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Genuine Professional Collaboration

Recently I overheard a conversation between two eye doctors. One was treating a patient who had had a glue gun malfunction, spraying glue all over his eyes. “Yesterday, cleansing away the glue went far better than expected,” the doctor reported. “but I had him come in again today. Now the cornea is clouding and…” He went on to describe his concerns and a possible treatment. My own doctor listened carefully, asked some questions, and called another doctor into the conversation. Together they raised pros and cons of various options and helped the attending physician decide what to do.

All too often, I find that teachers shy away from such collaboration. Maybe they’re afraid that they’ll be judged if anyone finds out that they are struggling with a student or a teaching strategy or certain required concept. Maybe veteran teachers are only sharing what is going well in their classrooms. Maybe they’re thinking, “If I were really a master teacher, I could solve this on my own.”

WRONG. My eye doctor and his colleagues have extensive advanced training, around 20 years of experience, and are each experts in certain eye conditions. Yet, they actively consult with one another. Don’t you agree that teaching is every bit as complex as medical practice? ! Collaboration helps you multiply your own experience in the best interest of your students.

Veteran teachers can jump-start this kind of valuable collaboration by taking three steps:

  1. Start. Get the ball rolling. First, reflect on your own practice. For which classroom management dilemmas or teaching strategies might your colleagues have helpful ideas? Then, at your next department or professional learning community meeting, ask for advice regarding one of these. You can describe a possible solution, but express your concerns with it.
  2. Solicit. Veteran teachers, in a mistaken notion of professional courtesy, may be reluctant to critique. You may have to ask for specific advice. “Has anyone else tried this? What should I keep in mind? How did you avoid ____? Let’s hear how each of us does ____” are the kinds of questions that encourage sharing. New teachers may not think their advice will be valued. Yes, they lack experience but they may have great new ideas from their supervising teachers or coursework. New teachers are often most reluctant to share their struggles, so ensuring that they see collaboration as reciprocal can increase their openness.
  3. Share. Telling stories about how others helped you improve your teaching practice can both model what you hope to see happen and convince others that such collaboration is not only worth their time but an essential professional practice.

Try it—it’s the foundation of what I call Deep, Level III collaboration, the only kind of collaboration that truly improves student learning.

Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. What a wonderful way of reminding us that collaboration among professional is something we and our clients might benefit from, no matter how much experience and training we might personally have. Thanks, Jane, for your insight!

    Richard Chandler

    1. Great post. I have always thought that it was a teacher’s role to provide a safe learning environment for students to learn. As a teacher I do provide a framework and, yes, I do often begin lessons with some instructions or guides but then it has always been my intention/goal to let the students take ownership of their next steps in learning. It is wonderful when you see the students become involved in something and the work is often amazing.This works better in some classes than others however. Many students are very comfortable with the notion that the teacher will tell them what they need to know and they will then “learn it” to pass their test. The “learning” goes no deeper than that and the students feel no responsibility to actively engage in their learning or apply it to their “real” lives. It is almost the case that you have to help them unlearn this behaviour and go back to their early childhood where everything was a learning experience. Our NAPLAN testing does nothing to help in this area either.

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