The Importance of Collaboration in Teacher Professional Development

The Importance of CollaborationIn 2004, Deborah Butler and some of her research colleagues followed 10 teachers across a two-year professional development program. The teachers were introduced to an instructional program through a workshop and collaborated with colleagues and researchers throughout the two years. Their findings indicate that teachers reflected on their practice, constructed new knowledge about teaching, and made positive sustained changes to their teaching practice. And teacher interviews noted two primary mechanisms supporting the change: time to reflect on teaching practice and structured time for collaboration. (Teaching and Teacher Education, 20, 435–455.)

In 2001, Megan Franke and some of her research colleagues studied the sustainability of teacher change. Some teachers participated in an ongoing teacher professional development program that provided a framework for children’s mathematical thinking. The teachers met throughout the project to discuss their students’ thinking and learning in relation to this framework and to discuss instructional strategies. All 22 teachers across six different schools were observed and interviewed four years after the teacher professional development ended. Their findings show that all 22 teachers maintained some level of implementation and ten teachers continued learning in noticeable ways. Specifically, teachers changed their practice to listen more carefully to the details of their students’ thinking and then used what they learned to make ongoing instructional decisions. The authors concluded that one characteristic of the teacher professional development that contributed to this sustained result was the opportunity for participants to collaborate with other teachers to discuss student thinking and learning. The teachers reported that the level of support from colleagues was critical because it made the reform a school endeavor rather than a single teacher’s endeavor. (American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 653–689)

The Keeping Learning on Track™ (KLT™) formative assessment based teacher professional development solution that we’ve blogged about is based on exactly this research. It introduces strategies and techniques that can be implemented immediately in the classroom, and provides a process for planning changes to current teacher practice.

After the initial learning, KLT provides ongoing collaborative support through Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs). These meetings help teachers to reflect upon and further develop their skills in and understanding of formative assessment strategies while holding them accountable for making changes to their teaching practice. This combination of initial and collaborative teacher professional development focused on formative assessment supports teachers to make substantive and sustained changes to their classroom practice by providing time and structure for ongoing collaboration focused on student learning. This, in turn, increases teachers’ ability to use classroom techniques that elicit evidence of student learning minute to minute and day by day, identify and share learning expectations with students, provide and structure feedback that moves learning forward, and structure opportunities for students to take ownership of their own learning and to act as instructional resources for one another.