5 Ways to Work With a Reluctant Teacher Collaborator

The research is very clear on teacher collaboration: it works. A recent study by Ronfeldt, M., Farmer, S., McQueen, K., & Grissom, J. (2015), surveyed over 9000 teachers on the subject of teacher collaboration. Over 90% of the teachers surveyed indicated that collaboration was beneficial to both teachers and their students.  However, there are teachers at every school that are reluctant to collaborate with their colleagues. 

Here are five ways to encourage collaboration with even the most reluctant of teachers: 

1. Be clear as to the purpose and expected outcomes of collaboration 

Teachers have enough on their plate. It is important that they don’t feel that collaboration time is just another meeting that they must attend with no actionable outcomes. Each collaborative team should sit down and create the purpose and expected outcomes of their time together. This creates a sense of responsibility and direction. It also encourages teachers to come to meetings prepared to share recent data, work samples, and questions. It also helps to prevent collaboration in being hijacked and turned into a complaint session. 

2. Create Collaboration Opportunities During Contract Hours

Creating opportunities for teachers to collaborate during the school day will help them engage. Some teachers have trouble being fully engaged at a 7:15 am or 4:00 pm team meeting. Having collaboration time during the school day honors their contract as well as maximizes their potential to collaborate without the distractions of being tired or having to leave to pick up their own children or make appointments. Scheduling collaboration during the day also allows administrators to mandate attendance if necessary. 

3. Have a One-On-One Conversation

Some reluctant collaborators are afraid to let their guard down to their colleagues. It is important to validate these feelings and to put them at ease. Having a one-on-one conversation outside of the meeting will give these teachers an opportunity to express their concerns and fears in a safe and confidential environment. Many times, this notion of fear in a public setting looks like reluctance or even frustration. Sometimes, reluctant and being withdrawn from a group is a defense mechanism so that these teachers don’t feel inadequate or antiquated. 

4. Utilize Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development 

In some cases, schools want to have collaborative teams up and running looking at data in record time. Before teams dive into that work, they need to be provided the time and space to come together and define themselves. Tuckman gives us five distinct stages of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Once teams are forms, administration needs to allow them to storm in order to formulate their identity. The storming process allows for teachers to discuss norms, intentions, best practices, and communication protocols. Once this is allowed to occur, teams can begin to norm themselves based on the outcomes of the storming process. Without the storming process to occur, team members will still be battling for position and air time leading to poorly developed norms. 

5. Assign Responsibilities for Teacher Team Members

Teachers will feel more engaged if they feel they have a purpose or a role in a meeting. One way to do this is to ensure that reluctant teachers have a specific role or job in their collaborative team meeting. Jobs could be anything from note taker to time keeper, facilitator to administration liaison. These roles are important not only for the operation of the collaborative team, but also for the self esteem and motivation of a reluctant collaborator. 

Ronfeldt, M., Farmer, S., McQueen, K., & Grissom, J. (2015). Teacher collaboration in                   instructional teams and student achievement. American Educational Research Journal,         52(3), 475-514. 

Dr. David Franklin, CEO of The Principal’s Desk, is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions. He can be reached at david@theprincipalsdesk.org or at www.principalsdesk.org.

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