Practitioner Highlight Series: Educator Collaboration

Educator: Angela Slonac
District: Elmbrook School District
School: Swanson Elementary

To learn more about the elements highlighted in this post, click the links below:
Focus Element:
Educator Collaboration
Additional Elements: Learner Choice Incorporated, Flexible Learning Spaces

How are you incorporating the selected element in your classroom?
My teaching partner, Danielle Lewcock and I are entering our third year in our educator collaboration journey. Before we entered into a formal partnership, we had dabbled in combining our math classes to explore the concept of educator collaboration. We immediately saw the power and impact we could have working together in a shared classroom. We knew our teaching styles and philosophies complimented each other and when the opportunity came to pursue team teaching in a shared classroom space, where we could personalize learning for our students, we crafted a proposal that was fully supported by our district. We are so excited to be able to combine our experience and backgrounds together to help craft meaningful learning opportunities for our students. We both feel collaboration is energizing and the most effective way to reach all of our student needs.

Collaboration allows us to work “smarter, not harder”. We each take the lead in planning and teaching specific subject areas. However, we do spend our common planning time discussing our learning activities and how to best roll them out to our students. This includes which role each of us will take in the implementation of our lesson plans. It is very important that our students see us as equal partners in each subject area, so that they utilize both of us during their learning.

Through our collaboration we are also able to provide students with voice and choice in a flexible learning environment. Learners are able to make choices about where and how they work each day, which we refer to as “selecting a smart spot”. This means that students need to know themselves as learners and be able to determine what their needs are to be successful in their learning process. Through encouraging choice in the classroom, our students are demonstrating authentic engagement in their learning tasks and taking ownership over their educational goals. We have found it beneficial to provide our learners with inquiry time to build their problem solving and critical thinking skills, and a flexible learning space allows for multiple paths to demonstrate their proficiency on Elmbrook standards and show their preferred learning style.

How has implementing this element improved your practice?
Educator collaboration has reinvigorated our passion for teaching. It was a change that we welcomed in order to grow as professionals. We have deepened our own reflective practices in order to make sure we are always making decisions that are grounded in research based practices, as well as, supporting the multiple needs of our learners.

Personally, I have also been able to personalize my own learning to grow my teaching  expertise, by focusing on lead teaching in the area of Literacy. Encouraging a love for reading and writing is a passion of mine and through our collaboration, I have been given the opportunity to grow my knowledge base and teaching practices. I am currently pursuing my Reading Specialist license which has allowed me to better meet the needs of my students and to become a literacy leader for my grade level team.

Educator collaboration has also brought even more fun to our classroom environment. My teaching partner and I share many experiences throughout the day that make us smile, laugh, and be thankful for the opportunity we have been given. Our teaching practices have improved as a result of loving the challenges and opportunities that each day brings.

How has implementing this element helped your learners?
In the past, educator collaboration was inconsistent across grade level teams with regards to meeting specific student needs or student goal setting. Classrooms can become islands, where each teacher is responsible for just their group of students. There were many factors influencing this practice, such as, lack of common planning time and the willingness to share and take risks which limited instructional impact on students. With the co-teaching model we use we are able to break these barriers down, providing an example of how collaboration can be used to best meet the needs of all learners.

Educator collaboration encourages the mindset of sharing learners and connecting them with the most effective learning experiences that a teaching team can provide. Through our collaboration we are able to provide more personalized and targeted instruction for our learners in a large group setting, as well as, more opportunities for one on one or small group interactions. Through this implementation we have seen our learners grow into independent, reflective people that enjoy taking ownership over their own learning.

Want to know more about the Honeycomb Model of personalized learning? Explore our Interactive Honeycomb!

Photo credit: CC image by Denise Krebs via flickr