November 11, 2021

One of the favorite buzz-words in education is “collaboration.” Teacher certification programs teach future educators about the value of collaboration. Teaching interviews often inquire about an applicants’ view on collaboration. Administrators often encourage (and require) collaborative learning teams (CLTs) within departments. But for as much as we talk about collaboration, collaboration often becomes a “to-do” item assigned to us from above rather than actively sought out on our own. 

In the hustle-and-bustle of everyday teaching, when more seems to be added daily to our already-overflowing plates, it can be easy to view collaborative activities as a chore rather than a core component of our jobs. But collaboration forces us outside of ourselves and our own narrow view of education. In the process, we grow as educators, honing and refining our craft with each new experience. 

As I’ve grown as an educator, I’ve come to realize that collaborative activities should be carefully curated in much the same way we curate our curriculum materials. Rather than passively waiting for the next collaboration activity to be assigned to us from above, taking the initiative to discover and engage in self-selected collaboration tasks will allow us to engage in development activities that are best suited to our instructional needs. Knowing the most common types of collaborative opportunities and how they can help us grow as educators will enable us to make thoughtful choices as we curate these experiences.

School-Level: School-level collaboration experiences are among the most common forms of peer-to-peer collaboration. Often focused on department- and school-based initiatives, the focus of CLTs is generally relatively narrow. The narrow focus allows educators to dive deeply into issues, goals, and strategies that are most-relevant to the needs of our specific student population, allowing us to target, with laser-precision, the best approach for any given school-based need. 

County-Level: County-level collaboration experiences provide educators an opportunity to explore the needs of our broader community, collaborating on strategies that promote effective instructional approaches and ensure equitable learning experiences across the county, not just within our own schools. My own county, for example, is relatively large, and the student population varies widely from school-to-school. Because of this diversity, teachers in the different schools rely on different instructional approaches to meet the needs of their student-body. Each time we gather at the county-level, we are able to exchange ideas and approaches that increase the effectiveness of our instruction across the community.

State-Level: Expanding the conversation beyond our immediate community, state-level programs allow us to have a voice in educational initiatives on a broader scale. When we think of state-level collaboration, we often think in terms of policy, such as initiatives that involve the periodic review of state educational standards or the like. But state-wide collaborative opportunities can be remarkably diverse. I recently had an opportunity, for example, to collaborate with educators around my state to help develop standards-based lesson plans for Virginia’s open-source initiative, GoOpenVA. The expectation to develop lesson plans that worked for a wide-range of educators and educational settings challenged me to push beyond my usual “go-to” strategies, encouraging me to grow as an educator in the process. 

National-Level: Collaborative experiences at the national level may, at first blush, appear hard to come by. But if you pay attention, the opportunities to collaborate with educators around the country are fairly vast. From nationwide structured educational initiatives such as the National Writing Projects, to less-formal collaborations made possible by social media, opportunities to engage with educators across the U.S. are available to anyone who seeks them out. The advantages to collaborating on such a broad scale cannot be understated. The wealth of knowledge, from authors to instructional approaches, that exists within the educators around our country is nothing short of mind-blowing.  

As you can see, different types of collaborative activities enhance different elements of our instruction. Ensuring that we are regularly seeking out and participating in a wide-range of diverse collaborative experiences helps us expand our knowledge, making us better, more effective teachers in the process. 

About the Author

Andrea Yarbough is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of Artfulness: Formula-Free Creative Writing Explorations for Secondary ELA Classes. Trusted by major organizations with curriculum design and professional workshops, she has extensive experience developing meaningful, effective instruction for students and teachers, resulting in better outcomes with less work. 

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Join Our Mailing List

Never miss an update and get fun freebies to boot! When you subscribe to our blog, not only are you among the first to know when new content posts, but you are also automatically enrolled in Hidden Gems, our subscriber-only resource where you'll find a growing catalog or FREE educator goodies like lesson plans and strategies!