Making the most of collaborative time in schools – Part 1

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Teachers being given time to collaborate on matters pertaining to student learning is crucial to improving schools. While elementary / primary schools may often find it easier to schedule collaborative time, in comparison to secondary divisions, owing to the horizontal organisation of teaching teams, teachers still raise not having enough time to collaborate as one of the factors holding them back from being able to improve student learning outcomes. On the flip-side, when time is given, it is not always used effectively. Teachers can often get bogged down with administrative matters and the essential conversations about student learning do not happen as much as one would like. Further to this, I have seen some teaching teams abandon their use of collaborative time in order to work on their own. This often comes from individual needs overriding those of the collective, or the team not quite knowing what they should meet about. That said, I have observed a number of teaching teams collaborate in some quite amazing ways. They are commonly teams that enjoy being with each other and work interdependently to improve each others’ teaching and learning.

This post is the first of two about collaboration and aims to do the following:

  1. Give educational leaders and teaching teams a list of things that they can collaborate on.
  2. Provide guidance on effectively using collaborative time, so that teaching teams can be more productive.

So what should we collaborate about?

Below are some ideas that collaborative team meetings can be focused around:

  • Checking that unit plans / schemes of work and associated learning outcomes are in line with vertical articulation documents.
  • Writing unit plans / schemes of work and developing the associated assessment tasks and learning engagements.
  • Reflecting on a unit(s) that has just been taught, adjusting what can be corrected at that specific time and planning for amendments to be made prior to the next time the unit is taught.
  • Standardising the marking of student work and checking that teachers fully understand the rubric / mark scheme.
  • Setting up a team skill share. Have experts in the team work with one another to develop new skills. This works particularly well to support the integration of technology in the classroom.
  • Reviewing the student data associated with one or more assignments, so that the data can be used to inform future teaching practice.
  • Developing resources that support second-language English learners, develop student literacy or build academic vocabulary.
  • Discussing how students can be given better feedback both verbally and written. Develop any new resources to support this.
  • Examining how well your team are differentiating for students and work together to develop tasks that support either more gifted or less able learners.
  • Considering how your team’s classroom displays support student learning and take steps to improve this.
  • Coming up with new and creative ways for students to reflect and evaluate on their work, beyond the written form.
  • Spicing-up the digital resources that are used by the team that make the visuals more attractive and attention grabbing.

The list above is by no means exhaustive but is to be viewed as a start at helping teams organise their collaborative agenda. As educational leaders, while providing the necessary time for collaboration, we must take away any excuses for not using the time given by ensuring that our team leaders can set goals and organise agendas in support of improving the student learning experience but also in support of teacher professional growth.

photo credit: ralphbijker via photopin cc

Published by Richard Bruford

Richard is currently Secondary School Principal of Suzhou Singapore International School, one of China's leading international schools. He leads workshops across the Asia-Pacific region for the International Baccalaureate in the areas of pedagogical leadership and approaches to teaching and learning. Richard consults with schools on the topics of school improvement and effective implementation and use of technology. With a background in public and independent school education in the UK and Australia, Richard is enjoying his international school adventure in China. He is passionate about developing and supporting educational leaders, as it is essential to improving all schools. Richard is a proud family man and feels lucky to be married to Kim and father of their son Austin. In his spare time Richard enjoys to swim, bike and run and is a now retired football player and coach (with occasional guest appearances)

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