Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Defining Collaborative Teaching

If educators are to meet the goal of helping each child reach their full intellectual potential, then teachers need to learn how to engage in collaborative teaching experiences. But what does it mean to collaborate? The absence of a common definition for collaboration is a major hurdle blocking the path to achieving the goal of having teachers work together to improve the performance of their students.

There are several levels of collaboration. For some teachers, collaboration looks like this scenario: Teacher A and teacher B teach next door to each other. During morning hall duty, teacher A announces that she is teaching the American Revolution. Teacher B is thrilled to hear this because he is planning to have his students read, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Both teachers agree to coordinate their lessons so that students can have what they are learning about the American Revolution supported by a classic poem found in the literature book. Is this serendipitous meeting of two teachers on hall duty an example of collaboration? Maybe.

While this may be a very “lite” version of collaboration, it does qualify as a plausible example of teachers working together to make connections across curriculum. This is a very low level definition of collaboration. After all, an honest argument could be made that this type of collaboration is certainly better than no collaboration.
If only Teacher A and Teacher B could check their calendars and begin scheduling weekly meetings they could create a true collaborative relationship. Together, they would begin to construct fully structured bridges between their curriculums that would not only bring them deep professional satisfaction, more importantly; they would enrich the learning experiences of their students.

Try to picture the collaborative environment Teacher A and Teacher B could produce. Can you see each teacher bringing their respective curriculum guides to their first meeting? Teacher A reads her American Revolution standard and all the related benchmarks and learning outcomes. Teacher B scans his skill based curriculum and finds reading, writing, speaking, and research benchmarks which could be easily met through Teacher A’s curriculum. Together, these teachers begin to see how cross curricular teaching allows them to see the deep and authentic connections between their curriculums. Very quickly, they pull their once isolated standards into a web which captures the attention and interest of their Generation E students.

When Teacher A and Teacher B begin to define collaboration as a deep partnership between educators in which curriculum is studied and understood by teams of teachers across curriculum, they will be embarking on a journey to the highest levels of collaboration. When an understanding of the connections between curriculums is brought into their classrooms, the links between knowledge disciplines will become heavily traveled highways. Their students will be the beneficiaries of this journey to the pinnacle of teaching.

As these model teachers continue to work together, their collaboration will gain depth and complexity. They will know their partner’s curriculum as well as they know their own. They can not fail to notice the transformative power of their students’ growing interest and deepening knowledge. Their students are no longer passive and almost lifeless classroom occupants. They have become excited learners. Something miraculous is happening. Teachers who work collaboratively at this high level begin to experience the true joy of teaching. They are no longer isolated, but more importantly, they can see their students growing toward the end goal of education: independent, critical thinking.

No teacher is an island, and as teachers realize this and move to a higher and more profound definition of collaboration, they will make a fundamental and positive change in their own lives and the lives of their students. The net result of this change will be better teaching and better learning.