Creating time for Teachers to Collaborate and Learn

Teachers play a starring role in the transition to modern education. In the places where the transition happens the most effectively, teachers are leading the way: they are trying and testing new ideas, sharing what they learn, leading teams, and taking on new specialized roles based on their strengths and passions. One of the most important things you can do before starting down the path toward transformation is to set up the systems and structures you will need for supporting teachers. Think of this as part of your foundation, almost as if you were building a house: lay it first, and make sure it is solid before you do anything else. If the foundation is solid it will hold up everything else that you do. Here are a few specific things to think about.

  1. Define teacher competencies. Just like you will define graduation competencies and proficiency levels for students, it’s really important to get clear on teacher competencies. What will teachers need to know, believe, and be able to do to thrive in your modern classrooms? What will these competencies look like at different levels of maturity as teachers grow and improve? Defining these competencies (and communicating them well!) will provide an important backbone for all the rest of the work you do with teachers.
  2. Personalize learning and pathways. In the modern classroom, students follow personalized learning pathways based on their interests, strengths, and learning levels. The same can be true for teachers. Once you know what teacher competencies are, think about the different pathways that teachers can pursue to develop and deepen their learning. A lot of leading districts and schools use micro credentials to design these professional learning pathways.
  3. Create opportunities for continuous practice. The best adult learning is not sit-and-get, and it is not one-off. It is focused, active, and continuous. Create ways for teachers to engage in meaningful practice over time: to try new practices, receive feedback, reflect and revise their teaching strategies. The best way to shift practice is through practice.
  4. Focus on learning, not time. In the traditional system, teachers get credit for attending professional learning or training, just like students get credit for course hours or course completion. What’s the problem with this? This does not measure learning, it just measures time! Instead of giving teacher credit for time, integrate real demonstrations of learning into their professional development. This is another place where micro credentials can be helpful. They represent what mastery looks like and let teachers show their learning anytime, anywhere.
  5. Create time for collaboration. One of the most important things you can do to get ready for the transition is to give teachers time to work together. The first thing to note is this: collaboration does not happen by accident! It happens when there is dedicated time for it, and when there systems, structures, rituals, and routines that make collaboration standard practice. Second thing to consider: be thoughtful about the many different “whys” for collaboration. Teachers can collaborate to design interdisciplinary curriculum, study student work, look at vertical alignment, calibrate on evaluation and assessment practice, engage in critical inquiry, engage in problem solving, or many other reasons. When you are creating collaboration systems, think about the purposes they will serve.
  6. Promote a culture of feedback. Like students, teacher learning thrives on feedback. And yet, too rarely teachers only get feedback from a formal observation at fixed points in the year. Think about all the ways feedback can become a standard part of teaching practice: feedback from peers, feedback from students, and feedback from leaders. Not only will this help teachers learn and grow, but it will also contribute to a culture of “learning in public” where teachers model continuous improvement and growth mindset.

Questions to Consider

  • What does professional learning currently look like in your district or school? To what extent do you have opportunities for personalization? Collaboration? Practice and feedback?
  • What feedback do you have from teachers about professional learning? What can you identify as opportunities for improvement?
  • How have you / will you engage teachers as leaders as you rethink professional learning? What opportunities are there for teachers to lead this work?
  • What pieces do you already have in place? What can you build on?
  • What systems, structures, or current practices will get in the way of moving toward a more personalized, collaborative, learning-based professional learning model? What will you need to get rid of and change? This could mean schedules, current PD plans, evaluations, or many other things.
  • What will you take off teachers’ plates to make space and time for intensive learning?