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Collaboration as a Reflective Practice for Teachers

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Have you ever felt isolated as a teacher and thought about collaboration? In this lesson, we will discuss some different forms of collaborative, reflective professional development for educators that allow teachers to learn from one another and view their own instructional practices in a more objective way.

Reflective Collaboration

Typically, we think of reflective practices as opportunities to consider our own skills in an effort to identify challenging areas and create an action plan. Although self-reflection sometimes feels safer, we all have blind spots that we are unable to view objectively. Collaboration for the purpose of reflecting on teacher effectiveness can provide insights and inspirations that may not come through other forms of professional development. Let's learn more about some collaborative, reflective professional development opportunities.

Professional Learning Communities

As teachers take charge of their own professional learning experiences, Professional Learning Communities (PLC) have increased in popularity. Professional learning communities are small groups of professionals, frequently from the same grade-level or content area, who share common goals. PLCs meet regularly to collaborate about instructional practices that are specific to helping students master the focus standards that are pulled from required state standards. During the first PLC meeting, teachers identify SMART goals (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Timely) and develop an action plan. During each subsequent meeting, teachers discuss these essential questions:

  • What do we expect students to learn?
  • How will we know they are learning?
  • How will we respond when they don't learn?
  • How will we respond if they already know the material?

Members of PLCs share leadership and responsibility for collective student improvement across the grade-level or content area.

Mentoring Programs and Peer Observation

Frequently, teachers who are new to the profession are paired with more experienced teachers by school administrators. However, many of the most successful mentoring relationships are initiated by teachers who want to learn from someone they have chosen out of respect for their professional practices. A mentor provides counsel on where to find resources, how to handle classroom management issues, and how to write lessons that work. Oftentimes, new teachers will observe their mentor teacher during instructional times, and will ask their mentor to observe them to provide feedback. New teachers and mentors regularly meet to discuss classroom issues.

Once a teacher moves past the first few years in the classroom, peer observation or peer assessment may replace mentoring for continued improvement of both educators. Peer observation is a collaborative approach to professional development in which teachers improve their practice by watching each other and offering feedback. Observations are beneficial for both the person who is observing who will inevitably pick up on new techniques, and also the one who is being observed if followed by a meaningful, professional conversation. Observations are more meaningful if followed by both a discussion and a plan to apply what has been learned.

Peer-assessments are another professional development tool for teachers. Pre-written peer-assessment scales are available from a variety of internet sites and professional books. However, teacher-created scales are also informative. Peer-assessments may address goals regarding student-teacher relationships, behavior plans, bulletin boards, lesson plans, student engagement, grading practices, or any other areas that teachers may want to improve.

Critical Friends Groups (CFG)

As part of National School Reform, a formal professional development program has been developed in which a small group of educators voluntarily comes together, led by a trained Critical Friends Group coach, to consult with one another in an effort to build the collective efficacy of the group. Critical Friends support professional growth by providing objective and honest feedback. The philosophy aligned with Critical Friends Groups helps reduce teacher isolation. Teachers need to give and receive constructive criticism to help each other learn and grow. Professional educators that value the opportunity to reflect on their professional growth with trusted peers find a Critical Friends Group useful.

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