Seven Tips to Make Teacher Collaboration Time Productive
Seven Tips to Make Teacher Collaboration Time Productive: Walk into a school today and you will rarely see teachers independently planning for instruction. Teachers today are expected to collaboratively plan, teach, and reflect. As a curriculum program coordinator, I spent many days working with groups of teachers during their common planning time. I found that some teachers dislike group planning because they believe it can be unproductive. However, the benefits of working collaboratively are too great to dismiss the practice. Concerted efforts must be made to ensure that common planning time enhances instruction, saves time, and is valued by teachers. The question then becomes: how is productive common planning time achieved?
Common planning time is most effective when team members establish ground rules at the beginning of the school year. Below are several that I have found to be effective; however, every team is different and must develop their own rules based on the needs and objectives of the team.
1. Establish roles
Determine who will be doing what at each team meeting and develop an organized system. For example, a team may need someone to set the agenda, keep the time, take minutes, or bring food (each of these is discussed in greater detail below). Many teams rotate these responsibilities, while others assign roles to individuals for the entire year. Also, an administrator may take on one or more of these roles if he or she is leading the meeting.
2. Set an agenda for each meeting.
For each meeting, a clear purpose must be identified. This purpose may be determined by an administrator, discussed at a prior meeting, or agreed upon by the team based on the week’s instruction. It is important that the meeting’s purpose be relevant to all team members. Once the purpose is set, the needs an agenda that includes realistic goals for the time allotted. Cramming too much on the “to do” list can result in the team merely skimming the surface of topics and may cause frustration. The agenda should also specify time limits for each item, and an assigned timekeeper should be responsible for keeping the group on track.
3. Ensure that all participants are prepared for the meeting.
Once the agenda is set, it should be emailed to the team members along with a description of how teachers should prepare. Preparation may include bringing work samples, curriculum materials, or lesson plans. It may also require that teachers read an article or preview a website that someone would like to share. If a team is meeting to discuss a previously taught unit or lesson, ask each teacher to jot down written notes prior to the meeting, which will help to ensure that each person has had an opportunity to reflect before sitting down with the entire team.
4. Take notes during the meeting.
One team member should be asked to take notes. Detailed minutes are not required (unless your school/district mandates it), but it is helpful to have a record of the team’s accomplishments. The note taker should always record the topics covered in the meeting and any action items that may need to be addressed. It is also beneficial to record all lesson ideas, suggested materials, and helpful resources. All teachers should receive a copy of the notes for their records.
5. Bring closure to the meeting and delegate responsibilities.
The timekeeper should provide a five-minute warning so that there is ample time to wrap up the meeting and create an action plan. To maintain a healthy team relationship, responsibilities should be delegated before the meeting concludes. The note taker should record and email these as a reminder after the meeting. It’s easy to forget what happened in a meeting after returning to the hustle of the classroom. Dividing responsibilities also reinforces the benefits of collaboration. The workload is shared so that planning and preparations become more efficient.
6. Select a starting and stopping time.
A meeting can’t start just as the children are escorted down the hallway. Teachers need time for a bathroom break or to prepare their classroom for the next instructional period. Five to ten minutes between activities seems to be a reasonable range for everyone to get settled and ready for a productive meeting. Also, think about a good stopping time. Teachers need to have travel time to punctually pick up their children from special classes, lunch or recess.
7. Satisfy the appetite.
A meeting is not a meeting without a little nibble food. Sweets are never a bad idea, but healthy, energy-rich foods will also give teammates the extra boost to enthusiastically tackle the meeting’s agenda.
Taking time to establish ground rules is vital in creating a productive team. However, common planning time may not always run smoothly. Not everyone is ready to give up their time and these individuals may not cooperate with the group. If this happens, invite an administrator to the meetings. If collaboration is a school goal, it is not a teacher’s responsibility to oversee a colleague’s participation. On the other hand, a team could be reaching new heights during common planning time and an administrator would benefit from sitting in on a meeting. As many of us have experienced in our classrooms, working together takes effort, but the results so often prove that two heads are better than one.
an article written by Laura Owen for teaching.monster.com