Debate Magazine

Teacher Collaboration is Important, but Not for the Reasons We Might Think

By Stevemiranda

I read a story in Miller-McCune last week on the value of teachers collaborating. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Here’s an excerpt:

A large body of research shows that mandatory teacher collaboration, sometimes called “professional learning communities,” gets results. The world’s best school systems foster a culture of sharing what works and what doesn’t. [They do this] not by firing teachers but by making them accountable to each other.

“Every year, the teachers say the single most important thing that’s made a difference in student achievement is collaboration,” [principal Sherri] Franson says. “Any other school like us could do the same thing.”

As a classroom teacher, I always very much enjoyed the times I got to collaborate with colleagues. And, I think it did make me a better teacher.

But the thing is, I don’t think those collaboration sessions made me better because I was suddenly “accountable” to anyone. And I don’t think I benefitted from “what works and what doesn’t,” because I don’t think it’s possible to separate the lesson plan from the teacher. That is, what worked for my friend Adam did not guarantee that it would work for me, simply because we’re different people with different styles. I wrote lesson plans that were fantastic for me but fell flat with colleagues because it didn’t come from within them.

Sharing lesson plans or classroom management strategies—“what works and what doesn’t”—transforms teaching from an art into factory work. It presumes that the unique relationship between the teacher and his/her students is transferrable to other teachers and students. I just don’t think it is, unless that relationship is merely superficial to begin with.

* * *

My memory of collaborating with colleagues is mostly about the joy that comes from feeling connected to other people. Teaching academic content to students who are in your classroom only because they’re required to do so, trying to help them achieve a breakthrough experience while they’re focusing merely on their grade—that’s a really hard job! It can be a frustrating, exhausting experience.

Sharing a laugh with fellow teachers about the challenges of our profession helps us through difficult times, and can provide a renewal of energy to push us on to the next day’s challenge. Because the sun is going to rise the next day and kids are going to show up in our classrooms again. And teachers get another day to share their art, to continue building those unique relationships, to find those special connections with students that make authentic learning possible.

So, yes, collaborating with other teachers probably makes us better. I just don’t want us to draw the wrong conclusions about why this is true.

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