Developing Student’s and Teacher’s Collaboration Skills | Steve Barkley

Developing Student’s and Teacher’s Collaboration Skills

I have had the opportunity of consulting with the Manheim Central School District in Pennsylvania over the past several years.

They have a district focus on their graduates being Difference Makers, which they define as:

  • Innovators
  • Reflective Learners
  • Collaborators
  • Critical Thinkers
  • Responsible Citizens

For the past two years, they have chosen one of these elements as a focus for their teacher professional growth plans. This coming year the focus is on collaborators. I facilitated a leadership team as they designed plans for guiding and supporting educators learning and implementing growth plans for increasing all learners’ collaborative skills. I thought that some of the resources we worked with would be of value to readers.

Why a collaboration focus?

Most work environments require collaboration. Here are two articles that provide a quick reinforcement of the need for collaborative skills in career success:

  • What Are Collaboration Skills? Definition & Examples of Collaboration Skills.
    “Collaboration skills enable you to successfully work toward a common goal with others. They include communicating clearly, actively listening to others, taking responsibility for mistakes, and respecting the diversity of your colleagues.”
  • Collaboration Skills: Definition and Examples
    “When you can leverage multiple peoples’ expertise, you’ll likely solve problems faster and drive better outcomes long-term.”

What skills and mindsets are needed to be an effective collaborator

  • The Supportive Classroom website offers a good starter list of skills used in collaboration.
    “Defining and describing what collaborative skills look and sound like make the skills concrete and “real” to students.”

Comparing cooperation and collaboration

  • Collaboration vs cooperation: what’s the difference?
    “Collaboration and cooperation are two words which are often used interchangeably, especially in the workplace. Both terms are so overused that their distinct meanings have blended into one. They’ve effectively become buzzwords. But contrary to popular belief, they’re different!”
  • Podcast- When are teachers cooperating: When are teachers collaborating “Schools must rely on both cooperation and collaboration to improve systems, solve problems and fix inequities. However, understanding how cooperation and collaboration can be different, both in their purpose, their approach and their relationship with conflict can help educators assess whether they’re approaching their teams with the right level of intention and focus. ( Zachary Herman)”Collaboration - Business Concept

Assessing collaboration and providing feedback

These rubrics can assist teachers in assessing progress and provide students coaching feedback.

Professional Development Plans

I developed some sample professional development plans using hypotheses and evidence format and focusing on building students’ collaboration skills: (This podcast provides more information on building professional growth plans around the hypothesis and evidence)

Hypothesis – If I provide pre-teaching, coaching, and debriefing on these skills (explaining viewpoints, listening to others’ viewpoints, reflecting) across the year, students will advance in their understanding and implementation of collaboration.

Process– There will be a major project each quarter where students will have the opportunity to practice these skills. Prior to each project, direct instruction and modelling of these skills will be presented. Coaching, debriefing, and self-assessment will be built into each project.

Evidence– The 4 project designs that were implemented, the outline of skills taught prior to the start of each project, my summary of observation assessment following each project, and my conclusion of insights gained from the process.

Hypothesis– I believe that students mentoring and teaching with younger peers can provide needed opportunities to practice key collaborative skills. Purposeful teaching of listening, communication, and feedback skills will increase students’ collaborative progress.

Process -My third-grade students will each be paired with a first-grade student as a “peer pal.” Partnering with a first-grade teacher, we will plan for a 20-30 minute “peer pal” activity each week. Observation of peer interactions will identify skills to be taught. Coaching and feedback will be provided during and following each session.

Evidence– The outline of skills taught. I will select six students at different levels of cooperative skills and maintain a detailed log of their “peer pal” experiences. My conclusion of insights gained from the process.

Most schools have important life skills, aptitudes, and attitudes identified in their mission and vision statements. Conscious planning for developing these outcomes and assessing student progress is vital to impacting student success. If you would like to explore this process, drop me a note at

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