• Theme: Organizing collaborative professional learning
  • Media:Answers to typical questions

Illustration 1. Collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning involves interdependence between the success of the individual and the success of the group, requiring both personal preparation and teamwork. Asynchronous work, in combination with group interaction and problem-solving, differentiates collaborative learning from other interactive teaching methods. Important rules, in this case, are : (a) familiarity with collaborative learning, (b) relationships, (c) benefits, (d) motivations, and (e) design and process.

Read more: Falcione , S., Campbell, E., McCollum, B., Chamberlain, J., Macias, M., Morsch , L., & Pinder , C. (2019). Emergence of different perspectives of success in collaborative learning. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10 (2). https://doi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2019.2.8227

Familiarity with collaborative learning

Collaboration is the process of working together to achieve a common goal. A collaborative learning approach involves pupils working together on activities or learning tasks in a group small enough to ensure that everyone participates. Pupils in the group may work on separate tasks contributing to a common outcome, or work together on a shared task.  

 Teacher collaborative learning involves:

  • debating, planning, and problem-solving together;
  • using evidence and research to guide decision-making;
  • identification on and working with each other’s strengths and weaknesses;
  • contribution to the improvement of the learning environment.

Relationships

Collaborative learning brings teachers together as learners, with a shared goal of improving learner outcomes. In professional learning communities, all teachers contribute as equals, seeking to understand and respond to what is happening for their learners. The focus is on problem-solving together, drawing on both research and student evidence to inform and evaluate changes to practice. In a learning community of practice, every professional is valued, respected, and listened to know that everyone can contribute to the professional development of teachers.

By focusing on building respectful relationships, teachers create an inclusive environment where:

  • everyone can participate and learn;
  • conflicts do not escalate easily because there is trust;
  • are common understanding of how to interact with each other;
  • are a common visions of what can be achieved.

In this case, teachers actively promote relationship building. Through constructive, respectful, and trusting relationships, a favorable environment is created because of these relationships. Therefore this inclusive school environment becomes sustainable.

Motivations

Collaborative learning is based on evidence of success, giving that evidence to the privileged few, learning from it, scaling it up, and ensuring others move on to the experience. It's learning from mistakes, seeking feedback on progress, and enjoying the help of experts that provide safety nets and problem-solving. Creative collaboration involves the bringing together of two or more seemingly unrelated ideas and re-emphasizes the importance of creating safe and trusted spaces to explore ideas, make and learn from mistakes, and use knowledge to maximize successful learning.

Design and process

Teachers need to collaborate with others. This is a necessary step towards becoming competent, inclusive professionals. Therefore, it is important to develop a shared practice with others here. This is best achieved by actively working towards a vision of becoming a learning community. In a learning community, professionals learn by sharing experiences and working towards a common goal. Inclusive professionals are reaching out to a diversity of opinions, competencies, aspirations, or communication styles and making the best use of them to improve practice.

Some ideas that can be included in the collaborative learning process:

  • reflection on own social identity, prejudice, and stereotypes;
  • accepting all students as someone who want to learn;
  • consider issues around confidentiality and ethics, e.g. regarding disclosure of information on special needs or disabilities;
  • philosophy for children to develop their way of thinking about others;
  • new approaches to classroom management for large classes to respect the diversity of students;
  • engagement in school-based projects on awareness raising;
  • multicultural programs in the schools focusing on the diversity of students;
  • increase awareness of students, parents, and education officials about inclusive education.

Benefits

All members of learning communities benefit from effective collaboration. Active collaboration requires a shift from managing the learning of a single group of learners to taking collective responsibility for the success and well-being of all learners. Inclusive learning environments are changing the ways that teachers teach, plan, and inquire into teaching together. in such a way learners benefit from collaborative teaching because teachers take collective responsibility for the progress of all learners. Teachers who know how to collaborate effectively model skills of collaboration to their learners. Collaborative teaching environments provide opportunities for teachers to learn from and with each other on an ongoing basis. Teachers can observe other teachers in action, engage in professional conversations about the impact of different approaches, and get feedback on their own teaching. Collaborative teaching teams support each other’s professional growth. This creates synergy, allowing teams to achieve more than they would if teachers worked independently.

References and additional information:

  • Leonard, P. E., & Leonard, L.J. (2001). The collaborative prescription: Remedy or reverie? International Journal of Leadership in Education, 4(4); pp. 383–99.
  • Hedderrich, I., Biewer, G., Hollenweger, J., Markowetz, R. (2022). Handbuch Inklusion und Sonderpädagogik. Eine Einführung. Bad Heilbrun: Verlag J. Klinkhardt.
  • Hattie, J. (2015). What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise. Retrieved from: https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/corporate/global/pearson-dot-com/files/hattie/150526_ExpertiseWEB_V1.pdf.
  • Hollenweger, J., Pantić, N., & Florian, L. (2015). Tool to upgrade teacher education practices for inclusive education. Brussels, Strasbourg: EU, Council of Europe. Retrieved from: https://www.coe.int/en/web/learning-resources/-/tool-to-upgrade-teacher-education-practices-for-inclusive-education.
  • Villegas, A. M., Lucas, T. (2001). Educating Culturally Responsive Teachers: A Coherent Approach. SUNY Series, Teacher Preparation and Development. State University of New York Press.

