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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

3 Collaboration Tools and Tips for Education Leaders

By Monica Burns — August 23, 2016 4 min read
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Today’s guest post is written by Monica Burns. Burns is an Author, Speaker, Curriculum & EdTech Consultant and Apple Distinguished Educator.

Education leaders are in an interesting position when it comes to using technology effectively in their roles. They are tasked with understanding how tools work and how they can be used for teaching and learning while also modeling best practices for their faculty. As in every situation with technology, thoughtful integration goes beyond an individual tool. There should be a clear understanding on how a particular tool can solve a problem or impact change within a building.

School leaders can use technology tools to foster collaboration among their staff while modeling best practices for their teachers. When I visit schools and work with districts across the country it’s always exciting to see school leaders embracing and using the same technology as their teachers and students. It changes the culture of the school by showing staff members how risk-taking is supported and encouraged in a building. This is especially powerful in a school using new technology tools or trying out familiar technology tools in new ways.

Collaboration, with or without technology, can take many forms in the school building. This could include school leaders and staff members working together to address a problem. You might have teachers collaborating and working together on the development of new curriculum or common formative assessments -- something that impacts the group of students they all work with separately and together.

Educational leaders can use collaboration tools to facilitate professional learning or to help teachers understand how collaboration tools can be used in their classrooms. When you model tools with teachers, it’s a great opportunity to introduce the how-to of implementing a particular education technology resource for a specific purpose.

1 - Using an LMS in PD
In the classroom collaboration can take many forms. If your school is introducing a new learning management system or looking to enhance the way you currently use a tool, frame the conversation around collaboration. As an education leader you can model best practices for using an LMS like Edmodo, Schoology or Google Classroom for professional learning. You might decide to form a group for teachers participating in a book club or discussion around student work.

Using a learning management tool for professional learning can help teachers become comfortable navigating a tool and build confidence. It also helps teachers view the tool from a student’s perspective and understand the collaborative nature of discussion tools. As teachers use the tool you can provide ideas for applications for their own classroom.

2 - Reflecting Purposefully
Providing opportunities for teachers to interact with collaborative tools can help them brainstorm ideas for their own instructional goals. As your teachers use collaborative tools in small groups during professional development sessions, include time for them to pause and reflect. This should include a reflection on their own experiences as a collaborator and how that can translate into instruction of their curriculum.

Reflecting on the power of collaboration during group professional development tasks can help teachers think through the workflow of collaborative tasks. It can help teachers decide what works with their teaching style and learning goals as they formulate tasks for their students. This is a good opportunity to have teachers set clear goals for using technology to foster collaboration.

3 - Using Shared Screens
Although we often think of collaboration in the context of shared documents in Google Drive or discussion boards on a learning management system, shared screens are perfect for schools with a few (or many) devices. Earlier this year I shared some of my favorite tools for shared screens on Edutopia. When teachers come together to share a screen they are working in partners with a specific goal in mind.

An engaging way to model the idea of collaboration on one device is to use a quiz game like Kahoot where teachers in a professional development session can work together to answer questions. You could also have teachers collaborate on a shared screen with a creation tool to create a newsletter or video to share with their class. At the end of these activities teachers can discuss, chart and brainstorm what needs to happen in order for students to collaborate successfully.

Introducing and using collaborative tools with your staff might feel like a large undertaking for your first professional learning day during back-to-school. If you’re not ready to dive in with a group of 100 teachers, try introducing collaborative activities during a small group break out session. This will help you understand how to facilitate a large group collaborative session and build confidence introducing new tools and strategies to your staff.

Try one...

Monica Burns is an Author, Speaker, Curriculum & EdTech Consultant and Apple Distinguished Educator. Her new book Deeper Learning with QR Codes and Augmented Reality: A Scannable Solution for Your Classroom (Corwin, 2016) is now available in paperback and Kindle. Visit her site ClassTechTips.com for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.