What Is Collaboration?
Collaboration is an effective tool that allows general educators, special educators, learning specialists, administrators, and other stakeholders to work together to meet the needs of students. Collaboration is particularly important to sustain inclusive settings. No single educator should be responsible for holding the expertise in the infinite presentations of learner variability. Further, students work with multiple adults within a school building. Collaboration creates safe conditions for students and educators to share knowledge and collectively problem-solve. The primary purposes of collaboration include: identifying and sharing effective academic, behavior, and social-emotional instructional practices, ensuring that practices are consistent across all providers, and ensuring that the students benefit from those practices.
Effective collaboration depends on good communication practices. Examples of high-impact collaboration practices include: collaborative lesson planning across providers (particularly in a multi-tiered system of supports), collaboration with parents and caregivers to extend the teaching and learning process “beyond the bell,” and collaboration with student support personnel like related-service providers and paraprofessionals.
Collaboration will be a key classroom practice when you return to in-person learning. We know that students will be returning to school with varying needs, including academic, behavioral, and social-emotional. To effectively meet these needs, collaboration with students’ previous teachers and support staff will help ensure that students begin the school year on the right foot. Consider implementing “hand-off” meetings — even quick ones — with your students’ previous teachers. Ask your students’ former teachers to identify students who did exceedingly well during the pandemic, as well as students for whom the last year was a challenge. Asking last year’s teachers about their successful strategies for instruction and engagement should be a high priority. This practice can inform how you approach relationship-building and differentiation of content.
Collaboration with families and caregivers will also be critical for this school year. Families and caregivers took an active role in their child’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic. They assisted with technology needs, supported their child’s learning of material, and provided social-emotional support.
Make a plan to learn from your students’ families and caregivers with similar “hand-off” meetings or empathy interviews. Seek to understand what did and didn’t work last year. You could even include students in these conversations, as they will have the most insight to share. Early collaboration with families will help establish lines of communication and build positive relationships for the school year.
Collaboration supports all students — including the 1 in 5 with learning and attention issues. Several studies have shown that students with disabilities in schools with collaborative culture outperform similar students in schools without these structures.1 Collaboration can bring together teachers with different perspectives and different knowledge to meet learner variability. For example, a general education teacher collaborating with a literacy specialist can efficiently identify strategies to support students with reading abilities that are above or below grade level. Similarly, collaboration can be a tool for creating consistent learning experiences. All students, and especially students with disabilities, benefit from consistent implementation of differentiation strategies, accommodations, and modifications to meet learners where they are in the classroom.