In far too many schools support for new teachers involves giving them the classroom keys, attendance rosters, directions to the teacher’s lounge, and an invitation to call for help if needed. This is a recipe for isolation and a surefire way to lose new teachers. Despite this common understanding, widespread isolation continues to be prevalent in so many schools. Teacher isolation can thwart a school’s teacher retention efforts by driving new teachers to quit. When teachers feel supported and prepared to improve student learning, they thrive. There is also an increased likelihood that they will remain in the profession and become career educators. School leaders who understand this foster a collaborative culture in their schools, where teachers work together in support of common student learning goals and personal career fulfilment.
Teachers from the Rutgers Alternate Route Teacher Training Program recently discussed their fortunate placements at Newark schools where teacher collaboration and professional learning communities feature prominently in their school experiences. In some instances, teachers meet in grade level or subject-specific teams at scheduled times, as part of school-wide professional development sessions, and/or in one-on-one settings with assigned mentors. Collaborating with veteran colleagues, these new teachers have learned to discuss data, critically examine student work, or to simply ask for help. In addition, these collaborative school environments help new teachers glean teaching ideas from peers and find their voices as valued and contributing members of the school community.
In this post, Marc Berman, Ayanna Wilcox, Jonathan Jaroncyzk, Dina Mohamed, Andrea Jacome, Jessica Garcia, Lauren Johnson, Justin Goldsberry, and Larry Odigie describe their schools’ structural and cultural support of teacher collaboration.
Collaboration For Teacher Survival
In my first year of teaching I have found that my best resource has been my fellow teachers. I have relied on them for student planning ideas, classroom management techniques, and overall learning about school culture. I have used my co-workers to plan lessons, to find ways of approaching administration, and to get ideas for dealing with parents. One of the most useful techniques I have learned from another teacher is the idea of a group test. He and I have since collaborated on tweaking and adjusting the tests to better ourselves as teachers. My fellow teachers have been there before and learning from experience, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to learn.
~Marc Berman is a high school Physics teachers at Bard High School Early College in Newark
As a second year teacher, collaborating with my colleagues is crucial to my improvement as an effective teacher. I am currently teaching Health and Physical Education, and I must say my fellow Health/P.E. teachers provide me with a tremendous amount of support. We lean on each other for not only lesson planning, but for student success as well as discipline. My mentor has helped me get through many issues that I have been faced with dealing with specific students and parents. He has made my transition into an effective teacher much faster than if I had nobody to go to when I needed a bit of help. The help has come from not just my department, but from everyone, even the Deans and administration. Together we have made this village thrive.
~Jonathan Jaronczyk teaches Health & Physical Education for 12th graders at Marion P. Thomas Charter School in Newark
Collaborative Inquiry Using Data
Collaborating with fellow teachers increases student improvement and helps strengthen relationships with students. In my school, we meet once a week as a department or as a grade level. Within the department meetings, humanities teachers across the middle school share data results, ask for recommendations from other teachers, and pick up best practices for ourselves. For example, 5th grade teachers provide insight for the 7th grade teachers who may have a few scholars they have previously taught. Veteran teachers share resources with new and first year teachers like myself. Weekly grade level meetings are extremely helpful to discuss students' progress and check in with other teachers. Some teachers have stronger relationships with certain students and may be able to check in with them after a fellow grade-level team member recognizes something “off” with that scholar. The Dean of Students comes into the grade-level meetings to discuss scholars of concern. When possible, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Chief Academic Officer join in on the data meetings. This not only gets their input, but it keeps administrators abreast of what is going on with students.
~Ayanna Wilcox is a Middle School English Teacher at Great Oaks Legacy Charter School in Newark.
I believe teacher collaboration is very important in schools because different teachers can have different ideas. When teachers give their input on a certain issue, other teachers can take that into consideration and implement it into their classroom. In our school we use Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) data. This is a good strategy because it shows where students’ strengths are and where they need to improve. Using this data can help differentiate instruction and focus the students' learning. Collaboration also helps in student behavior issues. When teachers have the same student or the same issue going on in their class and are having difficulty finding a solution, we can use other teachers’ strategies and see if it works in our classes.
~Dina Mohamed teacher High School Math at Marion P Thomas Charter High School.
