Even though most teachers and school administrators agree that teacher collaboration leads to improved outcomes for both teachers and students, many schools are still not providing enough time for teachers to work together during school hours. Of course, there are many challenges in building a master schedule that gives teachers this time, but there is also a growing body of research showing the significant benefits of facilitating effective collaboration. Teacher collaboration is an important element for school improvement across the nation, and even more important when it comes to implementing a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) approach, and certainly worth taking a deeper dive.
Benefits of Teacher Collaboration
We know that when teachers work together, great things can happen-- Team Work Makes the Dream Work! Some of the benefits include:
Embedded professional development. Oftentimes, when there is an identified area of growth for an individual teacher, there is someone else in the building who has developed the targeted skills this teacher is working on. Allowing teachers to observe each other and debrief together can help them learn from each other in highly contextualized ways that are immediately applicable to their practice.
Improved school culture. When teachers work in teams, it allows them to build meaningful relationships with their colleagues and it gives them the sense of being a part of something bigger. This sense of belonging can positively affect school culture, which of course can directly affect student learning.
Increased time and efficiency. If teachers meet in teams on a regular basis, they can facilitate the exchange of ideas and work together. One teacher may plan one unit and gather materials, while another takes the following unit. Time is a teacher’s most valuable resource, so anything that helps improve efficiency is a win!
Better use of data to guide decision-making. Data should always be a part of teacher meetings. When analyzing data as a team, trends can be identified and discussed at a deeper level. Rather than just looking at their individual students’ data, they can be looking at grade-level and school-level data, and even comparing their school data to their district and to others using a nationally-normed assessment.
Shared sense of responsibility. Teachers working together realize that they all have a responsibility to their students. This is especially true for cross-curricular collaboration. When English and History teachers work together, for example, they can share units and use each others’ areas of expertise and skills to guide students to a higher level of rigor. They can also learn new things about their students from other educators that impact their ability to connect with and support their students.
MTSS is an intentional framework that, at its heart, focuses on growth through collaboration and multi-faceted approaches to student support by integrating academic, behavioral and social-emotional instructions. In the MTSS framework, teachers and support staff are expected to collaborate to analyze student data and make action plans. Those in need of additional support are identified, and interventions are planned, provided, and monitored.
As is often the case, knowing that something works and can have a great impact is not enough to just simply make it happen. There are many models for building teacher collaboration, including professional learning communities (PLCs), grade-level teams, and cross-curricular teams. The model that is implemented varies greatly depending on individual school needs, such as student enrollment numbers, faculty make-up (seasoned vs. new teachers), and academic factors. Regardless of the model being used, there are common strategies that will lead to successful teacher collaboration.
Ensure there is time built into the master schedule for teachers to meet
If you do not make time for it, it will not get done. While this can be extremely challenging, building common planning periods into the school’s schedule for content teams or cross-curricular teams is crucial, as well as times for grade teams, school level, and individual student support MTSS teams to meet.
Assign rotating roles
Teachers should take turns with different roles for their weekly meetings. These roles should include a facilitator, a time-keeper, and a note-taker. Additionally, someone should be in charge of creating a weekly agenda, though this role may or may not rotate, depending on the team’s structure.
Always prepare an agenda before the meeting and distribute it to all team members prior to the meeting
Provide administrator support before, during, and after team meetings
Administrators should be involved in team collaboration. They should provide assistance to facilitators working on meeting agendas; they should be aware of the challenges that are discussed during team meetings so they can help problem-solve; and, they should follow up with teachers who need support.
Consistency is key
As with any new initiative, remaining consistent with expectations is crucial for success. Teacher teams should establish a reasonable cadence for their meetings and stick to it for the school year.
In general, when educators work together, they form important professional and personal relationships. Teachers often draw support from each other and can delegate tasks in ways that help them collectively be more effective. More specifically, within the work of MTSS, collaboration is a MUST. Core instruction teachers, interventionists, school staff and more, need to share information and insights that enable each of them to understand and support their students holistically. If teachers are not able to meet and/or collaborate in a way that allows that flow of information, it is very hard to be true to the MTSS approach.
Collaboration between teachers contributes to school improvement and student success when it’s done right. Thankfully technology has made collaboration easier and much more streamlined. At Branching Minds, we have created a platform that helps save teachers time and effort, while building their capacity to have collaborative data-driven problem-solving conversations that drive strong student outcomes equitably. To learn more, request a demo.
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Learn about the Branching Minds Infrastructure Coaching Series, that helps school and district leaders streamline and improve their RTI/MTSS practice at the system-level, helping them to achieve consistent high-fidelity practice, build capacity for educators, and deliver positive outcomes for all students.
Ms. Diaz Henderson is a Customer Success Manager at Branching Minds, where she works diligently to develop strong relationships with district partners to ensure they meet their MTSS goals. Before joining Branching Minds, Ms. Henderson had an extensive career working in education, first as an ESL and English teacher, then as an Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction, and finally as an Operations Manager. While working as an instructional leader, Katya worked closely with classroom teachers, helping them grow professionally and supporting them personally. As an operations leader, she developed experience in managing all campus operations, notably increasing her campus attendance rates and meeting campus recruitment goals. She holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and a M. Ed. from Lamar University.