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Collaboration Strikes Again -- Or Are Schools Striking Collaboration?

Again and again we hear that teachers value learning side-by-side with other teachers above other forms of professional learning. Educators cite the impact such learning has on their practice and treasure that they can safely try new practices and reflect with trusted colleagues. Yet at the same time, educators report that the time they have for such learning is decreasing.

How much teachers continue to value collaborative learning is just one finding in a report released this week from the newly formed National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE). A coalition of several education organizations, including Learning Forward, NCLE will identify and share the practices educator teams use to improve literacy learning.

Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works was based upon survey responses drawn from more than 2,400 educators across all grade levels and subject areas. It investigated the connection between professional learning, teacher collaboration, and student learning.

According to the report, principals play a vital role in actively modeling collaboration, a factor that was strongly correlated with higher levels of trust in a school and more rapid spread of best practices. The survey found that there are many structures in place in schools that can be leveraged to support teacher collaboration despite the fact that schools don't dedicate sufficient time for this purpose. Many teachers work in grade-level or subject-area teams, teams have access to multiple forms of data to inform their work, educators use digital networks for collaboration, and literacy coaches and librarians use their skills to support collaboration.

The report outlines several steps that federal and state policymakers and system and school leaders can take to help eliminate the roadblocks to literacy learning in the content areas. Many of the specific recommendations are in direct alignment with Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning, including:


  1. Embed educator collaboration in the school day. This is important for deep student learning, and is a necessary prerequisite to the success of other school reforms.

  2. Fund professional learning that is ongoing, job-embedded and collaborative; educators who engage in this kind of learning are better able to employ and advance literacy learning across grades and subjects.

  3. Structure the use of educator time to maximize educators' ability to develop collective capacity for improving literacy learning across a school or school system. Using the time productively is critical: "The point of collaborative time is not for individual teacher activity but for increasing teachers' expertise across a department, school, or district for a greater collective impact on student literacy learning" (p. 28).

In highlighting practices that support what the report calls "remodeled schools," Learning Forward's Learning School Alliance was recognized as source for helping schools to use time and technology wisely in support of learning communities.

This new report echoes recent MetLife surveys of the American teacher in finding that teachers value collaboration yet experience less time in their days for such work. Still, the deepening consensus from practitioners and research on the role of collaborative learning is encouraging. It is the next steps that will determine if such learning can achieve its potential.

To read the full report, visit www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/remodeling.

Tracy Crow

Director of Communications, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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