How teachers can collaborate this year

How teachers can band together to collaborate successfully this year


When Allison Johnson worked with teams of teachers as a school instructional coach, she usually started meetings by helping set ground rules. Before teams made major decisions — or even talked about them — they thought about what their meetings should look like and how they’d handle conflict.

During a hectic workday filled with classes, conferences and Zoom calls, it’s a step that feels tempting to skip.

“We assume adults automatically know how to work together,” said Johnson, an affiliate faculty member in the Regis University Division of Education. “And I’ve found that it is so much more complex than getting a group of people together and saying, ‘Let’s talk about X and decide on Y.’ My experience with collaboration has been that you need to be very proactive so you’re not reactive.”

Johnson, who retired from her role as instructional coach last year, said she understands the inclination to get right to the point during a meeting. But as a difficult school year continues, planning ahead of time may be more important now than ever.

Johnson recommended the following strategies for successfully working with a team:

Build community. “I always say, ‘Before you can talk about the tough stuff or the hard stuff, you have to be able to talk about the light stuff,’” Johnson said. Get to know your colleagues. What are their work styles like? How does each personality work with others?

Decide how you will run meetings. Consider whether your team will use a facilitator, what your agenda will look like and how you’ll keep time.

After that, Johnson said, agree on communication expectations, and establish how the group will make decisions. Will you vote or decide by consensus? Will just one team member make the decision, or will there be a discussion?

Plan for conflict. “It’s going to happen,” Johnson said. So, before it does, she recommends asking: “How are we going to manage difficult conversations?”

“Not all of this is going to be Skittles and rainbows,” she said. “We’re going to make some big decisions, and we might have some hard conversations, either with each other, with parents or with students. And I think deciding all of this ahead of time saves hurt feelings, it saves time, it saves all of that second-guessing.”

Use the same strategies for students. In the classroom, spend time building community, discussing conflict and setting expectations.

“We have to be able to have structures and processes that make our classroom move smoothly,” Johnson said. “We're going to talk about how we celebrate because that's something we have to do.”

Remember the benefits of planning ahead of time. “Because things are so stressful and there's so much on our plates, the more we can talk about collaboration communication, the better,” Johnson said. “You're never going to stop collaborating. That's never going to be taken off your plate, so you might as well add some seasoning on your plate.”

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