Collaboration for Student Work Analysis
Collaboration time is proven to increase student improvement. Twice a week our teachers meet as a grade level to discuss text study or math and some Wednesdays we have a meeting with all KIPP schools where we break up into grade levels to establish norms and share how we will teach an upcoming unit. In these meetings, teachers give their insight on how we can best bring a student to mastery of a standard and potential areas where we see room for error and how we can combat that. We also bring student samples every so often to compare how other teachers did and how we can use some of their practices to drive a point home that our kids might have missed. Our Assistant principal sometimes sits in on our meetings as well. Our current practices seem very aligned to best practices in teacher collaboration.
~Andrea Jacome teaches First Grade at KIPP Thrive Academy Charter School in Newark.
Teachers collaborating across departments to analyze student work can be very beneficial because everyone has different skills that they bring to the table and everyone is given a "voice." Fortunately, as a school we do meet to collaborate with other teachers; however, it is not across departments. I plan to collaborate with other departments to analyze my students' work and better guide them in improving their learning. I plan to use save the last word technique, which requires those observing to not say anything until the presenting teacher has finished presenting their lesson/student work. The observers can then offer great feedback and suggestions for future lessons.
~Justin Goldsberry teachers 9th Grade English at Paolo Friere Charter School in Newark
Collaboration for Common Planning
As a new teacher, it is important for me to consult my colleagues who have been working in the district for several or more years. We usually meet every week to plan and discuss student progress and lesson plans for the upcoming weeks so that we can be on the same page. We revise our expectations and share opinions and ideas. I have a mentor who is a bilingual teacher and has been working for the school for a couple of years. She showed me the formats to use for my lesson plans and reviewed my first lesson plans. She demonstrated how to administer the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) and helped me with my students who need special assistance.
~Jessica Garcia is a Bilingual Elementary School Teacher at First Ave School in Newark.
Teaching is one of the hardest yet most rewarding jobs in the world. It’s important for teachers to collaborate--especially for a first or second year teacher like me. Teacher collaboration is not only a platform used to build peer-to-peer relationship, it is also a vital tool for exchanging information that enhances a student’s learning experience. Collaborating with my fellow teachers and administrators has helped alleviate some of the burdens I faced working alone. Shared planning time during school has allowed me to collaborate with my peers. With shared planning time, I am able to make strides in planning rigorous and appropriate lessons for my students. The best teacher teams complement each other. We share the responsibility for planning by dividing tasks based on our strengths and interests. This is an essential practice that I cannot go without. I am grateful for this support system.
~Larry Odigie is a High School Science teacher at West Side High School in Newark
I find teacher collaboration to be an integral part of learning for myself, professionally. I especially struggled in the beginning of the year, but I have felt a little bit more grounded recently because of my efforts to collaborate with other teachers. It is so amazing to get feedback and information about different strategies from teachers who are teaching the same grade level as me, or who have previously taught the students I have now. I now meet with other ELA teachers in my building to discuss the standards being taught, identify what else needs to be covered, explore different ways to approach standards, and analyze data together. I have found this collaboration to be extremely beneficial for both my students and myself. These informal meetings that my coworkers and I have need to become standardized. I also think that there should be a way for us to reach out to peers who are teaching the same grade and content. Currently I am the only 7th grade ELA teacher at my school so I work with the other teachers on my grade level who teach different content, or with other ELA teachers who teach different grades. I think it would be helpful to be able to collaborate with another 7th grade ELA teacher.
~Lauren Johnson teaches 7th Grade English at University Heights Charter School in
At Discovery Charter School, the Newark school that I lead, teacher collaboration is vital to our success. In fact, it is built into the physical design of the school. Our facility is reminiscent of a one-room schoolhouse where teachers hold instruction in separate areas but share a single teaching space. Because there are no closed doors, our instructional approaches are always on display for colleagues to learn from or critique. We enjoy a comfortable feeling of vulnerability with each other as well as a collegial sense of support. The unique learning environment, which fosters default collaboration is nurtured by the emphasis we place on relationships. We intentionally build in social opportunities that foster a collaborative environment. Our teachers regularly meet for dinner and travel together for summer professional learning experiences, thereby strengthening the relationships that underpin strong teacher collaboration. Finally, if our physical plant facilitates opportunities for teachers to collaborate, our school schedule does the same. Every Friday is a half-day for students which affords us weekly common planning time during which we reflect on our teaching practice, nurture our professional relationships and establish next steps for student learning based on common observations.
Teacher collaboration is essential to teacher development, and this is even more true for new teachers. Many of my principal colleagues around the city share this belief. Lucky are those new teachers who begin their careers under leadership that fosters teacher collaboration.