Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Author: collaborativeteaching (page 2 of 3)

What is Collaboration?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

Words Don’t Define People, People Define Words

Collaboration. Inclusion. Diversity. Student-centered learning. The list goes on… There are so many key collaborative-wordswords that stakeholders equate with improved student outcomes. However, like any good learning objective (more key words!), we must define outcomes and procedures in order to truly evaluate the effectiveness of these words. Today I would like to define collaboration.

You will never hear an employer or employee say, “We’d really rather not collaborate here.” Most people agree that diverse groups, working together, offer more than either would alone. But anyone can put diverse groups in a room together with little return. It is how the groups work together that improves outcomes.

Collaboration is…balancing courage with consideration.


So how do Joe and I work together? What makes this collaborative team click? If you meet either one of us, you will encounter energy and enthusiasm. These are character traits that we share beyond our love for education. But we don’t always agree.

Like any good relationship, we both must constantly be present in recognizing the goals, intentions, and motivations of the other person while communicating our own goals, intentions and motivations. As Dr. Stephen Covey said, we must balance “courage with consideration.”

Collaboration is…building each other up.

Yesterday was a special day. Joe was asked to introduce the superintendent of Goochland County Public Schools, Dr. Jeremy Raley, at a Goochland Education Foundation (GEF) event welcoming Dr. Raley to the school system. As the Teacher of the Year for GCPS, and a recipient of a GEF grant that funded our field trips to Powhatan State Park, it made sense that Joe was invited to this event.

The money that we received from the GEF to visit Powhatan State Park was the result of a grant Joe took the time to apply for before we even worked together. But, because we teach collaboratively, and because I was a part of the trip, he requested that I be there, too. When he got up to speak, he invited me up, too. He always seeks to highlight my strengths to others. This not only empowers me, but it increases my trust in him. As a result, collaboration in the classroom is enhanced.

Collaboration is…how you handle disagreements.

Before we went to the GEF event, we spent the day teaching. When our students were outside with the P.E. teacher, Joe and I found ourselves in a conversation with another teacher. I didn’t agree with what Joe was collaborativesaying. I had to share my perspective. I felt strongly about my viewpoint as a special educator.

“I love the way you advocate for students,” was Joe’s genuine response. This exchange again increased my trust. We don’t always have to see eye to eye, but for collaboration to work, we do have to recognize the goals, intentions, and motivations of the other person, and yesterday, Joe did that for me.

I responded with gratitude and shared that I would rather not express disagreement unless it is something I feel strongly about. Joe said that he knew that about me, and told the other teacher that that was also why he was wiling to stop and consider my perspective – if I was speaking up, there was probably a good reason. And so personifies the value of picking your battles…

How To Create a Culture of Collaboration

Good employers hire not just because of a convincing resume, but also because of a connection that’s made with a potential employee.

If you want to know what collaboration is, I believe you must start with this same attitude: Look for a connection first. Joe and I sought to work together because we recognized each other’s strengths and we received administrative support to work together. I believe that our collaborative collaboration-teacherrelationship is a win-win-win: We both benefit, and so do our students.

If you want to increase collaboration, if you want to make it more than just a word, you must carve out time for general education and special education teachers to meet, share goals, interview one another, and have a voice in who they ultimately choose to work with.

I have heard some school systems will pull apart strong collaborative teams to “share the love” and grow the practice among teachers who wouldn’t be open to collaborative teaching otherwise. This doesn’t work. It’s like calling a fish a bird and asking it to sing. This is an example of using the word – collaboration – without defining it’s meaning.

In order to get people excited about collaboration, you must show them a team that’s excited about working together, you must allow them to experience the personal journey to wanting the benefits of collaboration in their own classroom, and you must let them choose who they work with based upon personally conducted, and administratively supported, research. To create a culture of collaboration, you must allow individuals to become vested in the collaborative teaching experience.

Collaboration, simply put, is relationship building at its finest.


He gets it!

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

I already know I am the luckiest special education teacher in the world. I have support from administration, parents, and students. I have a collaborative teacher who writes music for students to learn and is always willing to discuss teaching strategies. So it should come as no surprise that my co-teacher ‘gets it.’

But today was special. Today my collaborative teacher heard me administer a math quiz to a group of students in our class with IEP accommodations for small group testing.

