Guide to Reflecting on Teacher Collaboration

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By: Kathleen Marx

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.  —Henry Ford

As spring steps in and school leaders look at closing out the year, they reflect on many aspects of their current school year in order to plan effectively for the next.

One critically important area that may receive less in-depth measurement and reflection is that of teacher collaboration.


The Importance of Focusing on Teacher Collaboration as a School Leader

Dr. Robert Marzano and Beverly Carbaugh, in School Leadership for Results (2018), identify six major domains of school leader responsibility, each of which provide leaders with the opportunity to reflect on current reality.

Leaders self-reflect on:

    1. Use of data to support instruction
    2. The degree to which their curriculum is viable and guaranteed
    3. Results of their continuous development of teachers and staff
    4. Development of a community of care and collaboration
    5. Expression of core school values
    6. Management of resources

A leader’s performance in each of these areas contributes to a successful school. Often, however, leaders will reflect effectively on some areas but assign less focus to others.

Teacher collaboration is sometimes one of those areas of lesser focus, even though it is one of the most important ways that administrators can support teachers.

In Domain 4 of the Focused School Leader Model, Dr. Robert Marzano calls out, in Element 1: “The school leader ensures that teachers work in collaborative groups to plan and discuss effective instruction, curriculum, assessments, and the achievement of each student.”

In School Leadership that Works (2005), Marzano, Waters, and McNulty call these opportunities for teacher interaction “purposeful community” and define that as “a community with the collective efficacy and capability to develop and use assets to accomplish goals that matter to all community members through an agreed-upon process” (p. 99).


Reflecting on Professional Learning Community (PLC) Effectiveness

Most schools now have some version of collaborative processes in place. They may be known as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) or by another name. These teams are usually given some amount of time in which teachers are to plan lessons and units together, perhaps examine student work, etc.

Yet, many teachers continue to wonder whether the time they spend in these teams is really effective in terms of teaching and learning. How does the effective school leader reflect upon and measure current PLC reality and then maximize the results from these teams?

To optimize the use of collaborative time, consider the following:

    • Have the teams developed goals aligned with building and district goals for their work together?
    • How and when do teams analyze their own team results on these goals? What structures and supports can we put in place to help teams with this process? (Timelines, processes, accountability)
    • Is there a standardized agenda or process? If so, are all the critical areas of the work represented?
    • Where teachers plan lessons and units together, to what degree do I see fidelity to those plans in implementation across classrooms during observations?
    • How do I track where the successes and the gaps are in the teams’ work in order to make needed adjustments?
    • When data reveals that a team is not operating effectively, what interventions can we implement to help improve their process and the results?
    • What is the current reality in terms of teacher leadership skills on these teams? How will I measure teachers’ increasing skills in this area?

When the leadership team has answered the questions above, what are the next steps?


A Step-by-Step Guide to Support Teacher Teams through Professional Development

First, in a large group or in small breakout teams, provide teachers with an article or description of some key aspects of a successful PLC team structure.

Have them discuss and highlight those descriptors that are already solid in their own teams. Remind teams to consider “What data would I have to support that claim?”

After discussion and sharing out, identify those descriptors that would be put in a “Not Yet” category and determine a set of action steps to address the highest priority descriptors.

One possible set of successful PLC descriptors to consider:

    • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are in place and meet regularly.
    • PLC teams have set agendas or a set of common expectations for their meetings and share outcomes of meetings with building leaders and/or coaches through notes and minutes.
    • PLCs have written goals that are aligned to building and/or district goals.
    • School leaders regularly examine progress of PLCs towards their goals.
    • Teachers unpack standards and write learning targets demonstrating a progression of knowledge.
    • Teachers work collaboratively to write standards-based unit plans and classroom assessments.
    • Teachers routinely examine student work for alignment to standards.
    • PLCs analyze formative student achievement and growth data.
    • Teachers have opportunities to observe other teachers.

After determining action steps to achieve the priority descriptors, further discuss and plan on what data will be used to track the progress of individual PLC groups in the future.

When these data sources are agreed upon, assist teachers by ensuring they have access to that data on an ongoing basis, as well as a template or structure in which the data will be gathered.

Finally, ask teachers to reflect on their own individual practice within their PLCs and identify one area in which they can assist their teams more effectively.


How to Use iObservation to Support PLC Work

In closing out this school year, and/or planning for the next, explore what iObservation can do to bolster your PLC and other collaborative structures.

For instance:

  • Discussion Groups

    Each PLC team can create a Discussion Group within iObservation easily.  This can become the landing spot for teachers to share ideas, resources, etc., with other members of the team.

 Consider a few benefits of iObservation Discussion Groups –

    • Posting resources: Teachers often run across a resource or see a video and think “I will share that with my PLC.” But time gets away from them or there is too much else to cover within the meeting time. Posting the resources and ideas to their discussion group provides a reservoir of ideas that any member can access at any time, or that can be pulled up within a PLC meeting when time allows.
    • Posting student work: Student data can be easily and quickly uploaded to the Discussion Group instead of waiting until the PLC meeting time, then having each teacher pull out his or her own data. Members can peruse the data before meeting to optimize the use of meeting time.
    • Teams other than PLCs: Teachers may work in cross grade level groups, in content area groups, or in groups specific to a particular instructional element in their growth plans.   All of these can utilize Discussion Groups to maximize their results.
  • Conferences

    In iObservation, users can set up a conference between any two people.  If two people choose to collaborate on a project, an implementation, or an instructional idea, for instance, they can set up a conference in which they can post resources and ideas and collaborate on next steps.

Finally, remember:

“The best strategy for improving schools and districts is developing the collective capacity of educators to function as members of a professional learning community (PLC) – a concept based on the premise that if students are to learn at higher levels, processes are in place to ensure the ongoing, job-embedded learning of the adults who serve them.”
Leaders of Learning (Marzano and Dufour, 2011, p. 21)


National Summer FTEM Virtual Training Sessions
    • New Administrators – Condensed certification course
    • New Teachers – Starting with FTEM course

IE’s Marzano Center is introducing live virtual per seat events for our existing district partners this summer.

This is a convenient and easy way to help your newer teachers and leaders who might have missed your initial training as well as provide another option for training to help prepare your district for next school year!

If you would prefer your own district cohort or if you would rather receive onsite training, connect with us to draft a plan specific to your district.

Complete session details and registration can be found at the following links

  • July 19-20 | 2 Day New Observer Training | Information HERE
  • July 21 morning session | Focused Model through an Equity and Access Lens for New Observers | Information HERE
  • July 21 afternoon session | Marzano Standard Based Planning for Teachers | Information HERE
  • July 22 morning session | Marzano Focused School Leader Model Overview for District and School Leaders | Information HERE


Other Professional Development Opportunities



    • Carbaugh, B.G. & Marzano, R.J. (2018). School leadership for results: A focused model. Instructional Empowerment.
    • DuFour, R. & Marzano, R.J. (2011). Leaders of learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement. Solution Tree.
    • Marzano, R.J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B.A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. ASCD.



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