Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) suggest that teachers who “work in professional cultures of collaboration tend to perform better than teachers who work alone” (p. 112). Teachers in collaboration can exchange ideas, provide help and assistance, support each other, share materials and teaching strategies and plan or inquire into teaching together. Working together can greatly increase the available pool of ideas and knowledge.
This project was undertaken over one term to investigate how teachers at different levels of schooling used and adapted Science Learning Hub (SLH) resources for their science teaching. The project involved six teachers from four schools – one year 3–4 teacher, one year 4, one year 5–6, two year 7–8 and one year 9–10. Two of the teachers were specialist science teachers.
The project was initiated with a 2-day workshop when the teachers came together to plan a science topic using SLH resources. This research brief focuses on the value of collaboration between the teachers during the workshop and how this influenced their science planning.
Most of the teachers met for the first time at the workshop. Time for collaboration was seen as a rare and valuable opportunity to exchange and brainstorm ideas, gain knowledge and build solidarity. They quickly developed a productive working relationship through their shared interest in science teaching and learning. Each teacher brought a different expertise and experience to the collaboration. Differences among the teachers were important in providing a breadth of experience for the teachers’ collaborative work and ensured mutual learning as teachers worked together. Coming from different schools, the teachers also enjoyed the opportunity to compare their schools – resources, teaching approaches, processes and policies.
Gail, a year 7, 8 and 9 teacher commented, “I really appreciated the time that we got for those workshops, that was really important, and I think having the time by itself would also have been useful, but I think it was exponentially being able to work with other people – not just for what I was doing today but also for my overall practice and also for my understanding of what students do before they come here. And even just hearing some of the language they use and the type of ideas they were interested in are all quite different for me, as I’ve come from a secondary background. That all builds up a picture of the students I have coming through. And it was lovely to bounce ideas off and hear ideas I had in my head but hadn’t said yet, there’s something lovely about that. It’s so easy to be isolated teaching. You spend your day here, you might go to a meeting, but often it’s very set what you’re looking at. So to have that freedom to explore ideas and science ideas with other teachers was really special.”
Planned sessions during the workshop provided for focused discussion. The teachers brought ideas for science topics to the workshop and then, in groups, they brainstormed and discussed their science topics and planning. The teachers recorded their ideas and reported back to the main group. This discussion identified that, to plan effectively from the SLH, teachers need to understand their students’ level of science understandings and skills, the particular science ideas they are going to teach, the big ideas of the unit and some possible teaching and learning activities. They agreed that planning was more effective when there was SLH site familiarity, which they concluded could be developed by both playing around on the SLH and by methodically going through a whole context to investigate all the parts.
Next, the teachers had time to work on their own science topic/planning. They worked individually and collaboratively, supporting and helping each other and bouncing and comparing ideas. The whole group then came together again to share progress, raise any issues and ask for help.
Throughout the workshop, teachers explored the SLH in their groups and individually. Those who had previous experience using the SLH shared their experience and suggested ideas to help the other teachers. Teachers appreciated advice on ways to explore the site and assessments on how to effectively use SLH materials as well as how they had changed the materials to better fit their students and contexts.
I really appreciated the time that we got for those workshops, that was really important, and I think having the time by itself would also have been useful, but I think it was exponentially being able to work with other people
Conclusion: The value of time for collaboration
Cook and Collinson (2013) concluded that the strongest force restraining sharing amongst teachers was lack of time – lack of discretionary (unscheduled) time to share ideas, lack of common time with colleagues and lack of designated time for sharing. The teachers in this study echoed these findings. They considered that the single focus (on science), the out-of-school research workshop setting and collaborative workshop processes that allowed for the sharing of their different experiences and expertise were all considered helpful in their science planning. They commented that the SLH provided a readily accessible resource to explore and explain science ideas and teaching approaches. It was important to them that the workshop was held over 2 consecutive days because this allowed time for planning, reflection and the revisiting of ideas. It also allowed time to form and develop collaborative learning relationships amongst the teachers and with the research team.
Cook, T.F. & Collinson, V. (2013). Influences on teacher sharing and collaboration. In S. Conley & B.S. Cooper (Eds.). Moving from teacher isolation to collaboration: Enhancing professionalism and school quality. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Education.
Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.