In a world increasingly defined by the knowledge inside our heads, the performance of teachers has seldom been under greater scrutiny. As such, there is probably nary a country in the world that doesn’t want their teachers to do better.
A recent study from the University of Michigan highlights the role greater collaboration could play in achieving those performance gains.
The study is believed to be one of the first of its kind to explore the direct impact collaboration between teachers has on their performance, together with the kind of collaboration that is linked to success.
“There is growing consensus that differences in teacher quality exist and that these differences matter for student achievement,” the authors say. “Many policy efforts today assume quality is fixed or inborn, and focus on increasing the supply of ‘best and brightest’ into the profession to replace ‘bad apples.’ However, growing research evidence suggests that a teacher’s quality is not fixed and depends a great deal upon school working environment and climate, and the quality of colleagues around her.”
Collaboration in the classroom
Some 9,000 teachers from over 300 schools were surveyed to determine the extent they currently collaborated with their colleagues. It emerged that 85 percent of teachers were in instructional teams, with these teams having a profound impact upon their performance in the classroom. The results revealed that 90 percent of teachers found the groups useful.
The groups facilitated three main kinds of collaboration:
- instructional strategies and curriculum
- instructional approaches to individual students or groups of students regarding class work, discipline or general class management
- approaches to assessment
The study highlights the importance of quality collaboration and therefore marks a shift away from previous research that has tended to regard all collaboration as equally valuable.
The team found, for instance, that collaboration around assessment was hugely influential in terms of improvements in math scores for students. Good quality collaboration seemed remarkably consistent in securing performance gains across the curriculum however.
“These results have important implications for school leaders looking for ways to boost student outcomes,” the authors say. “Focusing on building teacher teams and providing meaningful ways for teachers to work together on the tough challenges they encounter can lead to substantively important achievement gains.”
Correlation versus causation
The authors are aware of the potential for higher quality teachers to actively seek out environments whereby collaboration is more available, which would then give the impression that greater collaboration resulted in higher outcomes. They believe they have found a way around that however, with the focus being on the rate of improvement amongst teachers.
“We use an innovative modeling strategy to show that a teacher’s rate of improvement is greater in schools with better quality collaboration, as compared to the same teacher’s rate of improvement in schools with worse quality collaboration,” they say. “Differences in teacher quality are unlikely to explain these results because we are examining the same teacher in different settings.
The results suggest that providing greater support for collaboration between teachers would be a relatively easy and cost effective way to improve performance, which is something I’m sure we can all get on board with.