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Three steps to increase collaboration

Whether you’re a new adjunct professor on a college campus or a veteran faculty member at an elementary school looking to make new connections, we could all use a little more collaboration in our daily work. Here are a few ideas to help you get started!

Write About Your Practice

English professors across the country might be excited about this one: practice daily reflective writing about your experiences as a teacher. Now, maybe you’re not an English professor, but writing about your daily practice can be insightful and a valuable way to end each day. A few questions to ask yourself include:

  • How do I feel about today's class? Why?
  • What worked well today? What didn't?
  • Did my students learn what I wanted them to learn? How do I know? 

Along with the daily practice of writing, you’ll do best if you’re accountable to someone or something. Consider starting a public blog with your writing. Even if it seems mundane and you think no one will ever read it, you’ll have a searchable resource for future classes. Additionally, colleagues across the country can comment and support your continued growth. As your blog matures, you can identify trends in your teaching and re-evaluate your practice periodically. Your blog can become a valuable source of knowledge for new and developing instructors.

For more reasons why teachers should write, check out Nancy Barile’s Five Reasons Why Teachers Should Write About Their Practice.

Share and Share-Alike

Talbert (2010) writes, “When instruction is considered private practice, teachers resist the idea of collaborating with colleagues on instruction.” Teaching in isolation needs to be reconsidered if our students are to succeed in the vastly connected 21st century. Now that you’ve started writing about your classes and projects, you need to talk about them! A common goal as an educator is to make sure students succeed, even if they’re not in our classroom. Look for opportunities on your campus to share what you’re doing. Offer to host a mini-conference for your department or division. Invite other departments to collaborate and host a campus-wide conference to see what others are creating and learning. Contribute what you’ve made to shared faculty resources so that others can improve their teaching as well.

If you’re a little nervous talking with your colleagues about your work, start small. Start with just one person from your professional learning community.

Tell him about a project your students completed exceptionally well. If you’re an algebra professor, ask a calculus professor to visit one of your classes so you can get some feedback on how to better teach that prerequisite content. While it might seem counter-intuitive, ask for advice from a colleague. Maybe she’s fresh out of college and learned about emerging strategies that you haven’t heard about yet. Even rockstar teachers need help from time to time.

According to Ronfeldt et al., students are best served when collaboration focuses on two things:

  • Analyzing student data to develop instructional responses
  • Curriculum and instruction improvements

While the first seems fairly straightforward, the second requires that cultural shift wherein teachers begin to work together to plan classes, co-teach certain material, and give each other constructive feedback. Collaborating on instruction gives each of us the opportunity to learn and improve our individual practice. You’re starting down a steady road of improvement.

Spread the Word

Teachers can look to businesses that leverage branding and social media to expand their reach beyond their school. If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, find out who on your campus could help you start a website. Maybe a local high school student is learning how to build websites and could use a client. On this website you can keep your resume, a record of all your favorite resources, and of course, your own professional development activities. Remember that blog I recommended earlier? Include that blog as part of your professional website, too. Once you’ve got your website up and running, share it! Get business cards with your website to hand out at those conferences you’re helping to organize.

While it may seem strange at first, get connected on social media, too. Create a professional Twitter account and start following leaders in your field. Who knows, they might follow you back! While you’re building your professional network, keep in mind that “connectivity as a learning resource has its price. Expanding connectivity increases the chance of useful access, but it also increases the level of ‘noise.’” Learn more about that here.

What Will All This Really Do For Me?

By working toward a culture of collaboration in your school, you’ll likely find more satisfaction in your work as an educator too. In a study completed by Johnson, Kraft, and Papay (2012), the authors found that the social attributes of the teaching profession have a greater influence on satisfaction than physical working conditions or student demographics. Three features were particularly identified by the authors:

  1. Collegial relationships with peers
  2. Supportive principal leadership
  3. Culture of trust, openness, and commitment to student achievement

It is our social environment, along with a passion for the job, which makes the work of teaching so fulfilling.

In addition to building a network of peers to improve your job satisfaction, collaboration encourages the growth of every teacher in the network. In a later study, Kraft & Papay (2014) concluded that teachers who work for 10 years in more supportive environments show greater improvement in teacher effectiveness than those who work in environments with less support. Yes, that says 10 years. Because this takes time. Collaboration is not a quick fix but a commitment to our peers and our students to help each other continuously improve.

Maybe you’re an adjunct professor in a small department or at a small college. Start working within your organization and curate resources for your department. Look for resources that cross disciplines and use your website, campus conferences, or Twitter to spread what you’ve learned. Encourage others to do the same and before you know it, you’ll be building a network of colleagues to collaborate with for years to come.

Note: This guest post was authored by Lori Voss-Schoonover. It is the third in a series of guest posts penned by graduate students from the University of Kansas. To learn more about the series, click here

REFERENCES:

Johnson SM, Kraft MA, & Papay JP. (2012) How context matters in high-need schools: The effects of teachers’ working conditions on their professional satisfaction and their students’ achievement. Teachers College Record [Internet]. 114 (10) :1-39.

Kraft MA & Papay JP. (2014) Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 36(4), 476-500.

Ronfeldt M, Farmer SO, McQueen K, & Grissom JA. (2015) Teacher Collaboration in Instructional Teams and Student Achievement. American Educational Research Journal. 52(3), 475-514.

Talbert JE. (2010) Professional Learning Communities at the Crossroads: How Systems Hinder or Engender Change. Second International Handbook of Educational Change, Springer International Handbooks of Education 23, pp 555-571.

 

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