Teachers’ Collaboration for Professional Development

Shaty Kumar Mahato*      

Introduction

Collaborative teacher development is the process of sharing together for enhancing and cooperating the quality of teaching and learning practices. It occurs when the teachers and learners work together in the process of teaching and learning. This paper is based on my presentation at the 22nd international conference of NELTA 2017. The teachers and learners have the common goal to overcome the problems occurred in the practices of teaching and learning. The teachers’ association like NELTA in Nepal is helping in energizing language teachers and researchers to be professional as well as professional growth. Personally, by joining NELTA, I am benefitted from growing professionally and academically. The teachers can play a pertinent role to collaborate with the people involved in teaching and learning practices. Collaborating together, the teachers explore more opportunities for the learners so that the learners can envision several steps of learning.

Likewise, teachers can also enhance expertise and build good confidence with their learners. The teachers exchange their ideas and knowledge with other participants in teaching and learning and that led them to be professionally sound. Therefore, collaboration is one of the ways for teachers’ professional development. Regarding collaboration, Vygotsky (1978) as cited in Barfield, (2016, p. 222) states, “Collaborative learning can be seen to occur through dialogue, social interaction, and joint-decision making with others and these shared processes contribute greatly to individual and collective growth as well as to co-constructed understanding and knowledge”. As a language teacher and researcher, I have had a similar experience in my classroom and outside of the classroom.

Similarly, Hargreaves, (1994, p.186) says, “To a point where teachers can learn from each other, sharing and developing their expertise together”. The learning becomes effective while sharing because they can generate meaningful ideas and information. Furthermore, Medgyes and Malderez, (1996), as cited in Barfield (2016, p.222), state, “collaborative teacher development is founded on dialogue, questioning, and discussion in working together towards educational change and improvement” and it is supported by Datnow (2011, p.155) that “it is at its most effective when it emerges voluntarily and spontaneously from teachers’ own beliefs that working together is productive and enjoyable”. It means teachers can feel comfortable if they apply the collaborative work to practice. Similarly, my experience in teaching is teachers can professionally forward in sustained and meaningful ways if we are able to do so together. Here, I transformed myself into a professional teacher and researcher.

This article explores the needs and importance of collaboration for teachers’ professional development. It is my own experience of encountering collaborative and non-collaborative teaching and learning. The theoretical studies of the collaboration in the field of language teaching and learning enhanced my pedagogical skills and also helped to explore more innovative ideas and skills. Likewise, this paper sets to explore collaborative teaching and learning to envision how it is one of the sources for teachers’ professional development.

Collaborative Teaching and Learning for Teachers’ Professional Development 

As a teacher and a member of NELTA, I participated in seminars and conferences and understand that teacher is not only empowering her/his students but also growing professionally. I also understand that professional teachers always try and stand in search of learning knowledge. Maggioli (2004, p. 5) defines, “professional development as a career-long process in which educators fine-tune their teaching to meet student needs”. As Maggioli suggests it is clear to say that professional development is not a day or night development for one’s career, it is an ongoing process where one should professionally develop and grow through joining different minds together. It gives the vivid concept that if the teacher understands themselves as a learner and expert to fulfil the demands of the students.

Collaborative teaching and learning make a sense of learning by sharing and engaging together. It also builds harmony in our Nepalese context. The teachers’ collaboration and an active engagement with their students and different agencies could explore more innovative ways and skills of learning. The literature also focuses on collaboration which means working together especially in a joint intellectual effort so that one could stay sound and confident in language teaching-learning practices. According to Richards and Burns (2009, p. 239), “it is a social process that is contingent upon dialogue and interactions with others, processes through which teachers can come to better understand their own beliefs and knowledge as well as reshape these understandings through listening to the voice of others”. It is clearer in our Nepali context that our country is diverse which helps to understand the social phenomenon. Similarly, teaching and learning practices enhance when there is equal dialogue and interactions. Through collaborative teaching, teachers can come and interact with other people. Regarding their understanding, experience, and subject matter build confidence and broaden their skills. Likewise, it helps to exchange ideas, skills, and understanding with other fellow teachers, researchers and policymakers in the language field.