In class, we had been working on adding and subtracting decimals. The quiz assigned to the whole class was a multiple choice quiz. Some of the problems on the quiz were straight forward (543.23 – 211.06), but others were more complicated, multi-step word problems. They involved extracting and synthesizing information before solving. My students were stumped.

This is often the fork in the road for many teachers. “It’s an assessment, so to be fair, you can’t help them,” some might say. But what is the purpose of an assessment? “The purpose of an assessment is to show whether or not a student understands a concept,” some might say. These people would be right about the second part — the purpose of an assessment is to show whether or not a student understands a concept.

But the purpose of teaching is to make sure students are learning. If a student does not understand a concept, shouldn’t we support their learning? Should all time in school be a learning opportunity? It is my opinion that good teachers assess their student’s level of understanding not just by a number on a sheet of paper, but by daily interactions. Today, our daily interaction occurred while working on an assessment.

One of the questions my students were stumped on involved figuring out the weight of 1 chicken when given the total weight of 3 chickens, and the individual weights of the 2 remaining chickens. I drew a picture of the chickens on the board. I drew them on a scale. I didn’t give them numbers. I had them find the information and figure it out. But I did support them. I did want them them to see why and how we found our numbers.

After the quiz was completed, my co-teacher told me how impressed he was. He admitted that at first he was concerned with the level of support: If I removed the support, would these students be able to answer the questions? What about the SOLs? But the bottom line, which we both understand, is that if they can barely get there with the support, how could we possibly expect them to get there without the support? When the SOL comes, maybe they’ll remember how we figured things out, maybe not. But what they will remember, is that they were supported, that they did not simply fail for lack of knowledge, and that they did not waste an assessment period just sitting around.

So yeah, my co-teacher gets it, and we’re all better for it.

What are your thoughts on differentiating for assessment?

How can I help you?

Joe Beasley, General Education Teacher

In a classroom, group-work can be the bane of a teacher’s existence; often times, group work time can only mean one thing — organized chaos. We all have experienced the group project blues: One person seems to take over the whole project, while others are never doing their fair share of the workload. Group work can be frustrating.

However, teachers realize the importance of group work for students to learn how to work effectively together.  Collaboration is a 21st century skill and most jobs require employees to work as a team in order to complete projects. Employers want to hire people with diverse skill sets and an understanding on how to share those skills collaboratively.

How can I help you?

In our collaborative classroom, students learn the importance of servant leadership. We recognize that we all learn differently and exhibit different abilities. However, we understand that the best way to work together is to serve one another. By asking, “How can I help you?” students are putting others first. If a teammate is facing a challenge while working on a project, the other teammates are expected to work together to help solve that challenge. Instead of ignoring the problem and continue working, we seek to serve one another.

Try this…

At the start of each group work session, have your students ask each other what problems they are facing and how they can help? Stop five minutes early and have students reflect on what they have accomplished for the day. Are we still facing any obstacles? If so, how can I help?

Pick teams based on skill, not on friendship. 

Another approach to a more collaborative classroom would be by having students select group members based on skill, instead of based on friendship. Students need to understand that a great team is a diverse team. We discuss at length the importance of picking partners that will compliment your team. For example, a baseball team is made up players with a diverse skill set. The pitchers can throw the fastest while the outfielders can hit the ball the farthest. No one wants a team full of pitchers. They may be able to strike out the other team, but they may never make it to first base. Students need to make sure that their team is not one dimensional. In our classroom, we recognize that everybody is good at something. Whether it would be research, writing, art, or coding, students need to be able to choose members that will ultimately help their team reach success.

Try this…

Have students select their own teammates. Every time they select a teammate, have them defend why they chose that person. Guide students to choosing teammates based on the skills needed basing on the project.

How do you feel about group work?

Teaching Styles

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

It’s 4:30 AM and I’m up to grade papers and prepare for the science lab I will teach today. I listen to the coffee drip with eager anticipation and hope that my own two children will at least give me 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time before they wake up requesting breakfast. The busy demands of my collaborative teaching position in 5th grade at GES have me stressed in such a way that I am both growing and fulfilled; it is a good stress.

