Teacher Collaboration: How Can We Get More of This?

Having dedicated time to plan with another teacher or several teachers has been one of the best parts of my job this year.  As a Lead Collaboration Teacher, I get to work with teachers who request to work with our team.  Using Jennifer Katz’s 3 Block Model our team has recently been focused on Block 2, which is instructional design.    Planning sessions have involved UDL focused unit plans as well as cross curricular unit plans.

I have to admit my plans from the past look nothing like the planning I have had the opportunity to be a part of this year.  When working with small groups of teachers to plan it has become clear to me that I have been missing out when planning in isolation all these years.  I have always had a great team that shares ideas, but only a few times have we sat down to really plan out full units. I always felt like a didn’t have time.  Teachers are busy at least that was the excuse I used.  Who had time to plan with others when you have phones calls to make, reports to write, materials to get ready for class, work to mark and on and on.  Really, what was  I thinking?

The quality of the plans made in collaboration with others has been amazing this year.  Everyone has different strengths to bring to the table.  The more diverse the teachers in our group the more diverse our lessons were.  I was always happy to have someone who was strong in music and math as these are not my personal areas of strength.  I have my own strengths to bring which I think are integrating technology and (to use the kid friendly language I use with students) picture and people smarts.  Having people to bounce ideas off of, I have learned, is invaluable.

Other avenues I have explored to reach out and collaborate with educators is Twitter, Edcamps and Moocs.

For the past few years, I have found using Twitter to connect and collaborate one way that I can find other educators who push my thinking and help me reflect on my own teaching practices.  I check to see what others tweet out.  Tweets can link me to blogs, articles, and links to resources they are using with their class.  I then take some of those ideas, tweek and adopt the ones that work for me and my students.  Twitter has become my main source of PD.  I love it because it is PD on my time and PD that I choose.

I have attended Edcamps such as Redcamp and EdcampEdmonton.  I first heard about Edcamps through Twitter.  By following other Alberta Educators, I came across a Redcamp tweet.  I had no idea what an Edcamp was so I investigated further online.  An unconference to meet others interested in education in Alberta, I was in.  I attended #Redcamp12 and met other passionate Alberta educators face to face like Joe Bower, Sean Grainger and  Verena Roberts.  RedCamp opened with a short keynote from Joe Bower and all participants had the opportunity to propose a topic that they would be interested in learning about. You could start a new topic or tag on to a topic posted by someone else that you were also interested in.   Topics were constructed by the participants that morning.  It was a type of PD I had never experienced before.  Not only did everyone have a say in the topics but they were not sit and get type sessions.  They were conversations!  The one session I attended, that stood out for me, was on Provincial Achievement Tests.  Not only were educators there but I believe there was a city councilor that attended.  It was great to be able to have these conversations with various stakeholders and see the perspective of others. I really love the format of Edcamps and loved the opportunity to meet face to face with other passionate educators I follow on Twitter.

Last year I attended EdCampEdmonton.  There I connected with more Alberta educators like Karla Holt, Jen DeyenbergKelli Holden and Catherine D.  With Karla I share a passion for educational technology and I have been fortunate to be in a few classes with her.  If I need to know about iPads, Karla is my go to person.  Jen is the queen of all things games based learning and shares my interest in Universal Design for Learning.  Kelli and Catherine were both grade 4 teachers, which happened to be the grade I taught.  Catherine also took some of the same 3Block Model of UDL sessions with Jennifer Katz so when I have a question about that or even want some feedback on lessons or units I have been working on, I know I can ask her.  Working in my current role, I do not have a class of my own but I continue to follow and learn from them whenever I can.  Edcamps have allowed me to connect and learn face to face with educators that share the same interests.  Many times these connections continue online and or face to face.  These are some of the people that make up my Personal Learning Network.  Whenever I am stuck or have a question, these are the people I know I can reach out too.  Often I will tweet out a question and someone in my PLN will respond to help, or point me in the direction of help.

The first Mooc I participated in was the #DCMooc.  It was a Digital Citizenship Massive Online Open Course facilitated by Dr. Alec Couros.  I took it because I was interested in the topic, it was free and I could participate as little or as much as I wanted. This was perfect because I was not sure how much I could commit to the course.  I had never taken a Mooc, was working full time and was not sure what to expect.  There were some weeks that I could not make the webinars or Twitter chats but I could always catch up, when I had time.  Many sessions were scheduled twice, once in the afternoon one day and then again in the evening on a different date.  The webinars were recorded and archived on the #DCMooc site and I could watch them whenever I had time or not at all.  The choice was mine and it was what worked best for me.  People could connect and share their learning in the Google+ Community or Tweet and follow the learning using or searching the #DCMooc.  It was a great learning experience.

