Collaborative Planning: Never Having to Go It Alone

Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria G. Dove highlight the silver lining of remote learning: increased teacher collaboration

This experience gave me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues I don’t usually get the opportunity to work with, and we were able to support and help each other to get through the first couple of weeks while we were still getting used to the online learning platforms.
Anonymous survey response

Online learning has allowed me more time to collaborate with colleagues and co-teachers. During the regular school schedule, we have no common planning time.
Anonymous survey response

Looking back over the past academic year, we are amazed at how educators from K–12 and higher education settings were able to reinvent how they delivered instruction via remote learning in such a short period of time. Although many teachers struggled at first with their own array of missteps, one consistent action we observed was how teachers overcame such challenges through virtual teacher collaboration. As we are coming out on the other side of this global crisis, you might be filled with pleasant anticipation and excitement, hoping for some new beginning, but full of trepidation as well. If so, you are not alone. Chances are the past years brought you and your colleagues closer together than ever before, and whatever you may be facing, you won’t have to figure it out on your own.

The seemingly insurmountable challenges that educators had to face had some silver linings. When we surveyed over 430 educators last year from around the US, we found that over 63% engaged frequently or very frequently in collaboration. We have seen a sharp increase in authentic, teacher-initiated collaborations—learning about technology tools together; sharing what works in remote or hybrid contexts via social media such as Twitter; advocating for meaningful instructional practices that acknowledge that all students have experienced disruptions and trauma, while some also lived through unimaginable tragedies. We have noted in particular how English language development (ELD) specialists worked with colleagues to determine the best strategies to use for online learning for English learners/multilingual learners (ELs/MLs) in spite of the difficulties many of these students faced with lack of technology and internet access. Here is how one teacher described collaborative efforts with fellow colleagues:

As the ELD specialist in my building, I worked really hard to serve the ELs not only directly but indirectly by collaborating with their teachers. Making sure the teachers felt seen, supported, and encouraged went a long way in helping the ELs get the support they needed in their content-area classes. I think I spent as much time working with teachers, counselors, social workers, and administration as I did with kids and families!

What Is Collaborative Planning?

Collaborative planning, or co-planning, is a process that supports the consistent, high-quality implementation of core content curricula while allowing general education teachers and instructional specialists (ELD teachers, special educators, academic interventionists) the opportunity to coordinate and refine their plans for instruction and assessment. When teacher collaboration works well, teachers are prepared to share:

  • Expertise in content, knowledge of literacy and language development, and pedagogical skills
  • Instructional resources, technology tools, and supplementary materials that are scaffolded and differentiated
  • Instructional strategies that represent research-informed and evidence-based best practices
  • Approaches to co-teaching—ways to group students and optimize classroom space for instructional delivery
  • Time, attention, and unwavering support for the practice of collaboration

When ongoing teacher collaboration takes place, the process often uncovers practices that support not only students with special needs but all students. The following is an account of how collaborative planning for the sake of English as an additional language (EAL) students impacted the way instruction was delivered to an entire grade:

EAL teachers collaborated with homeroom teachers in ways that we wouldn’t normally collaborate. This collaboration contributed to the success of our curriculum delivery. I teach with mentor sentences. We digitized this resource and continued to use it—not only with our EAL students but also with every fourth grader in our schools. Homeroom teachers recognized that our EAL students functioned at higher levels than students who did not attend EAL pullout classes. Our EAL team felt such pride at being asked to teach grammar lessons online to the whole grade level. We collaborated on making Kahoot! and Quizlet games. The kids LOVED learning vocabulary through the use of these games.

Teachers must regularly engage in collaborative planning—spending at least one planning period a week in collaboration with others—to build a professional dialogue about the range of needs that their students have as well as investigating the academic complexities and linguistic demands of the learning standards in core content areas. During co-planning, teachers rely on each other’s expertise and resources to accomplish the following:

  • Review the target standards and core curricular goals
  • Establish learning objectives and instructional procedures for reaching those objectives
  • Target the academic language development of all learners with special attention to ELs/MLs and other speakers of nonstandard English
  • Integrate individualized education program (IEP) goals into their lesson plans
  • Determine appropriate modifications and adaptations that will offer the necessary support to students who need them
  • Agree on formative assessment tools to be used to inform their instruction

It is critical for co-planning teams to negotiate the most effectual and achievable ways to integrate the instruction of both content and language for ELs/MLs in grade-level and content-area classes. This curricular integration has been even more challenging during remote learning, as one teacher describes as follows:

I think our teachers are working really hard, but the delicate balance between content and language can be difficult to master inside the classroom, and with learning being remote, it is a major challenge when you are unable to talk directly with the students during instruction. Right now, education feels like a one-way road, when we all know that people learn best through collaboration, conversation, and negotiation of ideas.

