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Be Confident, Be Brave: The Keys to Collaboration

by Neil Finney

In the next month, I will be part of three separate PLC groups. I am excited at the prospects. I am hopeful of the outcomes. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to some degree of apprehension. Working as educators in a collaborative group can be an inspiring – and intimidating – experience.

So, why is it that, as teachers, we can be so unwilling to open up our classroom doors to others?

Maybe it’s because our classrooms are safe spaces where lessons happen in concert between teacher and students. For many teachers I know, the idea of allowing other teachers into their class to observe is an unwelcome notion – let alone school board consultants or central principals. These teachers would feel exposed. They would feel inadequate. Yet, they should feel validated. So where does this come from?

As a part of a collaborative inquiry or professional learning community, we are required to open ourselves – and our teaching methods – up as a process that can lead to better teaching. By taking risks and implementing new strategies and tools for student learning – we bravely set ourselves in the spotlight, from which, others can observe and learn.

I have found that the keys to collaboration groups are very much the same successful strategies to which we espouse our students to strive:

1      Be open and honest. The integrity that your discussion points reflect demonstrate your commitment to values, beliefs and goals as a teacher.

2      Be positive and courteous. The tone of your voice and nature of your comments to others can help to cultivate a growing, learning atmosphere for all.

3      Be reflective. Whether it is about your views of education, personal pedagogy or the nature of the learner that you teach – it is those reflections that will chart the course for your collaborative journey.

4      Be realistic. It can be an exciting and overpowering experience to “throw down” the gauntlet of fresh, new teaching strategies and try to re-invent yourself as a teacher. Choose one important area to fine tune and do it well.

5      Be ‘all in. These collegial groups can be so incredibly rewarding, if you only invest the time and effort needed to grow with the experience. By presenting yourself as a positive and critical-thinking team member – you will surely find your niche in the group and its purpose.

While it may seem intimidating to let a group of teachers and school board personnel into my classroom in the coming weeks, I am excited at the prospects. I cannot wait to dive in and try some fresh, new ideas with my students. I will grow out of this collaborative experience. Am I crazy? Only time will tell…

How have you been able to benefit from a collaborative learning group? How do you feel when other teachers watch you teach as part of the process of “learning together?” What tips can you share to make this experience enjoyable and successful


During Neilʼs 10 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.



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  • http://neilfinney.blogspot.com neil

    Hi Aviva. So far things have gone well. I totally agree with you with respect to the observers interacting with the students and becoming part of the lesson. In my first observation, my principal, vice-principal, school board consultant and another teacher came to watch. Wow. That was an influx of new adults in my teaching space. I think it went really well. The students were working in math stations on fractions activities that I had planned and the best part was seeing these visitors asking my students questions and being impressed with how they were able to explain their thinking when put on the spot. Can’t wait for the next one on Tuesday. We are focusing on feedback this time and I will have the students provided peer feedback to each other on an open-ended question using integers.

  • http://adunsiger.com Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)

    Your post reminded me of last year when I taught a number of lessons with our math facilitator. I’ll never forget the first time that she came in to watch me teach a lesson: I was terrified! It helped a lot to have her sit with the students though and interject with her own questions. It quickly felt like we were teaching together, and that changed things a lot.

    Having the teacher interact with the students also helps. Then the teacher becomes a real part of the classroom, and that is so important.

    Having the math facilitator come into our classroom though made me even more aware of what I was saying and doing as I was teaching. This made me reflect more on my teaching practices, and I made some really positive changes to my teaching. I think this is so important!

    I hope that your experiences are also positive ones. Please let us know how it goes!