Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate!

By Angelique Kwabenah January 22nd, 2014 7:00 PM

There are eight hours in a school day. In that eight-hour time period, principals expect teachers to find the time to collaborate.

Really??? Yes! It can and must be done for student success!

When I first became a teacher, I worked in isolation because I felt like I didn’t have the time to reach out to my colleagues for help. As the years progressed, I learned that collaboration actually took a lot of the stress away because I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.  Over the years, collaboration has helped me improve my practice as a teacher by acquiring new strategies from colleagues in addition to providing me with feedback on strategies that I currently utilize.

At DCPS, collaboration is encouraged through collaborative planning sessions.  These meetings are a team effort, and every teacher has the opportunity to participate and benefit from them. At the Incarcerated Youth Program, the school where I currently teach, there are two collaborative planning groups. The SPED Team meets every week to schedule meetings, discuss students, and consider new strategies. The other focus team is comprised of all content area teachers and service providers. This team meets weekly and each content area teacher is assigned to present a Teach strategy, a Common Core strategy, or a Cross-Curricular strategy to the group. Following that activity, the school worker presents stress management tips and behavior management strategies that can be easily implemented in each classroom. During the last ten minutes of the collaboration meeting, teachers give comments, ask questions, share concerns, and give out kudos to one another. Teachers are given an opportunity to share and provide feedback to the presenter and to reflect upon how they might use the information.

As the lead teacher, my job is to ensure that each staff member has all the materials necessary for a successful presentation and to follow up with teachers after the meeting.  I look forward to collaborative time because it gives me an opportunity to learn from colleagues and to receive encouragement on those days when it seems like everything isn’t going exactly as planned. I am always looking for new ways to present material in a reading context, and the collaborative meetings provide me with a feasible way to get that done given the time constraints throughout the day.

Collaborative time at IYP is an opportunity for teachers to let their hair down and come together in a non-threatening, supportive meeting of their peers in order to collectively decide what school-wide strategies are working and what strategies are not working. We collaborate in order to elevate the quality of instruction that we provide to our students. We can, we must, and we do collaborate at IYP! Do you??

Angelique Kwabenah is a Reading Specialist at the Incarcerated Youth Program in Washington, DC.