My 4-year-old heard me and just woke up… Thank goodness for Caillou. Let me get to the point… Three things I would like to reflect on since my last entry: teaching styles, pre-test/post-test data, and co-planning:

Teaching Styles:

Joe and I have a lot in common – we both believe in the power of music for teaching, the importance of relationships with students and families, and imperativeness of student engagement. However, we are still two different individuals with unique backgrounds and experiences. Perhaps our starkest contrasts are that Joe is a male who has taught only general education, and I am a female (mother) who has taught only special education. If I’m not careful, my nurturing qualities might neglect to maximize the potential of every learner. But there is great value when our personalities come together, especially because we are both open to communication with one another.

Joe and I respect one another. This allows us to pull one another aside if we think that either ourselves, or the other person, could have handled a situation with a student better. We reflect with an open mind. We are willing to seek first to understand and then to be understood. I believe this may be one of our greatest strengths as a teaching team. 

Pre-Test/Post-Test Data:

We started using pre-test/post-test comparisons for math this week. The growth, for all students, was thrilling. We are so excited to continue with this practice!


Yesterday afternoon, Joe and I quickly reflected on what needed to be done before school the next day. (And quite frankly if I don’t stop writing soon, it won’t be done!) But what I loved about this exchange was that I felt like we were volleying a ping-pong ball:

I’ll take grading the math quiz.

         -Great. I’ll make sure the science data gets entered.

         -OK. Reading groups are almost set. I’ll finalize that.

         -Awesome. I need to prepare for the lab.


We both know what’s going on. We’re willing to help each other, and we both want to be able to step in for the other person at any time. We collaboratively “own” this classroom. No responsibility rests solely on one individual’s plate, and if it does, the other person is eager to learn the role and support the teacher who must fulfill the responsibility.

Now back to work! Looking forward to another great day!

It’s a Family, Not a Classroom!

Joe Beasley, General Education Teacher

In the past two weeks of our Collaborative Classroom, I have learned and seen a lot of growth within our students. We start out everyday with a handshake and a greeting.We tell our students that we are so happy to see them and we mean it! We want our students to know that we care for them. I am also a stickler about manners. Manners bring respect and understanding to the classroom. I can’t think of a time that I have had to raise my voice or call a student out on his or her behavior because our classroom expectations are clear. Through these expectations and manners, students feel comfortable to speak to their classmates, take chances, and learn from their mistakes. We do make a lot of mistakes in our class and we love it because we learn!

We tell our students that they are doing a great job every single day and we make sure that everyone is included! On the first day of school, we told our students that they were “handpicked” for this class because they were the best students in the school. Whether or not our students were truly the best students in the school, it gave them a sense of confidence. Those students who constantly struggled year in and year out had a giant smile on their faces. It was as almost someone had lit a fire in their seats because they were ready to be the best! Our class motto is 20% Brain and 80% Heart. In our class it doesn’t matter how smart you are, it’s all about how hard you work to achieve your goals. I have already seen our students struggle in class, but never give up, until they reach the solution. It is amazing!

Two Teachers, Not a Teacher and a SPED Teacher

Working with Amanda has been an eye opening experience. Amanda is one of the very best teachers in our school and she has excellent insight about working with students with special needs. As a classroom teacher, I am used to having my classroom set up according to me. However, it is now the classroom set up according to “we.” This has been challenging. Having an open line of communication is key in creating a “we” classroom. Both teachers have to make sure that they are both on the same page while teaching, planning, and communicating to parents.

Most importantly, we always make sure to back each other up. Even though we have only been teaching for two weeks, we have both hit tough obstacles with parents and planning. Both of us are so passionate about our students and we want to make sure we have great parental support from the start. Parents want the best for for kids and will do whatever it takes to help their child be successful. Unfortunately, most parents are apprehensive when their child enters a new school year because it means new teachers and new expectations. Amanda and I have tried our very best to start the year off with a positive vibe with our parents. However, we have to understand the parent’s concerns and expectations as well.

Planning has been another difficult obstacle. It has been hard for us to stay on the same page when creating lessons. Emailing plans back and forth only became more complicated. Thankfully, we found and it has changed how we communicate while planning. Now we can plan on our own time and share our plans online. It makes it so easy to change or add lessons in real time.  It is worth the investment.

Overall, I know that I am learning just like my students when it comes to creating a Collaborative Classroom. It’s ok to make mistakes, become frustrated, and want to pull your hair out because in the end Amanda and I are going through this together. Most importantly, we are growing as educators and creating a positive environment for our students.

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