The power of teacher collaboration

Nikisha Kotwal

“None of us is as smart as all of us!” — Ken Blanchard

Collaboration, also known as Collective Teacher Efficacy (Bandura, 1997), is one of the highest-rated factors that influences and accelerates student achievement. It can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged or disadvantaged. (Hattie, 2018).

Collaboration, being multifaceted and flexible, is a puzzle piece that can be adapted to fit any system around the globe — education, law, medicine, engineering, the list can go on! Collaboration brings together multiple people with a variety of strengths, attitudes, beliefs and work ethics to work towards a common goal.

Benefits of collaboration

Goulet et al. (2003) state that true collaboration can be extremely demanding, but has the potential to transform education in ways that other forms of partnership cannot. Working alongside team members with multiple areas of expertise opens up opportunities to learn, which by and large, benefits the organization as well as the team members. Different brains and thought processes come together igniting curiosity and leaving people with thought-provoking experiences.

Team members who collaborate have their eyes and heart on one common goal. Collaboration may spark an intrinsic drive to contribute to a project where everyone is encouraged to share responsibility. However, it can also compel many people to face one of the most challenging tasks there is – to let go of one’s ego and complete control, which then encourages people to develop transparent modes of communication along with the art of negotiation.

 What does successful collaboration look like?

Collaboration requires individuals to be a part of a team where people truly believe that each one of them is a part of a transformation. A group that collaborates not only works together but also thinks together, openly communicates and shares responsibilities. It is self-managed, where instances of leadership may emerge from time to time depending on the type of expertise required to accomplish a certain task. Collaborators need to have an open mindset built on flexibility, trust and rapport which helps them discuss opportunities, work on challenges and reciprocate constructive feedback.

Successful collaboration is when individuals with diverse backgrounds come together to create powerful journeys and achieve their goals – where the group automatically progresses even in the absence of a key member (Dent J., 2017, April 6).

Key components of collaboration

  1. Trust – essence before form

Team members need to know that they’re present for each other during a collaborative process. A foundation built on trust helps develop an open mindset that is ready to give and receive constructive feedback as a process-oriented approach.

  • Accountability

A group of collaborators shares the responsibility for a project equally. Knowing each team member’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to the process informs everyone about how their contributions will affect the project. This equips the group to jump in and support fellow members in times of struggle.

  • Empathy

Empathy plays a key role in the process of collaboration. Every person in a collaborative group has an equally important role to play. However, when a team member feels like they’re having things tougher than the others, it hampers and tears down the essence of collaboration. Clear communication pathways that are free from judgment and are based on the sense of understanding and empathy ensure that the group effectively works through the process of collaboration.

Collaboratively designing classroom learning

 Our interactions with the real world shows that our ability to make sense of the world does not stem from one particular field, but is the result of using multiple perspectives. For example, while planning a vacation we need to think about nuances such as identifying the place, its geographical location and the weather during that time period, in utmost detail. In addition to these, we also need to identify a suitable budget — to spend on a hotel, food, sightseeing and buying souvenirs. All this involves using the integration of multiple disciplines—geography, technology, finance and fashion—that can be the basis of education in schools through collaboration between the different teams.

Collaborative curriculum design has been a powerful practice that is used when teaching students with disabilities, especially in inclusive setups (Education Standard Authority, n.d.). However, this is not common in mainstream schools. Students study their academics and skills in complete isolation; this adversely affects their ability to deal with situations they may encounter in the real world.

Schools and educational organizations are often made up of teams that have expertise in varied disciplines such as therapy, arts, technology, academics and physical fitness. Many a time, in the academically oriented schooling system, teachers find themselves planning lessons, designing classroom learning and executing their plans independently. Students, thus, learn each of these skills in isolation and may find it difficult to apply these to real-life situations.

 Collaboration during planning and execution equips a learner with the necessary tools to respond to real-life situations that comprise of having a sense of independence, responsibility, empathy, the ability to problem-solve and being wary of one’s emotions, which then brings about the holistic development of a student.

How to collaboratively design classroom learning?

Step 1: Identify the learning that you want your students to leave with. This may be a combination of academic-oriented goals and skill-based goals.

Step 2: Reach out! Reach out to team members who can work on skills during their classes.

 Step 3: Collaboratively identify content-specific goals and create a rubric to track progress.

 Step 4: Collaboratively design learning checks and assessments that replicate real-world experiences. This will help the students weave together all of their learned skills from the different content areas.

Step 5: Reflect, reflect, reflect! Set up spaces among the team that is collaborating to come together and reflect on how the classes are going. These powerful ‘Professional learning community (PLC)’ spaces can work toward improving student outcomes.

Bringing together multidisciplinary aspects to design classroom learning empowers educators to design learning that is richer and relevant to how we interact with things in the real world. It focuses on achieving a learning goal, where collaboration works as a glue that binds everything together (Kissflow Digital Workplace, 2020) and creates powerful learning outcomes. This is when the transfer of learning from the four walls of a classroom to the real world takes place. Multidisciplinary learning through teacher collaboration rightfully demonstrates the power that collaboration holds to create something bigger than the sum of what each person can create on their own.

References

  1. Goulet, L., Krentz, C., & Christiansen, H. (2003). Collaboration in education: The phenomenon and process of working together. Alberta journal of educational research, 49(4).
  2. https://doi.org/10.11575/ajer.v49i4.55027
  3. Dent, J. (2017, April 6). Collaboration or teamwork – What’s the difference? LinkedIn.
  4. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/collaboration-teamwork-whats-difference-dent-lssbb-dtmx2
  5. Collaborative curriculum planning. (n.d.). Education Standards Authority. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/k-10/diversity-in-learning/special-educa tion/collaborative-curriculum-planning
  6. Hattie, J. (2016)
  7. Bandura, A. (1997). The exercise of control: Self-efficacy. New York: Freeman. Beijaard, D., & De Vries, Y.(1997). Building expertise: A process perspective on the development or change of teachers beliefs. European Journal of Teacher Education, 20(3), 243-255.
  8. Donohoo, J., Hattie, J., & Eells, R. (2018). The power of collective efficacy. Educational Leadership, 75(6), 40-44.

The author is an educator and the Communications Coordinator at The Gateway School of Mumbai, which works with neurodiverse children. She can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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