Teaching, a universally recognised noble profession over the centuries can be a very lonely profession. While some teachers tend to be comfortable working in isolation, doing so provides them with the privacy and autonomy to develop appropriate strategies and engage in their teaching activities. When teachers interact, they tend to do so within their close-knit circle.
Evidence from selected research supports the notion that many teachers prefer to work on their own (OECD, 2014; Rigelman and Ruben, 2012), resulting in an “isolation culture” or “culture of individualism” (Hargreaves, 1994). However, as the saying goes “no man is an island” and “two heads are better than one”, it is essential that teachers interact and work with colleagues so they can have access to knowledge that helps them develop their practice.
Working collaboratively with colleagues can offer teachers an escape route from isolation. Through interaction with others, teachers have the opportunity to develop their pedagogical skills, learn new teaching ideas and techniques, share skills and expertise, and expose themselves to diverse ways of resolving teaching and learning issues. This can lead to increased teacher confidence resulting in an improved attitude towards work (Stoll, 2015). Apart from the benefits to teachers, collaboration can also lead to an improvement in learners’ learning and achievement. This is due to exposure to diverse ways of resolving teaching and learning which teachers can further pass on to their learners in the classroom. Collaboration also provides opportunity for teachers to reflect on their current teaching methods, exchange didactic methods and use ideas gained from their colleagues to improve their own practice.
Photo Credit: The Education Commission
Collaborative practices can include teachers jointly working to develop a programme of study, jointly observing each other’s teaching in the classroom and providing feedback, as well as co-teaching – jointly teaching a group of learners (Ferguson and Wilson, 2011). However, teacher collaboration can be hindered by several factors. These include excessive workload, lack of clear, institutional objectives, conflicting personalities, lack of interaction skills and lack of management support.
Improving collaboration among teachers requires the pro-active involvement of teachers as well as management staff. Teachers should view collaboration as a means of improving their practice and therefore use available opportunities to interact, learn from others and share their practice. Management also has a role in fostering collaborative practice through encouraging an atmosphere of trust among teachers. This would allow teachers to open up their work to colleagues without worrying about exposing their weaknesses. It is also important that management staff examine the level of teachers’ workload by providing the necessary administrative support that would free up teachers’ time for peer observations, meetings and other collaborative strategies. Finally, providing time for interaction, where teachers are able to discuss teaching and learning issues will go a long way in encouraging teacher collaboration.