Collective teacher efficacy, professional learning communities, collective professionalism… There are many similar but different forms and terms for effective teacher collaboration, and there is a significant body of evidence about the positive impact on teachers themselves and student learning.
Collaboration is a key feature of EBE’s professional development programmes because there are gains to be made through effective and focused collaboration and peer support. However, the ‘Bananarama Principle’ comes into play here – “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. As an extension of this principle, we believe we need to go one step further still: it’s not just what you do, it’s also the way that you do it (and why you do it!)… In other words, collaboration alone will not enhance teachers’ practice.
The Teacher Development Trust report, Developing Great Teaching, neatly summarises research into what constitutes effective professional development for teachers. The expert review team found that ‘peer support, in which all participants have an opportunity to work together to try out and refine new approaches, was a common feature in effective professional development’. They also state, ‘while collaboration was necessary, it alone is not sufficient’.
The review highlights several key design features in the delivery of a professional development programme which increase its chances of having a lasting impact on teacher practice and student outcomes. We highly recommend taking a look at the report to dig deeper.
How can we enable opportunities for effective teacher collaboration in online learning?
In our ten-week online Assessment Essentials programme, teachers engage in collaborative conversations on a regular basis throughout the course.
Collaborative conversations call on you to make public what is often private about your assessment practice: your challenges, your aims, the strategies you use, when and how you use them, and something about their effectiveness. They are a simple idea inspired by Helen Timperley, Professor of Education at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Although quite simple in principle, there are many ways they help enhance teacher learning. They:
- Enable frequent, meaningful engagement to help surface the participants’ own ideas and align these with key concepts in their learning and development.
- Are structured and sequenced, so they help create a “rhythm” of follow-up, consolidation and support activities – reinforcing key messages to help impact on practice.
- Create an ongoing cycle of reflection and discussion designed to promote durable learning for you and your peers.
- Help form a shared sense of purpose.
- Foster peer support, where all participants have an opportunity to work together to discuss and refine new approaches.
It has been great to have conversations with a trusted colleague about new ways of assessing and helping our students improve. It has been invigorating as a professional as well to hear what other teachers are doing in the classroom.”
Here’s an example of the kind of things colleagues might come together to discuss in a collaborative conversation:
- Spaced retrieval practice is an effective method of helping students to encode information into long term memory; how would you implement this assessment practice in your subject area?
- Why is spacing likely to have a beneficial effect on students’ learning?
- At what stage in your workflow could you plan the use of retrieval practice questions?
Each week’s collaborative conversation is designed to be a brief (10-15 minute) informal discussion with a trusted colleague, or even a small group of colleagues, about your own classroom assessment practice. While it’s informal, it’s a vital component in enabling effective teacher collaboration.