5 Ways to Improve Your Teaching Through Collaborative Learning

The most effective teachers don't just love to teach, they also love to learn. Unfortunately, this love of learning rarely translates into a love of professional development. But it doesn't have to be that way! We've got five tips to enhance your teaching through collaborative learning.

Teacher professional development gets a bad rap. A study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that for most teachers, a lack of choice in PD options means that they are often stuck with offerings that are irrelevant, ineffective, and disconnected from their core work of helping students learn. In other words, a waste of time.

While personalized professional development is on the rise, many teachers remain hamstrung by a lack of choice in their own professional learning. In a quest for more opportunities for flexible, teacher-lead learning, knowledge thirsty educators are putting their heads together to create personal learning communities and networks built around their own needs.

Sounds appealing, right? But where to start? We have rounded up five great ways to supplement your PD by collaborating with other passionate educators, whether they are across the hall, across the country, or half-way around the world.

1. Invest in a Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Teaching can be a lonely profession. Educators spend the majority of their day with students, leaving little time for meaningful adult interaction. Over time, this isolation leads to low efficacy, less risk-taking, low performance, burnout, and high turnover. Like all professionals, educators need peer-to-peer interaction and reciprocal investment in order to learn, grow, and develop. Which is where Personal Learning Networks come in.

PLNs are online communities that promote social and collaborative learning. In addition to reducing isolation, PLNs provide a context for teachers to exchange information, experience, and expertise in a supportive environment that builds understanding and insight.

When developing your PLN, we recommend that you start with Twitter. Search for active educators on Twitter and follow them, as well as the people they follow. Our list of Routledge Eye On Education authors on Twitter is a great place to start. You can engage with other educators by asking a question, sharing a teaching resource, responding to other peoples’ tweets, or tweeting something personal that speaks to who you are.

But you don’t have to limit yourself to Twitter. Facebook, LinkedIn, education blogs, and discussion forums are other avenues to building your PLN. If it feels more comfortable, start with the online communities you’re already familiar with and build from there.

Get Connected!

Get Connected!

Get Connected! distills the best advice from expert educators and social media stars Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas on how to look outside of your school to build relationships and collaborate with educators on social media and beyond. 

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2. Participate in Twitter Chats

One of the single most powerful ways educators connect with others is by participating in Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is a pre-arranged online discussion about a specific topic that anyone with a Twitter account can join. Most Twitter chats occur each week at the same time and last an hour. Typically, the moderator poses around seven questions spaced out over the time block, which educators can then respond to. They can also respond to another participant’s answer to the question.

With dozens of established Twitter chats happening throughout the week covering topics from Common Core State Standards to Middle School Math, there is a chat for every educator. They are a great way to expand your circle of PLN members, allowing you access to even more like-minded educators dedicated to making a difference.

3. Create a Teacher Study Group

Teacher study groups provide a unique opportunity to share ideas and build collective knowledge around a topic of your choosing. Study groups can play a pivotal role in helping teachers learn about instructional strategies, student issues, and an infinite number of topics and areas that touch the life of the school and its students. The beauty of teacher study groups is their flexibility. They can be formal or informal, in person or online, theoretical or practical – whatever suits the needs of its members and culture of your school. The only two musts are regularly-scheduled meetings and a clearly-established focus with goals to work toward.

4. Start a Book Study

Book studies fall somewhere between teacher study groups and book clubs. Typically, a small group of teachers gets together to discuss a book of their choosing on a topic of shared professional interest. It may be a book that is related to a school-wide goal, an issue of practice at a particular grade level, or teaching strategies for a specific subject. 

Book studies are different from school-wide common readings, which are typically mandatory with discussion built into faculty, grade-level, or department meetings. Book studies are voluntary and inclusive – anyone interested in the topic is welcome to join, but no one has to join. They foster conversation and communication as teachers discuss the theory of what they learn as well as the implementation of that knowledge.

Looking for inspiration? Check out our bestselling books for K-12 teachers and leaders. We offer special discounts for bulk purchases – email [email protected] for more information!

5. Attend an Edcamp

Edcamps are personalized, learner-driven events lead by teachers, for teachers. The participants set the schedule the morning of the event, so the day is reflective of attendees’ needs. Edcamps are built around the belief that all educators should be entitled to share their expertise in a collaborative setting, so anyone who attends is eligible to present. Edcamps are another great place to further develop your PLN as you meet your Twitter connections face to face and meet new people to connect with. If this isn’t enough to entice you, they are also free!

The Edcamp Foundation provides a comprehensive list of Edcamps around the world, along with excellent resources to help you organize your own Edcamp

This article was adapted from the featured books below.

Dig Deeper with These Must-Read Titles

  • Professional Development

    What Works, 3rd Edition

    By Sally J. Zepeda

    This comprehensive and authoritative book serves as the road map to your school’s professional development journey. Written for principals, professional development directors, other district leaders, and teacher leaders, Professional Development: What Works shows you how to plan and implement…

    Paperback – 2019-03-18

  • 10 Perspectives on Innovation in Education

    1st Edition

    Edited by Jimmy Casas, Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul

    How do great educators bring about real change to make a difference in students’ lives? In this first volume of the Routledge Great Educators Series, 10 of education’s most inspiring thought-leaders come together to share their top suggestions you need right now to innovate in your school or…

    Paperback – 2019-01-07
    Routledge Great Educators Series

  • What Connected Educators Do Differently

    1st Edition

    By Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas

    Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas are widely acclaimed experts on teaching and leading and are pioneers in the education twitterverse, and now they are sharing their best practices! In What Connected Educators Do Differently, they show how being a connected educator—by using social media…

    Paperback – 2015-02-18

  • Job-Embedded Professional Development

    Support, Collaboration, and Learning in Schools, 1st Edition

    By Sally J Zepeda

    In today’s schools, teachers are frequently called on to adapt new curricula and instructional practices in their classrooms. Making sense of the complexities of teaching occurs primarily during the work day, and instead of relying on before or after school one-size-fits-all professional…

    Paperback – 2014-09-12

Get Connected!

Get Connected!

Learn more about building your PLN and taking your classroom social in our free Get Connected! reading pack

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The Teacher Self-Care Toolkit

The Teacher Self-Care Toolkit
Learn how to avoid toxic colleagues and build a peer support network with our free Teacher Self-Care Toolkit. 

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Interested in buying books for your book study, school, or district? Contact John DeFalco at [email protected] or 917.351.7128 to discuss special discounts for bulk purchases. 

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