Dolph Petris | March 2019

Intentional Collaboration in the Classroom

One definition of collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce or create something. Sounds great, but there are many logistical hurdles that must first be addressed. Conflicting priorities, meetings to attend, parents to speak with, student issues to work out… who’s got time to collaborate? But we all know it: intentional collaboration in the teaching world is essential!

Any creatively executed project begins with teacher collaboration. I’m sharing a simple three-step collaboration approach to help you develop fresh and exciting curriculum for your students. If followed, your students will show increased engagement, and you will have the results you seek.

Take the Plunge

How often have we inadvertently pigeonholed ourselves into tunneled teaching? We focus on the standards, which is essential. But then we forget to use the strengths and knowledge base of those in our own organization! Keeping the Door Open to Collaboration discusses much of what probably occurs at your school. It also addresses how two teachers who didn’t initially click found success in their collaboration. How? By focusing on what was good for their students. Their protocol helped to set the stage to plan for teacher creativity and student success.

When we acknowledge the value and importance of intentionally reaching out to others by making connections, we grow professionally. Think about how our brain works for a second. Through electrical impulses in our synapses and connections. The Divided Brain, by Iain McGilchrist, is a fascinating presentation on the incredible connections within the human brain and how not one section of our brain can work in isolation.

The more synapse connections that we have, the better for our brain power. So it goes without saying that the more professional connections we have, the better for our teaching practice! By taking the plunge and proactively committing to collaborate with your team – or any other teacher for that matter – you are automatically doing each other a favor.

Designate Focused Time Together

After making the decision to take the plunge, designate specific and protected time to meet with one another. Focus on desired accomplishments and goals… possibilities of what can be. Think of the first and/or second collaboration meeting as your brainstorming session(s).

This is the time to “blue-sky” it together. No idea is a bad idea. Dream. Do not allow possibilities to become squandered with questions like “how are we going to do that?” Logistical issues can always be worked out. If it is not impossible, then it must be possible. You simply need to figure out how to make it happen.

Collaborating on Project Based Learning discusses the harmonization aspect of collaborating with another teacher, or a team of teachers in order to reach full learning potential possibilities.

Enrichment matters

It was through this collaboration that I was able to enrich a lesson for my students while learning fractions in math. What resulted during my collaboration time was the idea for a very fun STEAM-type activity that involved Legos.

After downloading and printing Lego Challenge Cards I randomly gave each of my students a card. Their task was to build whatever challenge the card posed. My students had a great time and were very creative with the result of their end product.

They not only had a great time being individually creative within the boundaries of their challenge card, but they also had the opportunity to sit and chat with their friends, while being productive! The next day, we associated their three-dimensional lego creation along with fractions. I had students count the total number of pieces in their creation, then count the total number of individual colors that comprised their creation. It was great to see the smiles of success in every student as they were able to see the connection of fractions to their fun brick-building activity. They better understood what fractions were all about. They gained a wholistic understanding on the purpose of fractions in mathematics and the best part… I didn’t have to tell them because they experienced it all on their own.

I owe this lesson success to intentional teacher collaboration because I had not thought of this creative, and hands-on slant.

Allow Flexibility and Change

Easy to say, not always so easy to permit in our practice. As teachers we want the best for our students and therefore we place high expectations not only on them, but ourselves as well. Due to this high bar we place on ourselves, we can often become frustrated when things do not play out as planned.

Follow-up teacher collaboration will no doubt shed much light on past planning and actual lesson implementation. You will discuss the usual ‘what went well, and what didn’t’. This is the time to remain open to possibilities, as you did during your initial meetings together. During discussion, each perspective on lesson implementation needs to be heard and reflected upon. There will be change. There will be modifications to the lesson. Allow this to occur and
embrace the new possibilities that surface. I don’t believe I ever conducted a lesson and thought afterward to myself “That was perfect the way it was, I will bottle it and not change a thing.”

We often encourage our students to ‘go with the flow’, so our practice should not reflect otherwise.

Other benefits of collaboration

Student success is obviously the first goal of collaboration but collaboration also helps in more ways than just lesson planning. It helps me with my mood, my outlook on the day, the week, the year. Selfishness aside, it helps my teaching partner as well because we are able to bounce ideas off one another. We are able to encourage and cheer one another up when frustration levels rise.

Creative teaching is not automatically granted with accumulated years in our profession. Yes, it may help to add to our overall experience, but years of experience is not indicative of success. Our success, your success, is how you use the information that is not only in front of you but around the corner where you have to look in order to find. We all like to find out what’s inside the box. You now have permission to open more than just one.

About the Author

Dolph holds a Bachelors of Science, Product Design from Art Center College of Design and a Masters degree in Education. He has spent most of his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in the elementary school setting with a focus on Gifted and Talented Education and is currently teaching a 5/6 combo in Fullerton, California. He and his wife have several four-legged kids: Bonnie and Clyde, Golden Retriever litter-mates, a street-rescued stray that looks like ‘Benji’ named Noel, Athena the cat, and two American Quarter horses.