Similarly, Johnston (2003) considers collaboration as a wellspring of teacher professional development. Collaborative teaching and learning are fundamentally social processes. It creates collegiality and quality in the teaching profession. Edge (1992) states, “self-development needs other people…by cooperating with others, we can come to understand better our own experiences and opinions”. I also understand that self-determination in learning with other people enhances both confidentiality and collegiality. Likewise, we need collaborative teaching and learning for teachers’ professional development because Johnston views state collaborative teacher development as any sustained and systematic investigation into teaching and learning in which a teacher voluntarily collaborates with others involved in the teaching process, and in which professional development is a prime purpose.

Collaboration is crucial and influential in teaching and learning, which is concerned with the teacher’s professional development that gives the update and current affairs of knowledge. Cook (1981) states, “concern for the ultimate clients, the students, and for intermediaries, the teachers are apparent in all programmes, and this concern is directed toward sound educational and professional development rather than the gratification of immediate needs and desires.”  Collaboration in teaching is not only meant for programme development, it is meant for individual development too. It creates an ample opportunity for the teacher to integrate and come up with the vision, increased understanding among teachers at all grade levels and in varied subject areas.

In my experience, I understand collaboration while engaging and interacting through different agencies such as NELTA, LSN, and so on. In doing so, I developed my skills and confidence not only in classroom teaching but also beyond classroom teaching. Likewise, it helps me to explore my techniques, strategies and methods to apply in and outside of the classroom. Doing collaborative works and finding its relevance in academia is described by Darling Hammond and Richardson (2009).

To make it more explicit, Cook (1981) states, “collaboration is to provide a means for improving the professional education, it is important to consider not only the meaning and implication of “collaboration” but also the nature of “improvement”. Collaboration creates an environment where the teacher can work together and learn together to improve their professionalism. The dialogue and interaction which led through collaboration also build trust, confidence and collegiality. Teaching/learning in such a way could give sound satisfaction with satisfactory achievement, which would orient them to professionalism. This could become like cooperation but not exactly cooperation. Collaboration is somehow different from cooperation. Let’s see the differences.

Collaboration and Cooperation 

Killion (2012) states, as cited in the essential guide to professional learning Aitsl (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) “the more one educator’s learning is shared and supported by others, the more quickly the culture of continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and high expectations for students and educator’s grows.” Collaboration is a community where learners and teachers are involved together to share their knowledge, skills or ideas to recover the issues and challenges seen in teaching and learning. According to Aitsl, collaboration creates a community of working to achieve a common goal through the sharing of practice, knowledge and problems. And, effective collaboration encourages ongoing observation and feedback among colleagues where a culture of professional sharing, dialogue, experimentation and critique becomes commonplace. What I also observed through experiencing collaborative teaching, it makes sense of collegiality and mostly to get to know how things are going on worldwide.

Brook et al. (2007) state, “collaboration creates a base of pedagogical knowledge that is disturbed among teachers within a school as opposed to being held by individual teachers” as cited in Aitsl. It clears that if the teacher is suffering from the pedagogical problems they would get the chance to solve them through collaborative work that may not be solved by an individual. AITSL clearly defines both collaboration and cooperation where collaboration is concerned with working with another or others in a joint project.  Collaborative works, it has a common goal and a high level of trust. It is a job-embedded long term program and works with joint planning, decision making, and problem-solving methods.

Cooperation has individual ownership of goals with others providing assistance for mutual benefit. Generally, cooperation is spontaneous and passive engagement by others. Therefore, cooperation and collaboration have not much comparison. Collaboration is far better than cooperation in academia. We can say that doing collaborative work makes professional growth. Therefore, to grow professionally collaboration with the teachers’ association, colleagues, researchers and teachers enhance the skills needed for professional development.