Requirements for Successful Collaborative Planning

Similar to cooking, baking, home repairs, or art projects, before you get started, you must have some ingredients, materials, and resources ready. When it comes to collaborative planning, we have developed the six Cs to identify the prerequisites for success with this endeavor: collaborators, collaborative time, clarity, consistency, continuity, and communication.

  • Collaborators. We need colleagues with whom we can co-plan—fellow educators who are committed to excellence and equity; have a willingness to share their knowledge, skills, thoughts, and ideas; and are inclined to learn and help others learn from them.
  • Collaborative time. We all must have ample time for collaborative planning for any meaningful and impactful teamwork to take place. We strongly advocate for school leaders to secure the logistics for common planning to create a professional context in which teachers regularly collaborate, whether they engage in co-teaching or not. If teachers do co-teach, co-planning becomes a nonnegotiable. If they don’t co-teach, co-planning becomes an urgency, a necessity, so that ELs/MLs can thrive in every class. We can’t emphasize enough that creating the logistical support for collaborative planning must be a top priority, and we cannot just put it on teachers to “find the time” to collaborate and co-plan for the sake of ELs/MLs.
  • Clarity. Teachers should be able to clearly define their expectations and objectives for collaborating with colleagues and also determine when they have accomplished what they have set out to do. Clarity is needed to determine what is to be expected from teamwork, professional engagement, and personal development that, in turn, will ultimately affect student growth.
  • Consistency. When working with ELs/MLs, we need to recognize that instructional standards and learning targets should be the same for all learners, even if the pathway to achievement requires some students to have a different amount of instructional time or types of support, such as scaffolds and differentiation to meet with success. In addition, instruction in the development of English language and literacy skills needs to be consistently integrated with content instruction in every classroom where ELs/MLs are being taught.
  • Continuity. Instructional continuity is consequential to favorable outcomes for ELs/MLs. It ensures that they are learning in programs that provide cohesive instruction, incorporate grade-level curricula, and are measured by appropriate standards and benchmarks for content and language and literacy development. Continuity rejects any disjointed, fragmented, skills-based, or happenstance curricula that are sometimes used in standalone or co-taught ELD programs. They contain no true integration of grade-level content and language learning and separate ELs/MLs from either the subject matter or the direct language instruction needed to excel in school.
  • Communication. Follow Jane Taylor’s (2015) effective communication strategies:
    • Actively listen. Withhold judgment, advice, and the need to speak.
    • Ask clarifying questions. Demonstrate your interest and willingness to engage in conversation.
    • Be clear and succinct. Respect each other’s time while allowing sufficient opportunities for discussion.
    • Paraphrase and summarize. Reflect back on what you have heard to ensure the correct information and ideas were exchanged.
    • Practice empathy. Share your feelings with one another to promote understanding and trust.
    • Provide feedback. Support an exchange of ideas by giving and receiving feedback from one another.
    • Be present. Avoid distractions, focus on the matter at hand, and fully enjoy your shared time together.

Clear, continuous communication and genuine support are critical factors in any collaborative partnership, as this teacher explains:
My co-teacher has been so amazing and supportive. She has been on Zoom meetings, telephone calls, emails, etc. for many tiring hours to make sure that she supports me as the class teacher. She supports the ELL students and parents and all of the students in our class with engaging activities and sharing stories. We truly have learned to work collaboratively and plan effectively together.

