Teachers in high-poverty schools collaborate just as much as teachers in low-poverty schools, researchers at the RAND Corporation recently found. However, teachers in both low- and high-poverty schools reported they didn’t have enough time to devote to collaboration.
The study looked at survey responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,825 teachers to gain insight on how much time teachers have to collaborate, and the extent to which teachers receive helpful feedback through collaboration. The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (The foundation helps support Education Week‘s coverage of continuous improvement. Education Week retains sole editorial control over its content.)
“While collaboration appears to be an important component of instructional improvement for teachers, it is not happening universally among educators in the United States,” the report said.
Of the types of collaboration analyzed—observations, discussing instructional practice, and reviewing student assessment—teachers participated in observing their colleagues’ classrooms the least. Eighty percent of teachers either rarely or never observed another teacher to “get ideas for instruction or to offer feedback,” with only 3 percent of teachers observing on a daily basis. About 30 percent of teachers meet with their colleagues one to two times per week to discuss student learning and develop instructional materials, the study found.
However, William Johnston, a coauthor of the study, said the biggest surprise in the findings came from his analysis of the results of high-poverty schools. Johnston said he originally thought that teachers in high-poverty schools would have fewer opportunities for collaboration because of an overall lack of resources.
But what Johnston found is that while teachers in higher-poverty schools are collaborating the same amount as teachers in better-resourced schools, the effectiveness and payoff of the collaboration is diminished.
“More collaboration is not necessarily more helpful in high-poverty schools because it’s about quality, not quantity,” Johnston said.
When peers meet without the support of mentors or experts—which is more common in high-poverty schools because there are fewer available resources—Johnston said teachers have less of a chance of receiving helpful feedback. With increasing teacher-turnover rates in high-poverty and urban districts, Johnston said school and district leaders need to make sure that the job is satisfying and rewarding—and quality collaboration time can help lower turnover rates, he said.
However, the results revealed that the biggest hindrance to collaboration in schools across the board is time. While 53 percent of teachers in all schools said they have sufficient opportunites to collaborate, only 38 percent of teachers surveyed agree that they have enough time for collaboration.
With time constraints in mind, Johnston has three specific recommendations for schools—especially high-poverty ones—to increase the quality of their peer collaboration.
- Embed collaboration time in the regular schedule so it’s ongoing, and not ad hoc or after school. Consistency is key.
- Supplement primary meeting times with substitute teachers. Allow teachers to get out of their classrooms to observe their colleagues’ lessons.
- Find a way to inject meaning in peer groups with mentorship and expertise. Teachers meeting without support isn’t beneficial.
In a recent piece for Education Week Teacher, veteran teacher Linda Myers decried the decline of the “teacher workday” and dedicated collaboration time.
“Increasing time in the classroom and in collaboration with grade-level partners gives teachers the ability to plan and collaborate, which increases the quality of the instruction they deliver to students,” she wrote, adding that replacing collaboration time with schoolwide professional development is a disservice to students.
Going forward, the RAND report recommends educators and policymakers examine the obstacles that limit teacher collaboration—as well as successful practices.
Charts via the RAND report
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.