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5 Ways to Boost Collaboration and Create Teams That Thrive

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By Katie Martin, Head of Partnerships - West at AltSchool

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It's become standard practice for many schools and districts to provide time during the school day for educators to collaborate. Districts have shortened schools days, utilized guest teachers, or creatively configured the schedule to allow for non-teaching time to be built into the day. While this is a step forward, just providing time isn't always enough.

Transforming Reaction to Progress

When valuable collaboration time is spent reacting to events rather than delving into the real challenges educators are facing, we aren't maximizing the learning opportunity. As Seth Godin puts it, "There's a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent." This message is so important for us as busy educators to remember: If we are always reacting to the urgent, there is never time to get better.

New ideas and connections are the basis for creativity and innovation. If we want to continue to evolve and create schools that meet the needs of all learners--not a simple task--collaboration becomes more important than ever. When educators expand their networks and create connections between divergent ideas, we have more opportunities to connect, learn, and evolve in our practice.

To create the change that we want to see in classrooms for all learners, we need to create the structures within our collaboration that deepen our practice and allow teachers the space to focus on learning and innovation. Here are five ways to help teams collectively improve.

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Celebrate Successes
It's easy to get bogged down by challenges, but it makes an immense difference when we focus on the positives and celebrate one another. Taking five minutes to highlight what you notice in others and shift the focus to what is going well can build the team up. Intentionally creating rituals that ensure individuals feel seen and valued inspires them to make an impact.

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Set Goals and Reflect on Progress
Most of us have goals--both personal and professional--that we probably wrote down on an evaluation sheet or created at the start of the new year. Creating goals is the first step, but if we don't focus on them or track progress toward them, we most likely won't reach them. Carving out time to share updates on our personal and collective goals creates transparency and helps to hold each other accountable and provide support as necessary.

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Teach One Another
There are so many lessons and strategies that impact students that we learn each day. These lessons could impact educators so much more if we took time to share them with our peers. Learning something new doesn't have to come from a formal professional development session or conference. Taking time to teach one another is important in learning communities. Take turns teaching a new strategy, tool, or lesson learned, read articles, and share experiences of trying new tactics.

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Critique and Revise
Presenting challenges, providing feedback, and creating actionable next steps are valuable exercises that help improve learning experiences. When educators look at student work to determine strengths and implications for designing learning experiences collectively, we learn a great deal about our impact on desired learning outcomes and continue to improve.

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Problem-Solve
There are many challenges that educators face, and we could all benefit from the collective wisdom of a group to help figure them out. Creating the space for people to put problems of practice on the table for the group to collectively solve builds capacity and trust in a team. When teams take turns opening up their classrooms and sharing questions or problems, they can leverage the expertise of the group. Even challenges that are specific to one person usually have implications for the rest of the team and are opportunities to learn.

In one of my favorite Dylan Wiliam quotes, he says, "If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they aren't good enough but because they could be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve." I truly believe this, but creating this culture requires prioritizing experiences that help us learn and improve. The type of collaboration I have highlighted not only develops expertise, but builds community and develops shared norms and beliefs that impact teaching and learning. The power in collaborative time is not the time alone, it's the opportunity to network and engage in meaningful conversations and generate new ideas to impact the students we serve.

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