One of the most important roles in education is that of the teacher; that role that has not been easily removed from the field as it migrates into the self-pace / self-teaching world of technology. Hence, teachers are called to share experiences to improve their practices as these practices may vary in contexts and may account for greater growth for other peers. This endeavor is not to be taken lightly and without proper care since it requires some guidance to be deemed successful. This paper explores the importance of such information-sharing in aims of improving teachers’ practices and provides some guidelines to apply for teacher collaborative development to work properly.
Uno de los roles más importantes en la educación, es aquel del docente; ese rol que no ha podido ser removido fácilmente mientras el campo educativo migra a la auto enseñanza y el mundo de la tecnología. Así pues, los docentes están llamados a compartir sus experiencias en pro de la mejora de sus prácticas, las cuales varían de acuerdo con el contexto donde se aplican. Este trabajo no puede ser tomado a la ligera y sin el cuidado y guía que requiere para ser exitoso. Este artículo explora la importancia de compartir experiencias docentes; adicionalmente, provee algunas guías para compartir estas experiencias de manera exitosa.
Key words: Professional development, teacher collaboration, teacher skills.
Relevance of teacher professional development
Language learning, more than a process, is a full enterprise. There are many parties that foregather for the purpose of achieving a constant refinement of the learning process. One of the parties or stakeholders involved in the procedure, and one of the most meaningful for the whole operation, is the one of teachers. According to Hattie (2003 in Mora-Ruano et al. 2019) “teacher quality alone accounts for 30% of the variance in student performance.” (P.1) and thus, in the learning process outcome itself.
Accordingly, professional development has become an important topic of discussion in education and the continuous hunt for such development among teachers channeled the efforts towards strategies like teacher collaboration which, according to Mora-Ruano et al. (2019), is “acknowledged […] as a core element for the professional development of the school and its members” to the point where “many official policies and education reforms around the world plead for more collaborative practices among teachers.” (p.2)
The endeavor of improving teachers’ skills has led the community on to reflective strategies such as self-efficacy (Bandura 1982) or action research itself (Lewin, 1952) which, according to Grushka et al. (2005), “increased respect for teaching craft knowledge” (p.1); although, in many cases, the goodwill of these actions become fruitless when they turn into “token observations focused on minor technical aspects of their teaching.” (Ibid). Hence the importance of focusing on achieving effective professional development strategies for teachers instead of new ways of exerting control over their actions.
Dellicarpini (2014) defines collaboration as “activities where teachers work together in some way to achieve some end result with the goal of enhanced student Outcomes.” and describes it as a spectrum of possibilities that move between the “formal Collaboration” orchestrated by the administration and based on a fixed structure and the “informal Collaboration” defined as “teachers sharing information about students that they teach, the materials that they use, or strategies that have worked for them.” (p. 131)
The definition of collaboration has changed and teacher development has moved from the outdated view where they were “bombard[ed] with externally imposed methods and techniques through crash teacher training courses (Ostovar-Namaghi & Sheikhahmadi, 2016, P. 199) to a new method where teachers “now collaborate and learn from each other’s experience” (Ibid). However, for this strategy to work, it is necessary to consider several requirements pointed out by Friend and Cook (1992, in Dellicarpini 2014):
- It must be voluntary in nature.
- It includes parity or equal standing among the participants.
- It requires that participants share a goal.
- It requires that participants share responsibility for decisions and outcomes.
- It includes shared accountability.
- It requires participants to willingly share resources that include not only materials but time, expertise, commitment, support of colleagues, and other resources.
- It is emergent: As participants engage in successful collaborative contexts, their skills and positive beliefs are enhanced, therefore making their collaborative experiences more successful.
(Dellicarpini, 2014, p. 131)
According to Hargreaves (1998 in Forte & Flores, 2014) “collaboration may take different forms such as team teaching, collaborative planning, peer coaching, mentoring, professional dialogue and collaborative action research.” (p.92) Once the basic requirements are fulfilled, the next step would be to choose a strategy that meets the needs and goals of the collaboration according to the context. A good start could be the six types of co-teaching defined by Cook and Friend (1995 in Graziano & Navarrete, 2012, p.110) “one teaches, one observe”, “one teaches, one assists”, “station teaching”, “Parallel Teaching”, “alternative teaching” and “ team teaching”.
The aforementioned types of co-teaching allow for a greater diversity of collaboration practices; according to the level of experience, confidence, expectation, and enthusiasm of the participant teachers; however, still depending on the goodwill, persuasiveness, and commitment of the administrators in charge of the institutions who should create the right atmosphere for encouraging teachers to take a leap of faith and decide to become part of a professional development community.
Having reviewed the importance of teachers for education and for the learning process, it is fundamental to acknowledge the relevance of professional development not only for teachers as individuals but for a whole institution. It is not uncommon to find teacher training institutions encouraging teachers (especially those who are still under training) to carry out action research. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best ways for teachers to develop professionally; collaboration and coteaching should be a great starting point for those who do not feel ready to jump into action research but desire to start the path of professional growth. Once again, it is advisable for administrators to ponder on the optimal conditions suggested in this paper, so they can successfully provide their teams with an environment that invites teachers to collaborate.