Teacher collaboration: professional learning in modern learning environments

Published: 04 Sep 2017
Teachers | Kaiako
Professional development
Professional capability
Evaluation indicators
Improvement in Action Te Ahu Whakamua


“We’re all in this together.”

Working together to determine what the collaboration and teamwork looks like on a day-to-day basis has been a critical and continued focus of professional learning and team dialogue at Stonefields School.

Key messages:

  • The Modern Learning Environment means teachers are working more closely together ‘at the time of teaching’ than ever before
  • Opportunities for ‘incidental learning’ are frequent and the visibility of others practice can accelerate personal professional growth
  • Relationships become critical including strategies to address what’s not going well
  • Need to develop the capacity in everyone to have the ‘hard to have conversations’
  • Learner-focused problem solving
  • Modeling collaborative behaviours to learners

Things to think about:

  • What is it that effective teams do?
  • What characterises their interactions?  

The evaluation indicators this video illustrates

  • Domain 5: Professional capability and collective capacity
    • Evaluation Indicator
      • Organisational structures, processes and practices enable and sustain collaborative learning and decision making

This video is part of a series

This video is part of the series Improvement in Action Te Ahu Whakamua. We created this series to inspire schools with examples of success in action. These examples highlight the benefits of fulfilling the evaluation indicators we use to review schools.

Remote video URL

PROFESSOR 1: The way that that's going to look is it's a data day with Jeanie and Georgie. And we're going to be looking at interrogating our data as a team, looking at what we've got, where it needs to go. And we're going to be doing a gap analysis.

SARAH MARTIN: We're not a school of star teachers. It is all about way. Lots of people come here thinking that they're really collaborative but they've never functioned IN a team the way they do here.

PROFESSOR 2: Next week, for our learning is the late one. And the idea behind that is so we can share with each other, we can collaborate with each other. I mean you could go home and make the resources by yourself. But being in that collaborative space to actually bounce ideas ofF OF each other is going to be beneficial for everyone.

SARAH MARTIN: It's critical as adults that we role model collaborating with one another and working alongside our peers, working alongside our parents, and working alongside our children. It's not something we leave to chance. And we've spent a lot of time unpacking and looking at what does transformational collaboration look like.

CHRIS BRADBEER: One of the things that's part of the shift in terms of learning environments is the fact that teachers are working with larger cohorts of students. But they're working with other teachers at the time of teaching at the interface with students. Which is something that we haven't done a whole heap of before. For much of the collaboration that we've engaged in as teachers, it's generally happened somewhere else and at a different time and away from the students.

Collaboration is one of those things that's highly sought after. It's seen as predisposition for current learners. PSA tests are now going to be starting to look at the collaborative problem solving, for example, as well as the science, and English, and maths. So the question is for students, where do they see that happening? The schools we need to be modeling. And as teachers, we need to be practicing what we preach in terms of working together in collaboration.

SHEENA CAMPBELL: The culture here and our learning habit as multiple teachers is that they are our kids. And it's all we, not I, not my learners.

JENNIFER RUCKER: You can have four teachers in a space like this and still have very single cell practices. We could easily just go into our little space, stay there all day, keep our same kids, not really talk to each other. But that's not how we roll it. And we can see his stage. We're putting him on the stage forward. We just don't come together in the morning. And then after school, we're all in this together. It's not an easy thing to do but just try to help each other out.

SARAH MARTIN: The most powerful and influential professional learning is the incidental things that happen on the hop. It's the little [INAUDIBLE] before the start of the day. It's the touching base at the end of the day. It's the little conversation and the moment when you're in a shared space to be able to reflect and see what needs to happen.

GEORGIE HAMILTON: We're quite conscious as teachers that we're using our time efficiently, that we are collaborating but that we're collaborating on the things that need to have all three or all five of us sitting it. And that actually if it's a thing that needs delegating, that we delegate. We're quite conscious about not adding an extra things without thinking about the things that we already have and whether they're all still relevant.

OLLIE BAKER: The time you spend together is invaluable. And because you see everything, you see the really good. But you see the really bad as well. The level of self questioning that you are able to undertake yourself, and then that reflection that you can have with your colleagues at the end of the day is just phenomenal. I've learnt so much in my first year. And then every year, that just compounds it. And it's just been overwhelming at times but in a fantastic way.

CHRIS BRADBEER: The relationships become absolutely critical. For there to be effective collaboration, you need to have high levels of trust. Common understandings of how we're going to address things when things don't work. And often, the things that become the biggest elephant in the room are often the smallest things like, Chris is always late to his meetings, or Chris is always really untidy, or he's left the paint brushes out again. Sometimes, little things can become the big things. One of the things we've actively worked on and continue to work on is around that notion of developing teachers capacity to have those hard to have conversations.

GEORGIE HAMILTON: When we have those hard to have conversations, they're not about me or about you or about any particular person, they're about a thing that we're trying to work on together to get better at. So it is always evidence based. It's based on something that's happened or something that we want to happen and how are we going to get there rather than I've done something or you've done something. That's, hey, these learners need this. And we've tried this and this. And those two things haven't worked. Why do we think they haven't worked?

What I'm thinking where to next is for those not yet learners. I need to now target those six kids for the remaining six months. And look at why is it they're not making the progress. Strategies to shift them.

EMILY RUFFELL: Really listening to each other's perspectives is hugely important. You might not necessarily agree with the perspectives all the time but actually just accepting them. And then coming back to that big goal of what are we aiming for. Putting all those ideas on the table and saying, which do we think as a collective we want to go with. And negotiating and compromising to make that decision is what really works and what accelerates a collaborative team.

KATHERINE JACKSON: That whole idea that you're collaborating with other people. And it takes a village to raise a child. And it's bigger than anyone could imagine that you could do by yourself. And all the thinking, the ideas, and the bounce and the synergy, you just get that lift. I've never experienced anything so successful.

CHRIS BRADBEER: We've picked up on a phrase that Mary Wilson from Baverstock, Oaks had used around the notion of its we-go not ego. We talk about the learning hubs as a we-space not on I-space. That's quite a paradigm shift for all of us and working in this way. In order to get the most out of the collaboration, you do need to leave a little bit of yourself by the door.

I think people become better teachers when they're working so collaboratively with others. When you see constant modeling, this constant mentoring, constant support, constant questioning, constant dialogue, at a professional level that really is quite profound.

And when you talk to the kids, they talk about the relationship between adults that they see. Adults problem solving together and having fun together. And students will talk about the fact that the teachers have got better. They're talking so much more about us and about our learning. How could they not get better? It's hard work but it's massively rewarding.