Special emphasis has been placed on the issue of teacher collaboration over the past several years.
The present article aims to discuss school-level EFL teacher collaboration and its impact on the development of the school community.
Cook and Friend (1995) define collaboration as a type of interaction between at least two teachers voluntarily engaged in shared decision making towards achieving a common goal.
Collaboration can be thought of as ‘consensus on operational procedures’ such as event planning (DuFour, 2004) for instance or as meaningful contextual dialogue for sharing and developing expertise (Lieberman & Miller, 1984).
According to Dove and Honigsfeld (2010), however, even the most casual exchange of ideas in faculty lunchrooms can result in common understandings and mutual goal-setting.
It is imperative that two major challenges be met for successful collaboration to occur.
Firstly, an atmosphere of mutual respect must be established between the partners, and secondly, views and perspectives shared by the school EFL educators must be followed-up, reviewed and, potentially, revised.
Spraker (2003) advocates collaboration among teachers in a framework of “respectful collegiality … where they create solutions through mutual decision-making and adaptation”.
Admittedly, this process will lead to the establishment of a school culture that will foster professional conversation and, consequently, innovation and change (Wheelock, 2000). Cooper (as cited in Hargreaves, 1991) on the other hand, takes a rather biting view of ‘the micropolitics of collegiality’.
She argues that externally imposed collaboration is conducive to a ‘received culture’ foreign to each school rather than a contextually meaningful one.
Several frameworks that can provide platforms for effective collaboration are the following: ● Peer observation (Day, 1990) ● Team teaching (Smith, 1994) ● Critical friendships (Farrell, 2001) ● Professional dialogue/Focused discussion (Gibson, 2002) ● On-line communities of practice (Boon, 2005) ● Coteaching (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2010) ● Teacher talk during break time ● Conversations on teachers’ own time
Although the aforementioned versions of collegiality may have a varied degree of impact on schools, teachers, and students, it can be argued that they can only prove effective, and add to self-development, especially if they are of a sustained nature (Wheelock, 2000).
Collaboration between and among teachers provides benefits for all the stakeholders involved, i.e. the teacher, the students, and the school, as well.
Arguably, teachers feel greater satisfaction and a stronger sense of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1995) when, following a joint decision-making procedure, self-confidence levels increase. In contrast, anxiety levels are reduced as serious issues are addressed collectively.
Hargreaves (1994) views teacher collegiality and collaboration as premises for morale improvement and teacher satisfaction. He asserts that “collegiality and collaboration are needed to ensure that teachers benefit and continue to grow during their careers”.
Lieberman (1992) claims that collaboration helps in the direction of building long-lasting and trusting professional relationships. Finally, as Brookhart and Loadman (1990) see it, learning from each other, and exposing oneself to new ideas, ways of thinking and experience can lead to increased communication among professionals at all levels, which is actually the very essence of collaboration.
Care must be taken, however, to assign an agenda for the conversations so as to avoid getting together to commiserate with each other (Wheelock, 2000).Research has shown that “teacher collaboration is a necessary element for enhanced student achievement” (DelliCarpini, 2008).
In a specific instance, a systematic review of studies into the effect of collaborative Continuous Professional Development on teaching and learning (Cordingley, Bell, Rundell, & Evans, 2003) revealed that, in addition to test results improvement, teacher collaboration enhances student motivation to participate in activities, helps students focus on specific information, urges them to adopt a more organized response to situations, and, finally, leads them into considering collaboration as a learning strategy in its own right.
In the same vein, a report by Flecknoe (2000) of Leeds Metropolitan University provides support for increased student achievement in both the cognitive and the affective domain which is identified as collaboration derived.
Darling-Hammond (2008) relates professional development for teachers, one of the cornerstones of which being teacher collaboration, to positive outcomes for students.
Similarly, teacher collaboration can function positively for the school. As teachers begin to make a claim to the generation of change in a school community, there is a shift of emphasis from the teacher’s role as implementer of school policies to that of “pedagogical expert[s] sharing their own pedagogical inventions with peers, subject to questioning, critique and revision” (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 1999).
In such a context, where all educators may feel free to offer insights and perspectives into situations, and feel accountable for positive – or less positive – results, collegiality is once again encouraged.
Finally, it would be quite constructive if teachers were helped to act as ‘social scientists’ inside and outside of the school community. Such a background would undoubtedly lead to the liaising of the school with local community services, an idea that could reap benefits for the school.
The implementation of collaborative activities is not restraint free. Time issues need to be considered and addressed for the school EFL teachers to work together (Corcoran, 1995).
Professional self-assertion, at whatever level or degree this may exist, needs to recede, and give priority to opinion tolerance if honest relationships are to be established. Adopting a ‘silence’ philosophy and listening to what colleagues have to share, rather than dominating the activities, can help in this direction.
“In the final analysis, building [the] collaborative culture … is a question of will. A group of staff members who are determined to work together will find a way” (DuFour, 2004).
All in all, this article has considered the issue of EFL teacher collaboration and its impact on the teacher, student, and school alike. There is a range of tools available to encourage and foster collaboration.
It is evident that, if the necessary requirements are fulfilled, there is a positive interplay between teacher collaborative practices and the development of all the stakeholders involved in EFL teaching and learning.
It follows then that teacher talk should not be viewed as an ‘add-on’, but as a premise for school wide change, and part of an awareness of the need to adapt to changing educational realities.
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