Working Together: Collaboration Changes the Game

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Everyone needs to be on the same page, knowing what’s expected of them.

By: Scott Sterling, Instructional Empowerment

As we’ve stated before, the primary goal of the learning sciences teacher blog is to foster a community of teachers that help each other strive toward college and career readiness. We might broach the subjects, but you steer the conversation.

After all, education is more complicated than ever before, and we all get by with a little help from our friends.

The same thing needs to happen in your schools. As Roland Barth, a pioneer in educational professional development wrote in 1990, “Unless adults talk with one another, observe one another, and help one another, very little will change.”

Collaboration is key in Learning Sciences’ new Essentials for Achieving Rigor instructional model. The model emphasizes collaboration throughout the teaching cycle beginning with when groups of teachers are trying to identify their educational goals and what success looks like. Collaboration also appears at the end, when teachers figure out if they achieved those goals and, if not, why.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you reformulate your collaboration strategies to better prepare for this new era:

Formality and goals

Informal conversations in the halls or in the teachers’ lounge can serve their own purposes, but to really start moving everyone’s teaching craft forward, there needs to be a bit of formality and process to teacher collaboration. As we discussed last week, PLC and department meetings should focus on achievable goals for each session.

In fact, your collaboration meeting is simply a daily lesson on a grander scale. Just as you approach lesson planning with a series of simple questions, you do the same in the meeting. Richard DuFour identified some possible questions in “What is a Professional Learning Community?”:

  • What do we want each student to learn?
  • How will we know when each student has learned it?
  • How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?


A system of help and action items

Perhaps you’ve worked before in a job outside the school system. Meetings are often focused on the status of certain projects and, if that status is not acceptable, how the right people can get the help they need. That help is often dispensed in “action items” so when the meeting ends, everyone knows what they should be doing.

Learning strategies are going to become more complex as we move toward a more rigorous curriculum. Some teachers, in their honest attempts to move their craft forward, will fall behind. Obviously, talking honestly about their challenges is key to this approach. If you wait for hard data, it might be too late to affect change.

Assuming that someone does struggle the next step is to identify who can help the struggling teacher in that particular strategy. Then, as an action item, identify the goal in that correction and how to know if that goal has been reached.

Next week: Ritual engagement strategies that help assess learning and build rigor

Do you have any more tips for increasing the effectiveness of your meetings? Share them with your colleagues in the comments section.

Want to learn more about classroom strategies that have been shown to measurably increase student achievement? Join us for International Marzano Conference 2014 and talk to Dr. Marzano, our bloggers, and our Center experts in person!