Welcome to the Back to School series for new teachers!
Each week, I will be sharing my top tips for new elementary teachers, and we start things off talking about collaboration. There are two reasons why I chose this first. Number one, it is actually my biggest regret from my first year of teaching and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. The second reason is that this series is starting in July, and this is an easy thing to implement after you first get hired and are working during the summer months (if you choose to do so.) I am excited to hear what you think about this series, so be sure to leave a comment!
Why should teachers collaborate with other teachers? For new teachers just embarking on your teaching journey, one of the most powerful resources you have is collaboration with your colleagues. As I mentioned above, this is honestly my biggest regret from my first year of teaching. I am embarrassed to say I came in with a know-it-all attitude and didn’t fully take advantage of the wisdom of my veteran colleagues. I quickly realized my mistake though, and I am so grateful I did. I was teaching the grade level I always said I didn’t want–first grade–and honestly, I couldn’t have made it without them. I just wish I had been more receptive from the beginning. Collaborating with other teachers not only enriches your teaching practice but also creates a supportive and dynamic learning community. So, let’s explore the most important things you need to know about making the most out of collaboration with your colleagues.
First, embrace a growth mindset. This is something we work hard to instill in our students, and one of the best ways to do that is to model it ourselves. Be open to new ideas, feedback, and constructive criticism. Recognize that collaboration is an opportunity for growth and improvement. Embrace the mindset that you can learn from your colleagues and that working together strengthens your teaching practice. Emphasize the collective goal of supporting student success and approach collaboration with a positive and receptive attitude.
Strong relationships and trust are the foundation of effective collaboration. When I came in with such a know-it-all attitude, it is a wonder they even agreed to help me at all! So, don’t be like me and take the time to get to know your colleagues on a personal and professional level. Attend staff social events, have lunch together, or engage in informal conversations. My first principal gave this advice to all of her first year teachers, especially since several of us started just after consolidation of two districts. We were not tied to either former school, so as new teachers, we could help build the bridge to collaboration throughout the building. Building relationships and trust creates a safe space for open dialogue and collaboration. I am so grateful that they were so welcoming and friendly to me. This helped forge a bond that we shared my entire time at that school.
Finally, celebrate successes and support one another. Take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of your colleagues. Share positive moments, recognize growth, and celebrate milestones together. Support one another during challenging times, offering encouragement, empathy, and assistance. By celebrating successes and supporting each other, you foster a positive and collaborative culture that benefits both you and your students. There are so many great ideas out there on ways to celebrate and encourage each other, but let me know if you would like to see a separate blog post with specific ideas.
Here are some innovative as well as time tested ways to collaborate with colleagues:
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs):
If you teach in a district that has multiple elementary buildings like one of the districts I taught in, Professional Learning Communities are one way to collaborate across buildings, see what other teachers are doing and have cohesion among the grade level. PLC’s are structured groups, but can be as formal or informal as you choose, where teachers with shared grade levels (or subjects for older grades) collaborate regularly. We met once a quarter and for certain special events, but you can meet more or less often as it fits in your schedule.PLCs provide opportunities for teachers to engage in meaningful discussions, share best practices, analyze student data, and design instructional strategies together. By meeting regularly, teachers can identify common challenges and develop solutions together, fostering a supportive and collaborative culture within the school or district.
Plan and Co-Teach Lessons:
Collaborative lesson planning and co-teaching are powerful ways to learn from and with your colleagues. Collaborating on lesson planning and resource sharing allows elementary teachers to benefit from each other’s expertise, creativity, and experiences. By working together, teachers can create more diverse and engaging lesson plans that cater to the needs of all students and differentiate instruction based on student needs. Collaborative lesson planning encourages innovation, saves time, and helps teachers leverage the strengths of their colleagues, leading to enhanced teaching practices and improved student outcomes.
You can also consider co-teaching lessons where you and a colleague work together to deliver instruction. Co-teaching allows you to observe different teaching styles, provide immediate feedback, and share the workload. Through collaborative planning and co-teaching, you gain insights, improve your teaching practice, and foster a supportive learning environment. This is honestly one of my favorite things about teaching – I love co-teaching and have done so in many different ways. Let me know if you want to know more about how teachers can collaborate with each other by co-teaching and I’ll share that in a future blog post.
Peer Observations and Feedback:
Peer observations provide an opportunity for elementary teachers to learn from one another through classroom visits and constructive feedback. By observing their colleagues in action, teachers can gain insights into different teaching styles, classroom management techniques, and instructional strategies. They can then reflect on their own practices and make adjustments based on what they observed. One of my principals valued this so much, she gave us release time to do it. If having to write sub plans makes you want to avoid the idea altogether, consider taking a plan period to go visit another teacher’s classroom.
As new teachers, you may be assigned a mentor. If so, they may come in and watch you teach and then give you feedback. Keep an open mind about this. Peer feedback allows teachers to provide support, offer suggestions for improvement, and celebrate successes. It fosters a culture of continuous growth and encourages professional dialogue among colleagues.
Seek Diverse Perspectives:
Collaboration with colleagues offers a wealth of diverse perspectives and experiences. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn from others who may have different teaching styles, approaches, or expertise. Be open to alternative viewpoints and consider how they may enhance your own practice. Again, this is one thing I didn’t do, that looking back on, I wish I would have. We can’t be so rigid in our thinking that we fail to see other methods that may be effective. Seek out colleagues who have strengths in areas where you want to grow, and be willing to share your own expertise in return. By valuing diverse perspectives, you can create a rich and dynamic collaborative environment.
Share and Reflect on Best Practices:
Collaborating with colleagues allows for the sharing and reflection on best practices. Be proactive in sharing your own successful strategies and resources with your colleagues. Very few things would light me up more than a colleague coming into my room and saying “Where did you get that idea?” or “Tell me more about…” Likewise, I always did the same thing when I went into other classrooms or had discussions with other teachers. Engage in discussions about what works well in the classroom and reflect on how you can incorporate these practices into your own teaching.
Engage in Professional Development Opportunities Together:
Participating in professional development opportunities together with your colleagues can deepen your collaboration and enhance your teaching practice. Attend workshops, conferences, or webinars as a team to learn and discuss new strategies, approaches, or educational trends. I definitely feel like I got more out of conferences I attended with a colleague. Having someone to discuss conference topics with always enhanced my understanding and helped me brainstorm ways to put into practice what was learned at the conference.
In conclusion, collaboration among elementary teachers plays a pivotal role in improving teaching practices and student outcomes. By working together, elementary teachers can make a significant impact on the success and growth of their students. We want our students to embrace a growth mindset and collaborative learning, so the best way to help that happen is by doing these things ourselves. We can share and model our experiences with our students to help them gain perspectives on these important topics. I wouldn’t be half as good of a teacher if it weren’t for collaboration.
Next week we will be talking about creating a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students. If you have any questions about this topic, you can comment below, or email me: email@example.com