Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Category: Beasley

How to Stop Cringing at Group Work, and Why Your Students Deserve It

Group work has always been a passion of mine. When I first became a teacher, I wanted my students to have the opportunity to learn and work together as much as possible; five years later, I still see the value of having heterogeneous groups of students learning to work with one another.

In our collaborative classroom, students have the opportunity to work with all types of ability levels and backgrounds, but our goal is to highlight and the value of working with diverse strengths.

Group Work Frameworks

We know that students can gain knowledge by working through projects and problems with their peers; however, students have to be taught how to effectively work together. There are some excellent frameworks out there, including Scrum and the Kagan Cooperative Learning, that help scaffold learning in groups.

Modeling Group Work

I believe the teacher has to lay the foundation for group work and model what it looks like to work with others. As a co-teacher, I am fortunate to have ample opportunities for modeling, but that does not mean that modeling how to work with others is an unachievable goal for those without co-teachers. You just have to be proactive by reaching out to others and being open to the work that goes into collaboration.

In the past, I have been guilty of assigning group work without modeling how I want my students to collaborate. Now I realize that I have to model how to share the workload; this includes demonstrating how to work through conflict as well as helping students realize the potential of picking teams based on strengths. Never forget the power of your presence as a teacher. The teacher is the most influential person in the classroom. The students will mimic whatever the teacher does, and teachers have to show students how to work effectively together. It may not be a statewide goal, but it is a life skill.

“Never believe that you are better than anybody else, but remember that you are just as good.”    -John Wooden

This quote by John Wooden is a great way to start engaging your students about what it means to be on a team. When we work with others, we really should be serving others instead of competing against one another. I try to teach my students that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but what is most important is how we use our strengths to help others.

How to Pick Groups for Group Work

One way to help your students understand the importance of recognizing strengths is by teaching them students to pick their own groups. When you do so, encourage them to choose teammates based upon skills the group needs to succeed, instead of picking based upon friendship. Go through the group project expectations as a class and then discuss what types of skills would be needed in order to create the best project. Here’s an example of some of the questions we encourage our students to ask when picking groups:

  • Do I need a teammate who is skilled at drawing?
  • Do I need a teammate who knows how to code?
  • If I’m not particularly organized, could I find a teammate who would help me keep everything together
  • How can I surround myself with the best people for the job? 

Help your students realize that what makes us different can also make us stronger.

The Power of a Good Handshake!

Never underestimate the power of a handshake. Often it’s the first thing we do when we are introduced to new people. It delivers first impressions. A good handshake can start conversations and promote trust between two people.  Researchers from the University of Illinois Beckman Institute found that a good handshake promotes confidence and trustworthiness. The study found that a good, firm handshake actually leads to positive feelings.

Do you teach confidence and trust in your classroom?

In our classroom, our 5th graders greet us with a handshake every morning. It’s a great way to start the day and gives us the opportunity to teach our students how to respectfully greet someone. During the first week of implementation, our students found it a little awkward and students were apprehensive. Over time, students understood the importance of greeting their teachers each morning. In fact, they enjoyed it and often looked forward to the handshake. Our morning greeting became a ritual. Students felt comfortable starting conversations and they opened up to us. The handshake laid the framework for trust and confidence between us and our students. Now when guests walk into our classroom, our students are not afraid to greet them. Our guests feel more welcome and open to talking to our students. The handshake breaks the first barrier of communication and allows the conversation to flourish.

Recently, I saw a video of a teacher that hand a personalized handshake for every student he taught. I thought this was a brilliant idea. This teacher found a way to build relationships with his students through a handshake. I am confident that this teacher has a strong bond of trust with his students.

Build trust and confidence with your students. Start the morning with a good handshake.

Research Article:

This is Urgent!

Joe Beasley, General Education Teacher

I hate wasting time. It is one of my biggest pet peeves. When I was in school, I can remember feeling bored countless times. Most of the time when I felt like this I was in a classroom with no sense of urgency. Now as a teacher, I realize how difficult it is to turn every single lesson into an engaging one, and there will always be a lesson that may turn out to be a little dry. However, I have come to realize that half the battle of confronting a an otherwise boring lesson is how you deal with it.

In our classroom, we teach our students how to create a sense of urgency. Amanda and I want our students to know that we have a lot to do, every day, and we can not slack. Whether we are reading science notes or walking through how to edit a sentence, we want our students to be engaged and ready to move on to the next lesson — fast! One way to create a sense of urgency is to bring a sense of energy to all lessons. Teachers have to move and they have to show excitement. Your students feed off you and you feed off them. Make note taking into a treasure hunt certain key words; have students act out a reading from a textbook; give students the choice in how they would like to complete the assignment. But whatever you do, do not let it be sluggish. There must be a sense of urgency.

Students need to see the spark of learning alive in their teachers. Often teachers feel like they have to put on a show in order engage their students. Yes! We should all the time, every single moment of the day. Kids thrive on excitement and energy. If you create a fast-pace classroom with little time for sitting or downtime, your students will be more likely to stay with you every step of the day. This means teachers have to be movin’ and groovin’! At times, I feel like a coach reminding my students that we have 5 minutes left and we have to get going to the next lesson. Let’s push forward and focus! We can do it!

Here are some helpful ways to bring a sense of urgency to your classroom:

1. Keep downtime to a minimal or only when it is absolutely necessary. 

During the majority of the day, most students are sitting. Sadly, the only time students are usually moving is when they are traveling to the next class. When students come to your classroom, try to get them up and moving as much as possible.

2. Give students choice.

Have a boring assignment? Let students choose how they would like to complete it. Give students fun choices that will get them engaged.

3. Be fast but understanding.

Creating a sense of urgency doesn’t automatically make you a Drill Sergeant, and it shouldn’t. You should constantly assess the situation and make sure your students are with you. Be mindful of your students and always keep checking in with them. “Am I going too fast?” “Are you with me?”

4. No teacher desk.

The desk acts like a wall and defines a space for only the teacher. A safe place for the teacher to escape from his or her students. But in reality, you can’t teach students while you sit. I don’t remember any of my best teaching moments happening while I was sitting at my desk. Bring the energy to your students and be present with them.

Creating a sense of urgency in the classroom must first be modeled by the teacher. Once students see the sense of urgency in their teacher, they often pick it up and run with it. When students ask to go to the bathroom, they don’t sluggishly walk down the halls, stop to look in other classrooms and try to see how long it will take them to walk back to class. Our students go to the bathroom and hurry back because they know they don’t want to miss the next lesson.


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?

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.