Essential Practices for Collaborative Planning

There are five essential practices for effective collaborative planning, as follows:

  • Curriculum development, mapping, and alignment
  • Data-informed planning and evidence-based instructional decision making
  • Co-planning frameworks, routines, and protocols
  • Planning for integrated language and literacy
  • Scaffolding for rigor, relevance, relationships, and research-informed instructional practices
  • When combined, these practices form an essential framework for collaborative planning to be sustained, effective, and achievable. Here is a brief summary on how to get started with each:
    • Curriculum development, mapping, and alignment for integrated instruction: Distinguish between curriculum mapping (to engage in documenting the taught or planned curriculum—backward and forward mapping) and curriculum alignment (to address the academic demand and linguistic demand of the core curriculum) and invest in the time for each of them.
    • Data-informed planning and evidence-based instructional decision making: Recognize the role that careful analysis of formative and summative assessment data play in collaborative planning. Take an asset-based philosophy on student assessment and data collection and use tools for progress monitoring, formative assessment, summative assessment, and benchmarks that are meaningful and authentic and that yield valid and reliable information.
    • Co-planning frameworks, routines, and protocols: Agree that collaborative planning requires time commitment and careful design as well as agreed-upon structures and routines, which create a strong basis for collaborative practices to yield desired outcomes. Collaborative planning may be implemented at three levels: collaborative grade-level teacher teams, interdisciplinary teaming, and co-teaching partnership planning.
    • Planning for integrated language and literacy development: Recognize that all students are ALLs—academic language learners—who need language- and literacy-rich learning opportunities and environments where core content and academic practices, as well as students’ social–emotional development, are integrated with English language development.
    • Scaffolding for rigor, relevance, relationships, and research-informed best practices (four Rs): Redefine scaffolding using four guiding principles (rigor, relevance, relationships, and research-informed best practices) in order to meet the specific needs of students without watering down the curriculum, by assuring culturally responsive education where all students see themselves reflected in what is being taught; by making connections between and among school community members—student to student, teacher to student, and teacher to families; and by the use of instructional strategies that make lessons comprehensible as well as motivate and engage all learners.

To increase the clarity of lessons, one teacher shared with us the following:
Chunk and visualize instructions; keep it simple; add a screencast. Less is more; learners value some one-to-one time; do not neglect oracy. Collaboration with teachers is crucial…

Evidence for Collaborative Planning

The value of collaborative planning is well supported by research coming from Carrie R. Leana’s (2011), Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan’s (2012), and John Hattie’s (2015, 2018) works on (a) human capital and social capital, (b) professional capital, (c) collaborative expertise, and (d) collective teacher efficacy. We are inspired by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn (2016), who suggest that “deep collaborative experiences that are tied to daily work, spent designing and assessing learning, and built on teacher choice and input can dramatically energize teachers and increase results” (p. 63). We believe that whether we return to physical classrooms or continue with some form of hybrid remote learning, teacher collaboration and collaborative planning are here to stay and will continue to grow stronger. As one teacher described it:
I will be collaborating with my colleagues till the end of this school year, over the summer, and in September as much as possible to develop materials that address students’ needs.

References
Dove, M. G., and Honigsfeld, A. (2018). Co-teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Collaborative Planning, Instruction, Assessment, and Reflection. Corwin.
Foltos, L. (2018). “Teachers Learn Better Together.” Edutopia. www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
Friend, M., and Cook, L. (2012). Interactions: Collaboration Skills for School Professionals (7th ed.). Allyn and Bacon.
Fullan, M., and Hargreaves, A. (2016). Bringing the Profession Back In: Call to Action. Learning Forward.
Fullan, M., and Quinn, J. (2016). Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems. Corwin.
Hargreaves, A., and Fullan, M. (2012). Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. Teachers College Press.
Hattie, J. (2015). What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise. Pearson. www.pearson.com/content/dam/corporate/global/pearson-dot-com/files/hattie/150526_ExpertiseWEB_V1.pdf
Hattie, J. (2018). “Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) According to John Hattie.” Visible Learning. https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie
Honigsfeld, A., and Dove, M. G. (2019). Collaborating for English Learners: A Foundational Guide to Integrated Practices. Corwin.
Leana, C. (2011). “The Missing Link in School Reform.” Stanford Social Innovation Review. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_missing_link_in_school_reform

Andrea Honigsfeld is associate dean and professor in the School of Education and Human Services at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, NY.

Maria G. Dove is a professor in the School of Education and Human Services at Molloy College.

Their latest book is Co-planning: Five Essential Practices to Integrated Curriculum and Instruction (Corwin, 2022). Follow them on Twitter at @andreahonigsfel and @MariaGDove.