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5 Collaborative Teaching Practices for Teacher Learning

by Laura Baecher |

For the next few months, I will be inviting voices from a variety of contexts to share their work and thinking on professional development (PD). This post, guest written by Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria G. Dove, focuses on ways teachers can collaborate to support their own and their students’ learning.

Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld is professor of TESOL teacher education at Molloy University, New York, USA. Before entering the field of higher education, she was an English as a foreign language teacher in Hungary (Grades 5–8 and adult), an English as a second language teacher in New York City (Grades K–3 and adult), and taught Hungarian at NYU. A Fulbright Scholar and sought-after national presenter, Andrea is the coauthor or coeditor of more than 25 books on education and numerous chapters and articles related to linguistically and culturally diverse learners, many with Dr. Maria G. Dove.

Maria G. Dove, EdD, is professor at Molloy University, Rockville Centre, New York, USA. She teaches preservice/in-service teachers about effective instruction for multilingual learners (MLs). She taught MLs in public school settings (Grades K–12) and in adult English language programs in the greater New York area for more than 30 years. Dr. Dove publishes frequently and coauthored multiple best-selling books, including Co-teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Collaborative Planning, Instruction, Assessment, and Reflection (2018), Collaboration for English learners: A foundational guide to integrated practices (2nd ed.) (2019), and Co-planning: Five essential practices to integrate curriculum and instruction for English learners (2021).

“I’m feeling upset, and I can’t shake the feeling that I am so inadequate  . . .” begins one teacher’s anonymous post on a Facebook group page. She continues with a detailed description of the issue she is having with one of her students, and she ends by asking for some kind of guidance on how to remedy the situation. From her post, it appears that she desperately needs advice but is only comfortable asking strangers on a social media board for their opinions about what to do. Apparently, there was no one at her school she could trustingly confide in to get the support she needed.

Though teachers continue to face an unparalleled number of challenges in our schools, they frequently are left to their own devices for overcoming their concerns. In our close to two decades of research and school-based coaching experiences, we have seen a definite shift in number of schools that are making it a priority to support teachers through systematic frameworks for teacher collaboration. Not only do teachers have a greater impact on their students’ learning when they combine their individual expertise (Hattie, 2018), but they also can obtain ongoing professional assistance, encouragement, and support by moving away from working in isolation to meaningful teacher collaboration.

Pathways to Teacher Partnerships

What are some of the fundamental practices for making teacher collaboration a reality? There are several pathways for teaching partnerships to take shape:

  • Leadership – School leaders making it a priority to build a shared vision and mission together with faculty for a collaborative work environment. In this way, teachers have ownership with and buy in for teamwork.
  • Teacher teams – A grade-level or content-area team of teachers, through their own initiative, decide to work together to improve instructional practices, commit to teamwork, and showcase their efforts and outcomes with other faculty.
  • Individual teachers – the actions of one teacher, who partners with others for the sake of students, can be the catalyst for collaboration to become the norm by bolstering other members in the school community to engage in similar work.

Most often, teacher collaboration requires a systemic change and a shift in the school culture to maintain its sustainability. Authentic and meaningful change also relies on shared meaning making and capacity building for it to take hold (Fullan, 2016).

5 Collaborative Practices

What types of collaborative practices offer ongoing support for teachers? There are many ways that teachers partner together to support one another’s success as well as the learning progress of their students (Honigsfeld & Dove, 2021):

1. Coplanning

Teachers collaborate to review curriculum, create units of study, prepare daily lesson plans, share ideas for scaffolding instruction according to students’ needs, and reflect on their overall teaching to support their students in their acquisition of academics, language, and literacy.

2. Codeveloping Instructional Materials

Teachers codevelop differentiated, tiered, multilevel instructional resources; divide complex materials or tasks into manageable segments; and select essential learning tools for their students. Teachers work together to scaffold instructional materials and develop essential materials that support accelerated learning.

3. Collaborative Assessment of Student Work

Together, teachers devise formative and summative assessment measures to determine students’ academic, language, and literacy performance and identify areas that need improvement. Teachers set goals for their students by reviewing assessment data collaboratively.

4. Coteaching

Teachers work to establish coequal partnerships with other teachers and share ownership of teaching all students. Coteachers use various models of instruction to support student learning. Teachers engage in the collaborative instructional cycle—coplanning, codelivery of instruction, coassessment, and reflection—in a shared teaching partnership.

5. Joint Professional Learning

To enhance pedagogical knowledge, skills, and dispositions about their students, a shared understanding about students’ needs, and best practices, teachers make a commitment to engage in learning with colleagues, applying their new learning to teaching, and showcasing their practices,

Embracing Opportunities for Collaboration

Depending on the school structure, there may be additional opportunities for teachers to engage in collaborative practices with their peers, such as conducting collaborative action research and participating in peer coaching, book clubs, or lesson studies. When teachers are already working in districts with established collaboration frameworks, protocols, and cotaught classes, successful development of innovative approaches to collaboration may be more readily transferrable.

The most important thing to remember is that there isn’t only one way to begin collaborating with fellow teachers. You don’t have to wait for someone else to initiate collaborative efforts; you can advocate for and establish the practice all on your own with willing partners. It is also essential to keep in mind that building a collaborative school culture takes time to develop, a belief in its benefits, scheduled time for teamwork, and a commitment to the process. When in place, teacher collaboration can yield opportunities for deep, proactive teacher learning that should translate into successful student outcomes.

About the author

Laura Baecher

Dr. Laura Baecher is professor of TESOL at Hunter College, City University of New York. Her research interests and publications relate to teacher education, including educational technology in teacher learning, observation and coaching for English language teaching, and professional development in TESOL. Her recent books are Using Video to Support Teacher Reflection and Development in ELT and Reflecting on Problems of Practice in TESOL. She has served as chair of TESOL International Association’s Teacher Education Interest Section, an English language specialist for the U.S. Department of State, and president of the New York State TESOL affiliate.

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