A few weeks ago, the opportunity to join on as a Co-Conspirator for the #oclmooc, came up.  It is a Connectivist MOOC for Alberta Educators& other interested trainers, teachers and learners.  I could not turn this down.  Many of the educators I have met along the way of my Twitter, EdCamp and MOOC journey are also involved in the project.  #oclmooc is open to all learners but I am particularly interested in how we as Alberta Educators can connect and collaborate more.  Working in a smaller rural district it often challenging to provide meaningful professional development for ALL.  Many times teachers are working on an island with nobody to connect with about the ideals or disciplines or subject matter that is important to them.  With the technology that is available now there are so many ways anyone could connect to others with shared interests, despite distance.  I have had the privilege to witness many great teachers over the years and even more so in the last year.  How can we better share our wealth of expertise already here in Alberta and learn more openly?

How many other Alberta educators out there feel like they are learning on an island?  If you are one of these people, check out the #oclmooc.  Start or continue building your own Personal Learning Network through the oclmooc.  If you are not on Twitter, have not participated in a webinar or joined a Google+ community, not to worry.  Now is your chance to learncheck out our getting started page.  If you have questions at anytime ask a Co-Conspirator.  I am excited for the learning and connecting to come in #oclmooc.

How are you creating opportunities for more teacher collaboration in your school or division?  Would love to hear from you in the comment section below.

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8 thoughts on “Teacher Collaboration: How Can We Get More of This?

  1. Hi Christine,
    I enjoyed your post. Like you, I am an Alberta educator passionate about learning and education. I too, have discovered the powerful ness of Twitter and turn to it regularly for PD. I attended my first Redcamp in May and am hoping to attend more in the future. Kelli and Catherine have also become important people in my PLN and I’m so grateful that you are now too. Your post has promoted me to explore #oclmooc further so I’ll see you there!

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  2. Hey Tanya,
    I am also glad I found you through Twitter. There are so many great ideas, strategies, reflections and resources being shared through Twitter. I am so grateful for all those that continue to be open and share their learning. Glad you will be joining us for #oclmooc and hopefully I will meet you face to face at an Alberta EdCamp sometime soon.

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  3. Hey Christine! Appreciate your perspective on Alberta edcamps and edcamps in general. I’ll be chiming in at #oclmooc in week 5 talking about Alberta edcamps and the tremendous neo-professional and perhaps more authentic and purposeful learning opportunities they offer… looking forward to your thoughts and perspectives!

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  4. Hi Christine,
    I am an educator in BC and department head of Learning Partners, a program that supports and facilitates peer mentoring, collaboration and teacher inquiry. We provide teachers with release time to connect and collaborate throughout the year. As well, one of our initiatives “Teacher Drop In” days where host teachers volunteer to open up their classrooms to visiting colleagues. This allows teachers the opportunity to get some insight into the innovative and exciting activities that are occurring in other areas of the school. I would love to hear more about your role and program in Alberta!

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    1. Hi Sarah,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment on my post;) I really like that idea of the “teacher drop in”. I have dropped into other classes when I have had a student teacher and I had to leave them alone with my class. I spent some time in an amazing math teacher’s grade 2 class. I learned so much, such a valuable experience. We often work in silos as teachers and should really look to the expertise in our own buildings. Many great things are happening in classrooms all around us! Do your teachers drop in for the entire day or half day or how did that work?

      In this role, I work with teachers to implement Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction. Some of the things we typically do are model strategies for social emotional learning (from Jennifer Katz’s Respecting Diversity program), or work one on one or with small groups on inclusive instructional design (Block 2 of Katz’s 3 Block Model). Last year, teachers could book us and if they could get sub time from their school budget. We often do half days of planning. With teachers who are the only one teaching that grade in their school we would try to find other grade partners to join and work with us. This year, our board approved more funding to double our team to 3 full time lead teachers. Last year, we had one full time and one half time teacher. They also changed the funding for sub coverage. All schools put their funds together to provide funds from a joint pool. Which is much better for our many small schools that operate with much smaller budgets.

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  5. Hey Christine! Great post! You are correct about the power of collaborating. Teachers working together within a school is only the beginning. The true magic happens when you reach out and collaborate with educators from around the globe. Look forward to seeing you at #edcampYEG again this year!

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