By Andrew Hawk
One of the best ways to ensure the success of a school is collaboration among teachers. Collaboration promotes a school’s curriculum being followed with fidelity and provides all students in the school similar learning experiences even though they have different teachers. Collaboration across grade levels and subject areas can help the curriculum align vertically to elevate students to their full academic potential.
However, there are hurdles that can stand in the way of true collaboration. The biggest of these is time. Teaching and preparing to teach are grueling and time-consuming work. Even though there is much value in teachers collaborating, this collaboration is always at risk of being a casualty to the daily grind of running a classroom. The good news is that there are things principals can do to help make time for teachers to collaborate. Here are some ideas you might try.
1. Build in Common Prep Time
Depending on how a school’s schedule is arranged, teachers may or may not have common prep time. Having this time even once a week is a great way to start promoting collaboration between your teachers. By building this time into your schedule, you will not have to work out coverage or pay for substitutes. Review your schedule and see if there are any adjustments you can make.
2. Provide Substitutes
Finding substitutes right now is a major challenge. So I understand this tip is easier said than done. You can always start small with the amount of time you bring in substitutes. It can still be a great way to allow your teachers time to meet. Perhaps have one grade level per half day until you have cycled through your building.
If there are literally no substitutes, are there any teaching assistants who could cover classrooms? I worked with a high school principal once who always told his staff he would personally come and sub in their classrooms if they would go and observe colleagues in action. We have to continue to look for creative solutions to today’s challenges.
3. Model Expectations
If you are going to encourage your subordinates to work with team members to plan lessons and solve problems, they should see you doing the same thing. The hectic schedule of an administrator sometimes prevents us from being able to meet during the school day. I recommend working stories of your own collaboration experiences into conversations you have with your staff members.
4. Fund Professional Development Trips
I know a lot of school districts have moved away from professional development trips because they can be costly. However, they also remove a lot of distractions and allow teachers to better focus on working with their colleagues and on the professional development itself. If funding is a challenge in your district, you can always explore grants. You may also be able to receive donations from your local community or from your parents’ organization.
5. Survey Teacher Needs
It is rarely a bad idea to gather data from teachers or students. I have found that sometimes people have an easier time describing their obstacles this way. You may be missing a valuable piece of the puzzle. Try sending a brief survey to your teachers about when they think would be the best time for them to collaborate.
6. Provide the Tools
As we are all aware, the pandemic shutdowns turned many peoples’ lives upside down. We had to rethink a lot of our daily operations. The best bet for your teachers may be to collaborate virtually during their off hours. Find out if all of your teachers have what they need to make this possible. I know my school has sent “hot spot” devices home with staff and students.
7. Offer Incentives
My last superintendent worked out an interesting incentive program to encourage teacher collaboration. Teachers would observe other teachers to learn new teaching ideas and strategies. The teacher who was observed received a $25 stipend. The teacher who came to observe received a $25 dollar stipend for observing and could receive another $25 after they tried out the new idea or strategy they observed. This was an effective way to promote teachers talking with one another, because they had to discuss their strengths and weaknesses as they tried to pair up for the observations.
8. Compensate for Summer Collaboration
Most teachers who I have worked with over the years do not mind working a few days during the summer if they are compensated. Last year, I used a portion of money allotted from a grant to pay my grade-level teams to come in and complete curriculum mapping for up to 10 hours during the summer. Similar to sending teachers on professional development trips, giving them the opportunity to collaborate during the summer removes a lot of the distractions that come with the grind of teaching.
I hope you’ll try some of these tips to get your teachers collaboration. And share your ideas in the comments.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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