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This resource is excerpted from the March 2022 Crew Initiative resource toolkit for Crew Guides. Learn more about Crew Initiative.

How teachers engage in a model can make a difference. Teachers’ personal stance about whether they “have to” or “want to” participate is critical to successful collaboration. Equally important is understanding how to engage effectively in collaborative work with colleagues.

As with other skills, we gain a greater capacity for collaboration with the opportunity to practice. To initiate or revitalize teacher collaboration in your school, try these five strategies.


1. Create a truly shared vision and goals.

The level of ownership they feel in the process influences how much teachers actually invest in collaborative work. A shared vision and goals can lead to that sense of ownership. For example, identify your team’s shared vision of caring for students and student learning, set goals related to that vision, discuss how the team’s work can help attain those goals, and check in often to assess progress. The strong connection between the work and the vision of the team can help individuals see purpose and assume ownership in the process.


2. Develop a sense of community.

At its core, collaboration is relational. Getting to know your colleagues, understanding their passions, and taking the time to connect on a personal level can help members gain mutual respect and look past perceived eccentricities in others. Establishing shared values and commitments can unify the group and provide purpose for their collective work. Like all relationships, a collaborative community develops over time and requires work to maintain.

Trust influences the effectiveness of collaborative work. Respecting group commitments such as being fully present at meetings and seeing the best in others helps establish trust and build a cohesive community. Other ways to develop community include establishing traditions, celebrating accomplishments, and recognizing individual contributions.


3. Identify group norms.

Let’s face it: collaboration can be uncomfortable or stressful at times. When we are transparent about our work and our beliefs, our colleagues can see our limitations as well as our strengths, placing us in a position of vulnerability. Sharing with and trusting colleagues requires courage and humility. A climate of trust can help establish the safe environment that’s necessary for open communication.

Identifying and establishing group norms also can help develop that safe environment. Norms might include defining roles and responsibilities, using protocols for interpersonal communication, and outlining parameters for time management.

Taking the time to get to know the learning styles, needs, interests, fears, and hopes of each team member helps shape the norms for how the group engages in the shared work.


4. Use discussion and dialogue.

Whether they are integrating curriculum, analyzing data, or studying a new practice, teams should understand the roles of, and differences between, dialogue and discussion. They are equally important to the group process.

Discussion moves the conversation forward. In discussion, individuals state their opinions for the purpose of building consensus or making decisions.

The goal of dialogue is to share and broaden knowledge. Dialogue invites multiple perspectives, values the exploration of biases and assumptions, questions the status quo, and entertains new ways of knowing and being. Dialogue requires active listening, willingness to state beliefs, the ability to bear the tension of ambiguity, and belief in the transformative potential in the process.


5. Work through conflict.

Dialogue can cultivate deep professional learning as individuals and teams explore new ideas for practice. However, dialogue may also lead to conflict. It can be helpful for your team to develop a conflict management plan and to monitor conflict as it arises.

Teams can help manage conflict by providing time, space, grace, and support for individuals as they work through their emotions. Individuals also should monitor their own emotions and practice self-care.

Using professional judgment, your team can determine when to explore the roots of conflict and when to provide space for reflection and cooling down. While sometimes uncomfortable, conflict often provides growth opportunities.

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