Why do we need collaborative teacher development?

Collaboration is viewed as a process that facilitates teacher development, serves to generate knowledge and understanding, and helps to develop collegiality and one of which teachers should have or share control. It is an organizational and inter-organizational structure where resources, power, and authority are shared, and where people are brought together to share common goals that could not be accomplished by a single individual or an organization independently, Kagan (1991, p. 3) as cited in Rainforth and England (1997, p. 86). The work accomplished by the group may not be solved by an individual and mostly they become unfamiliar with the phenomenon or process used to accomplish the task. When they come together they would have common goals which can be shared together and can be easily accomplished. In other words, the most common things in collaboration are it facilitates every individual to share and learn the issues one is facing.

Similarly, teacher development is a social process that is contingent upon dialogue and interaction with others, processes through which teachers can come to better understand their own beliefs and knowledge as well as reshape these understanding through listening to the voices of others. It can be viewed as teachers learning, rather than as others getting teachers to change. In learning, the teachers were developing their beliefs and ideas, developing their classroom practices, and attending to their feelings associated with changing, Bell and Gilbert (1994), as cited in Evans (2002, p.126). It seems clearer that joining hands and working together means helping an association as well as helping an association means building a nation together.

Likewise, Goddard and Goddard (2007) states, “when teachers have opportunities to collaborate professionally, they build upon their distinctive experiences, pedagogies, and content” as cited in Burton, (2015, p.6). If we collaborate, our work and ideas together in a group could bring the lived experience in the field of professionalism. I’m not sure the satisfaction that I got during a teaching in a particular situation is equal to others in their own field. However, in my experience of teaching and learning in a group, I explore more ideas and opportunities to overcome problems with solutions. We need collaboration not only for individual improvement but also for our program development.

Yarger (1979) suggests, as cited in Cook (1981, p. 99) “collaboration in teacher education is not related to quality and improvement in program development”, it should provide a breadth of perception and vision, an enrichment in terms of resources and an opportunity for increased understanding among the teachers at all grade levels and in varied subject areas. It could then lead to effective programs of professional development.

Different Forms of Collaboration for Teacher Development

Collaborative Teacher Development (CTD) can take the initiation of effective teaching/learning along with professional growth. Nowadays it is one of the major concerns to be professional in one of the fields and teaching/learning is integrated into all the other development of the people. It helps learners and teachers to explore more innovative skills to find and accomplish the task according to their interests. To decide who, where and how the teacher gets collaborates for further development is necessary to know. We could say that five fingers are stronger than one finger, in the same way, working together by involving collaboratively could bring a concrete result which is most beneficial for all.

There are different forms of collaboration where teachers are the centre point to achieving the goal. According to Johnston, (2003), as cited in Richards and Burns (2009, p. 242), there are four different forms of collaboration that teachers can involve in their professional development.

Teachers can collaborate with their fellow teachers

In this group, the teacher and their fellow (peer) teachers worked and discuss together. This is the most balanced relationship in terms of power.  Collaboration among language teachers may well focus on instructional issues such as materials exploitation, classroom management, classroom language use, and other related issues. The language teachers are likely to point them toward certain common concerns and interests. Their professional understanding and depth of knowledge can help everyone involved in the group. It creates a lot of interaction related to the subject area and enhances the other further skills and knowledge. Here, we could say that meeting with different expertise minds certainly helps other minorities who have difficulties with resources and facilities in teaching/learning.

