As students and teachers around the world have returned to class and we pause for the long Labor Day weekend in the U.S., it’s worth revisiting how we can best work together in schools — and perhaps more importantly — why it matters.
My mother is a master gardener. She has shared with me that her garden is definitely a labor of love, but not only because she can grow beautiful and delicious heirloom vegetables. She says it brings her peace and gives her daily exercise, keeping her healthy and active well into her 80s. Viewed in this way, her garden sustains growth well beyond the last harvest. Likewise, when schools collaborate there is also a secondary positive impact as they help grow capacity for sustained teacher learning.
In today’s increasingly multilingual and neurodiverse international schools, collaboration is essential to support all learners. When teachers succeed, fail and reflect together, they can develop collective efficacy while also modeling the 21st century skills for their students. In the past decade, international schools have shifted away from the fragmentation and segregation of pull-out programs — with specialists planning and delivering language development classes, academic interventions or special education services in isolation — towards more cohesion and integration offered by collaborative planning and in-class support (Honigsfeld & Nordmeyer, 2020).
So why does collaboration matter? We have ample evidence that collaboration has a significant impact on student learning. However, like my mother’s garden, it also has a secondary impact. Collaboration is not only an effective instructional approach, but also a catalyst for professional learning: building the generative capacity for all teachers to be responsible for all learners. Mike Schmoker observed that, “collaboration allows teachers to capture each other’s fund of collective intelligence” (1999, p. 100). Teachers who plan together and reflect on their success together increase their collective efficacy, or the shared belief that they have the skills to positively impact student outcomes, which John Hattie often cites as having the greatest effect on student learning (Visible Learning).
So, when international schools invest time and resources in cultivating more collaborative environments, they will certainly see growth in student learning — while at the same time planting seeds for teacher growth.
Jon Nordmeyer, WIDA International Programs director