Mirror: how to explore needs, make choices for the professional development programme and involve the whole team?

Before starting a professional development programme (PDP), it is necessary to explore what it could mean for you and your school. To this end, you usually plan a consultation or intake meeting with your management and other relevant stakeholders, e.g. one or more interested teachers, colleagues from your care team, possibly a coordinator, mentor, policy supporter, etc.

The following guiding questions can start the conversation about this.

Goals:

  • To what extent do the objectives of the professional development program match the needs of our school and team?
  • Do we want to commit to creating inclusive learning environments, valuing a diversity and collaborating interprofessionally? In what ways?
  • For whom would it be important to work on these goals?
  • Actions:
  • In what ways are we already working on inclusive learning environments?
  • What actions, measures and/or reasonable adjustments are we already taking to create inclusive learning environments?
  • What are the different steps we are already taking or took? How exactly do we approach it?
  • How does our school support teachers in doing so?
  • What examples or situations illustrate this? Is there anything we are proud of? Is there anything that we might want to deepen, extend,...?

Policies:

  • What is our pedagogical policy or care policy, reflecting our vision and actions?
  • What does our school vision say about diversity and/or inclusion?
  • What is our policy in dealing with diversity and inclusion?
  • How does this policy translate to the classroom floor? What examples or situations illustrate this? Is there anything we value in this? Is there anything that we might want to deepen, expand,...?

Collaboration:

  • How does our team work together to meet the needs of all pupils?
  • Specifically, how does collaboration between teachers take place?
  • What promotes and what sometimes hinders that cooperation? How does our team experience this?
  • What examples or situations illustrate this? Is there anything that teachers, part of our team or our whole school team strongly tackle together? [iv3] Is there anything we might want to deepen, expand,...?

Professional development:

  1. How is professionalisation on inclusion, diversity and/or collaboration addressed?
  2. What professionalisation needs does our team experience in terms of inclusion, diversity and/or collaboration? What competences are we already strongly deploying? Is there anything we might want to deepen, expand,...?
  3. What professionalisation opportunities do we see to work on this?
  4. How do we organise our pedagogical study days and staff meetings?  
  5. How do we exchange expertise and experiences on classroom practices? How do we share what we learn during in-service training and other forms of professionalisation? How do we broaden and anchor what we learn sustainably?
  6. How do we look at collaborative learning in a core team and in our wider school team?
  7. How do we look at guiding, supporting and coaching this journey? Who might we turn to as an internal or external coach to facilitate this learning process?

Based on these reflections, you decide on the approach of your professional development programme. These guiding questions help you weigh up the extent to which these choices match your own professional learning needs.

  • To what extent does this professional development programme appeal to us? What do we think about it? To what extent does the pathway fit our needs?
  • What do we want to focus on (arrive at sharp goals from our reality, learn to deploy resources and actions and/or broaden and anchor them)? What do we want to tackle or possibly adapt?
  • How much time do we want to set aside for this? How many meetings can we schedule? How do we spread them out in time, over one or more school years? How do we make it feasible?
  • Do we want to create a professional learning community for it or embed the process in an existing working group, subteam, in staff meetings and/or pedagogical study days?
  • How do we motivate colleagues to participate? Is there any compensation possible for their efforts, e.g. by scheduling and/or temporarily releasing them from other intensive processes, projects, engagements...?
  • Who do we ask to guide and support this learning process as internal or external coach?

After the (management) team decides to start a professional development programme, it is necessary to inform and involve all teachers in the school. This is best done about

  • the objectives in terms of inclusion, diversity and cooperation,
  • the focus of the pathway,
  • the way the pathway encourages joint reflection and action and
  • the guidance, support and coaching approach provided with it.

Above all, transparent communication is needed about the trajectory's coherence with the school's policy. For example, you can answer the following guiding questions in this regard.

  • Why does our school want to embark on this?
  • How does this trajectory fit with our school's vision, policies and actions?
  • Who can participate in what way? Based on what criteria, if any, will this be decided and by when?
  • How do we want to honour this extra effort to grow together towards inclusion?

Once there is clarity on this, you can think together about the needs your colleagues experience in this respect. In this way, all colleagues can take ownership of this professional development pathway and you will arrive at a shared responsibility to realise the goals.