Collaboration between Teachers and University-based Researchers

As a teacher and researcher, I am much benefited from these forms of collaboration. I explore more innovative ideas and skills needed for the teachers and learners. For doing educational research such kind of collaborations are commonly initiated by the researcher to find out lived experiences of the teachers. Teachers and university-based researchers collaborate together and talk about the general and specific issues, and challenges that occur in the language field. Sometimes they do the classroom research to find the solutions; creating such an environment teacher could easily enhance their skills and knowledge whereas researcher also gets the credit for research and that could develop their professionalism as well as collegiality. Teacher and university-based collaboration may have a great inspiration for the teachers because the researcher could provide access and authentic resources to overcome the problems.

Teachers with their Students Collaboration

This type of collaboration makes an arrangement and offers fascinating possibilities for learning in-depth about one’s own classroom and who is in it. This kind of collaboration encourages the teacher and students to accomplish the goal together. Here, the learners are empowered by the teacher and the teacher also comes to know the current affairs of knowledge related understanding in teaching and learning. This form of collaboration is action and problem solving oriented which is livelier in the field of language teaching. It is problem and action-oriented therefore it could fix the problems raised by the students or teachers so that they could get the prompt feedback from their students to achieve the goal.

Collaboration with Others Involved in Teaching/ Learning

In this form of collaboration, teachers can collaborate with the administrators, supervisors, parents, materials developers and so on. Teachers and administrators collaborate together to find the issues and challenges that cause the improvement of the teachers, institutions, and programs, for the development. Similarly, the teacher and the supervisors collaborate together to recover the problems in the teaching and learning field. Supervisors can give constructive feedback to the teacher for their professional development. The teacher can also collaborate with the materials developers and share the implications of the material in the language classrooms. Teachers can also collaborate with the parents who play a vital role to achieve the students’ goals. They could share the students’ attitudes toward learning and the teachers’ teaching. In doing so, many of these collaborations, in turn, have had a significant component of the professional development of the teachers.

Conclusion

Sharing one’s learning is the everyday experience of human behaviour. The knowledge is hidden; it would enhance and grow when human beings take part in the discourse. Even unknown and unfamiliar things become known knowledge and familiar when people come together to share and present. Collaborative practices lead teachers to re-conceptualize the innovative process, boosting learners to continue varieties of challenges, generate cross forms, and participate in constructionist and supportive practices, including an-alternative dialogues. Collaborative teaching and learning practices help both teachers and learners to explore creativity and construct new frameworks for learning. Likewise, it creates innovative ideas and skills to know together and learn together.

References

Barfield, A. (2016). Collaboration. Key concepts in ELT, 17 (2). Retrieved from http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/

Burton, T. (2015). Exploring the Impact of Teacher Collaboration on Teacher Learning and Development. University of South Carolina Scholar Commons (Doctoral Dissertations). Retrieved from http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/3107

Cook, G. E. (1981, May). Collaboration, Change and Concern: Professional Development through teacher centers. English education, 13 (2), pp. 97-104.

Evans, L. (2002, Mar.). What Is Teacher Development? Oxford review of education, 28 (1), pp. 123-137.

Rainforth, B. & England, J. (1997, Feb.). Collaborations for Inclusion: Education and treatment for children, 20 (1). Pp. 85-104.

Richards, J.C. & Burns, A. (Eds.). (2009). Second Language Teacher Education: Collaborative Teacher Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Maggioli, G. D. (2004). Teacher- Centered Professional Development. Association for supervision and curriculum development (ASCD). Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (aitsl). The Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Collaboration.

http://www.aitsl.edu.au/professional growth/australian teacher performance/and development framework.

Author’s Bio: Mr. Shaty Kumar Mahato is an MPhil graduate in English Language Education from Kathmandu University and working as an ELT teacher, researcher and trainer in the field of education. Since his Bachelor’s degree in 2005, he has been involved in teaching and research. He has presented his research paper in NELTA, LSN, TERSD and Asia TEFL. At present, he is working as a Project Coordinator-Education in Aasaman Nepal a national NGO. His area of interest is teaching methodologies, Collaborative Approach, Teacher Education, Language Policy, Discourse Analysis and Narrative Research Inquiry.

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