The Power of Collaboration

  • The Power of Collaboration

    June 2024

    Teaching can be a very isolating job. We spend the majority of our time working with our students in classrooms. It can feel like there are few opportunities to interact with adults. This feeling of isolation contributes to teacher burnout and teacher retention.  Educators must prioritize collaboration with their peers; building and district administrators play a crucial role in creating the necessary structures to ensure this happens. Ultimately, this collaboration will benefit the students we work with.

    Collaborating with your grade-level or course-level colleagues is essential so that we can better meet the needs of every student. Developing consistency in curriculum increases opportunities for student success in the following years as they will receive similar experiences. While not all educators in a given grade will teach the same way, as each educator builds on their own strengths, students should be focusing on the same content. Ideally, educators should be utilizing common assessments in order to help ensure consistent expectations for all students.

    Professional development can be fostered through horizontal collaboration with grade-level or course colleagues. We have opportunities to exchange instructional ideas and educational resources to better meet the needs of students. Additionally, we can share insights and strategies to better support students who are struggling as well as those who are excelling.

    Horizontal collaboration, though, isn’t enough. Vertical collaboration is essential; we need to know where our students have been and where they are going. To ensure student preparedness, we must discuss and map out progressions of key concepts and skills. When educators across grade levels work together, they make certain that the mathematics curriculum is aligned and that each grade builds on the knowledge and concepts from previous grades. This allows increased opportunities for students to develop strong foundations and progress more smoothly as gaps and redundancies are reduced. Sometimes, I find myself going too deep into skill development with my 8th graders, not recognizing their prior knowledge.

    But for vertical collaboration to make an impact, we need to do more than look at the learning trajectories for the development of key concepts. Our conversations should focus on how our students are learning the content so that we can allow students to have increased opportunities to make connections to their previous work. When educators ask students to recall the marbles problem from last year, for example, and then build on it, students see increased connections between topics. In addition to conversations about the contexts that students learned in prior grades, your conversations should also focus on the instructional pedagogy that was used. Consistent dialogue around pedagogy allows educators to continually learn new strategies and is especially important between different buildings and between high school and higher education. Too often, I hear educators say they don’t think they can change how they teach as they worry their students won’t be prepared for the next building. But I wonder how often we truly know how mathematics is being taught in those buildings!

    By collaborating, educators can create a more cohesive and supportive learning environment that promotes long-term student success and a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. I hope each of you can find some time to rest, relax, and rejuvenate over the next few months and find opportunities to recharge before the next school year. Congratulations to those who are retiring at the conclusion of the school year; thanks for all you have done to meet the needs of students throughout your career!

    Kevin Dykema
    NCTM President