The Intersection

Transforming Teaching through Collaborative Practice

December 19, 2013


Teaching is often referred to as the most isolated of professions. In fact, many teachers remain inside their classrooms with little to no interaction with their colleagues during the day.

Yet collaboration is essential for learning, and the Common Core State Standards demand that teachers teach through collaborative practice models, requiring students to work in groups, building problem-solving and collaboration skills. In addition, we know that new teachers grow best through collaboration and mentoring in order to become effective and to persist in a challenging profession.

As states and school districts across the country focus on effective teaching as a strategy to improve student achievement, we must find new ways to increase opportunities for collaborative practice. In some cases, this may mean changing the very structure of school.

Collaborative Practice is one of the five structures outlined in our new white paper, Re-Imagining Teaching: Five Structures to Transform the Profession. We believe our recommendations have the potential to transform teaching and create a profession that attracts, develops and retains highly effective teachers.

One challenge to implementing true collaborative practice in education is time; school schedules do not allow educators to work together or learn from each other. Nor is physical space always configured for collaborative teaching. In some schools and districts, that’s beginning to change.

Our report highlights the experiences of five State Teachers of the Year, including Stefani Cook, the 2011 Idaho State Teacher of the Year. Stefani led a blended learning model pilot program at Rigby High School in southeastern Idaho. She believes the key to the program’s success was 70 minutes of shared planning time each day for the pilot cohort of teachers. Without that dedicated time for collaboration, “a program like this would never succeed.”

Great examples of collaborative practice in action are featured in four special episodes of “The Ignite Show,” produced by NNSTOY and The Hunt Institute, in partnership with the National PTA, NEA and AFT. The episodes spotlight four State Teachers of the Year implementing Common Core in the classroom.

In one episode, Annice Brave, the 2011 Illinois State Teacher of the Year, reflects with three of her colleagues on their teaching practice and effective tactics to implement the Common Core. In another episode, Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year 2013 Elaine Hutchison and her principal work with a new teacher to reflect on teaching practice and learn from one another.

Technology can also reduce barriers to collaborative practice. For example, teachers in Michigan instituted a flipped learning model that fostered intensive cross-content and cross-grade level collaboration. Use of these tools allowed some of the barriers to collaborative practice—time, physical space, isolation—to break down, resulting in stronger teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-student, and student-to-student collaboration.

NNSTOY is researching the impact of digital learning tools on collaborative practice (teacher-teacher, teacher-student, and student-student) with Digital Promise and The Center for Educator Effectiveness at Pearson. For more about our work to inform teaching policy and practice, visit


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