If the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted anything in the field of education, it’s the power of teamwork in teaching. Educators have been able to share ideas, whether by directly texting lesson plans or by way of project ideas going viral. Collaborative lesson planning is still important as teachers work through the second semester of school during the pandemic. It is possible to work closely with other educators through this unique situation. Follow these tips for easier collaboration with remote educators.
Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses
The first step toward effective collaboration is to know what you want to improve and who to turn to for this assistance. This will help you form strategic partnerships with other educators to meet your goals.
“Share your discipline tactics with me, and I’ll show you how to make your students feel comfortable in your classroom,” teacher Whitney Ballard of the Trains and Tantrums blog writes. “Show me how to decorate in a fresh, fun way, and I’ll show you how to simplify. Every teacher is the ‘best’ at something.”
When you form a group of people who all bring something valuable to the table, you can fill in knowledge gaps, skills gaps and other needs you may have.
Share What Your Students Need to Know Ahead of Time
One essential part of a good lesson plan is knowing what skills and information your students will build on as they work through your activities. This will help you better remember your lessons year-over-year while making them sharable for easier collaboration.
Amanda Goddard, an English language education department head at Foxborough Regional Charter School in Massachusetts, implores teachers to work closely with their ESL/ELE co-teachers. She says it helps both the student and the teacher to know what the lesson is going to be ahead of time so they can make accommodations or teach the necessary vocabulary.
“A student may need a few words to be pre-taught before receiving the assignment in their digital classroom,” Goddard writes. “Perhaps a student needs a completely different reading passage, or at least an accommodated one.” These processes not only help your ESL/ELE students succeed, but also allow the ESL/ELE teacher and the general education teacher to work together seamlessly.
As you share resources with other teachers, no matter the subject, you can improve your lessons by considering what your students need ahead of time to complete the assignment.
“What do students need to access and learn the curriculum, and how can you make sure that’s happening?” asks math teacher Faylyn Emma. “Encouraging them to have that ownership of their learning really does help with the process.”
The process of building in these support materials is called “scaffolding your learning,” writes the team at Alternative Communication Services. Remote teaching loses much of the body language that helps students learn. “When you write an equation on the board and solve it in front of the class, there are physical cues that show them your thought process as you approach the equation,” they explain. So you need to scaffold your learning online. For example, include a tutorial for an online tool before introducing a lesson plan that incorporates it.
Work With a Group of Teachers to Spread the Workload
As you start to find educators you enjoy working with, you can start sharing the workload.
Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz notes that schools have created “content leads.” One teacher serves as a content lead for four to six weeks, developing lesson plans for the whole grade for one subject, while other teachers step in to cover their other subjects. This allows the educator to focus on one subject in-depth over that period.
The main goal of collaboration is to reduce your burdens and the burdens of others. “Many hands make light work, even when those hands are practicing social distancing and excessive hand-washing,” Samantha du Preez writes at e-learning platform EverFi.
She gives the example of a teacher in Texas who formed a partnership with six other educators in her district. They collaborated on different lesson plans, cutting down on the time it takes to develop them. This gave them more time with students and prevented remote burnout.
Turn to Online Forums, Blogs, and Social Media Pages
If you aren’t able to collaborate with other teachers in your school or region easily, turn to online resources to find a community that meets your needs.
“While most people think of collaborative efforts as group activities that occur through real-time interactions, the reality is that asynchronous communication has a role to play in facilitating successful collaboration too,” the team at ViewSonic writes. “For instance, many courses make use of bulletin boards, which can allow students to discuss topics and share information.”
Social media has become an essential source for many educators who are looking to collaborate with others. In 2019, MDR: Education Marketing Solutions published a survey of 732 teachers to better understand their social media use. They found that 83 percent of teachers use Facebook and 72 percent use Pinterest. When asked about the top channel they use for work, 74 percent of teachers said Pinterest.
The majority of teachers reported using social media to find new teaching ideas and classroom resources, with one-half saying they are looking to connect with other educators.
Update Your Lessons to Make Them Engaging
One benefit of collaboration is that you can get a fresh set of eyes on your lessons, ensuring that they are relevant and engaging for your students’ needs today.
“Keeping students engaged in the virtual classroom can be challenging,” the teachers at Ready, Set, Coteach explain. “When planning lessons, use the 3:1 rule. For every 3 minutes of instruction, at least one minute of interaction.”
Students will know that they are expected to participate every few minutes, whether it means clicking on an answer, sharing an idea, or listening to one of their peers. This will break up the content into digestible bits while keeping students engaged.
Feedback can be a little hard to take, but if you understand the advice is meant to make you a better and more successful teacher, it becomes easier to embrace and implement any suggestions.
“The first step in this unpredictable journey is to remember to remain open, flexible, and collaborative as this process emerges more fully,” Elizabeth Stein, author of “Two Teacher In The Room,” writes at MiddleWeb. “Our decisions for creating and implementing accessible and meaningful learning experiences for students will be evolving over time as we see how specific students interact and perform.”
Remote Collaboration Isn’t a 24-7 Job
Remember to set boundaries for yourself. You don’t have to collaborate with everyone — and you shouldn’t.
Educators Kathleen Morris and Sue Waters call teaching a “never-ending job.” As you start collaborating online, it may be tempting to spend your weekends browsing social feeds and emailing other teachers lesson plans. Morris and Waters encourage remote teachers to maintain a work-life balance and to know when it is time to step away. Teaching is about longevity, and you aren’t going to help your students or colleagues if you are exhausted in the first quarter.
If possible, set aside a dedicated time to collaborate with your peers and limit how much time you spend online.
“Ideally, your school provides you time within the school day to collaborate with colleagues,” writes curriculum developer and education consultant Lily Jones. “If this is not possible, consider lobbying to use some of your school’s professional development time for grade level or department teams.”
Even a 30-minute meeting each day can help you delegate tasks with other educators while getting advice on lesson plan ideas.
Find Ways to Offer Emotional Support Through Collaboration
Remember to focus on why you are collaborating and what you hope to get out of these partnerships.
For example, Keely Swartzer, director of professional development at Learner’s Edge, says you don’t only have to collaborate on lesson planning and other professional tasks. You can also work with teachers to support each other mentally when the process of remote teaching or hybrid learning is overwhelming.
“Work together to ensure mental and physical wellness opportunities are available at school,” she writes. “Identify community and school-based resources that could be helpful, highlight them, and encourage colleagues to utilize them. Decrease the stigma related to asking for help or using support systems.”
Social media can also help you provide emotional support to other educators. Elementary teacher Trevor Ferguson has a Snapchat group with a few other teachers in his circle. They share updates and vent frustrations, with the freedom of knowing those text messages are automatically deleted. Their online group makes it easier to keep a community going now that they aren’t seeing each other face-to-face.
Don’t Overthink the Hybrid Process
It is incredibly easy to get in your head about remote learning and hybrid teaching. However, it may be time to take a step back and rethink the whole process.
Brian Mott, Ph.D., executive director of Virtual Virginia, encourages teachers to not get overwhelmed or discouraged by the idea of hybrid schooling. He reminds teachers that they and their students have always been in a hybrid system: Teachers taught in class and their students continued the learning process on their own at home with homework.
The change for teachers is that the teaching portion has been moved online. “Planning their lessons is the same approach,” he says. “The same modalities are in play. You do some things live and then students do some work on their own.”