of your staffroom by providing meeting times for sharing pedagogical success stories. This is a powerful way to ensure quality practice across the school as well as providing a means for individual teachers to grow in confidence.
The easiest way to structure an EdCamp-style PD meeting at your school is to create a sign-up form well in advance of the agreed-upon staff meeting. This could be a digital form or it could simply be a space on a staffroom whiteboard. On here staff simply list the title of their PD talk/roundtable/practical, the learning outcomes, the classroom in which it will happen and time. Staff can then freely sign-up to whatever PD session they wish to attend. Depending on the number of presentations and the time available multiple sessions can run parallel to one another. This method of teacher-led PD would work very well as part of an all-day in-service meeting where there are also invited guest speakers. While all teachers may be expected to attend guest presentations they then have choice and flexibility to organise the rest of their day.
8. Identify Crossover, set the Seeds of Inter-departmental Collaboration!
Ideally a school will have a centralised collection of documents available for external inspection and school accreditation. This will usually include overviews by grade and subject as well as detailed lesson plans. However, this mass of documents is often overwhelming and can act as a deterrent to collaboration between departments. Instead, in the first week of the school year, where staff typically meet for several days before students return, arrange small inter-departmental meetings for teachers to identify areas of curricular similarity. Place a teacher from each faculty in each group and have them name and briefly describe the topics they will teach for the coming year in each grade. Not only will this allow for teachers from other faculties to identify areas of overlap but it also ensures that all individual teachers are well prepared by having a teaching overview for the year ahead. Challenge your teachers to commit to working collaboratively on one module with each faculty in the coming year. Have teachers create a rough collaborative overview which includes the shared topic, key learning goals and likely timing of the lesson. End the meeting by having every teacher leave with a provisional collaborative timetable that commits to working with every department in the year ahead.
9. Strengthen Critical Learning Skills.
Essentially, through inter-departmental collaboration teachers will come to know the critical academic skills that are universal for student academic success. By identifying and documenting these a school can create a central resource from which teachers can draw to better support student learning. So when teachers write an essay, they can use the structure provided by the English Department as their template. When any teachers wish to create a graph they will have samples and best practice to draw on from the Mathematics Department and so on. In this way, as a culture of collaboration develops in a school, teachers stop seeing themselves as independent subject-specific practitioners and instead see themselves as team members concerned with supporting key literacies across all subjects. This is more efficient and certain to result in better student academic performance.
10. Team Teaching.
Team teaching essentially represents the apex of staff collaboration. I would recommend it be attempted once staff are comfortable with all of the points mentioned up to now. Team teaching requires small groups of teachers not only to teach together but to identify areas of cross-over, plan effectively and decide upon feedback and assessment criteria. It is a challenging but rewarding process as this and this article show. The Edutopia video below provides a basic introduction to team teaching.