However, in the school setting, effective teacher collaboration is defined as engaging in practices, where teachers communicate about classroom experiences and activities in an effort to strengthen pedagogical expertise and encourage colleagues to try and create new things. The members of the school community share the belief that working collaboratively and allowing time to form teams and working together, is the best way to reach the school’s objectives
By displaying a strong commitment to collaboration, teachers have more access to resources, and their teaching methods are improved, as collaboration offers support to try new ideas and activities. This process also allows the school to continuously reflect upon and improve its practices and create high standards for all students.
Schools have to overcome different obstacles like; established systems, lack of time, redefinition of a school’s culture from teacher isolation to teachers’ collaboration, and tensions and disagreements that teamwork can create. In this case, the role of the Principal is crucial. Principals should share decision- making with the school staff, provide support for effective establishment of teachers’ teams (define the purpose, set goals, give feedback, support). By being an instructional leader, they motivate the school staff to keep learning and improving their practices.
Collaboration is not always easy and needs investment of time. Schools can start slowly by implementing different actions like mentoring schemes, social networks, co-teaching, open lessons and weekly planning and collaboration meetings etc.
But is this enough? What about collaboration outside the school? How can schools engage parents and their communities?
Research shows that students whose parents are involved in their education are more likely to adapt well at school, have better social skills, complete homework, achieve higher grades and much more. Local community’s engagement can also improve students’ learning outcomes and assist students to understand their role in broader society.
Effective communication between schools, parents, students and the community form the foundation for developing partnerships that can have an impact on students learning. Learning is not limited to the classroom and the participation of parents in school life can cultivate a holistic learning environment for students. At the same time, community members and organisations can offer their expertise and knowledge that schools can use to offer more authentic and connected learning for their students.
According to an African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child” and this should be the role of an eTwinning School. Etwinning schools should nurture a culture that respects, values, supports and acknowledges the inclusive engagement of all, for reaching the school goals and implementing the eTwinning School Mission.
Examples of good practice from eTwinning schools:
In the Experimental School of the University of Thessaloniki in Greece, collaboration takes shape in various forms. Among the school’s 34 teachers, the majority of them participate in eTwinning activities, this entails encouragement and support from the school leadership together with dedicated training and concrete opportunities for teachers to work together. In order to assist teachers to embed eTwinning as integral part of the curricula, the school management provides regular professional development opportunities that help teachers to make progress and develop their competences.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, all registered teachers in eTwinning participated in such activities shared their insights with the rest of the staff. Teachers had concrete opportunities to comment on the practices of colleagues, discuss different issues of the school and voice their concerns and make decisions. In order to encourage collaborative teaching among teachers, in each eTwinning project run at the school, more than one teacher participated. A teacher started a project and presented their ideas to their colleagues and those interested could join, this of course created excellent interdisciplinary projects and allowed both teachers and students of different classes to learn from each other. To enhance collaboration in the school, teachers were encouraged to attend an eTwinning class and observe their colleague’s work, allowing peer learning, feedback and exchange of ideas. Through eTwinning teachers gained many ideas and inspiration. Peer learning for teachers through eTwinning was extremely important. It allowed teachers, according to their expertise, to offer training sessions on different topics to the whole school staff, for example how to use certain ICT equipment and embed it in learning.
Collaboration was not restricted to teachers, but students and parents were engaged in the learning process and decision making. Students, who are often more familiar with new technologies, helped teachers and parents to acquire ICT skills. Students prepared and ran a series of online courses (8 lessons) in Moodle in the use of ICT, GDPR and e-safety with the aim to combat the digital exclusion of adults. Furthermore, collaboration among students of different classes was encouraged, in extra-curricular activities. This happened in school clubs like; orchestra, arts, mathematics, statistics, theatre, physics, cinema, Model United Nations and Critical Thinking.
Engagement of students and parents is also widely practiced in Col·legi Sant Josep in Navàs, a small town of 6.000 residents in the region of Catalonia in Spain. Collaboration and engagement with parents took place through established parental involvement where, according to their expertise, parents were invited to the schools and help students in the accomplishment of different activities. Peer learning of teachers and open attitudes to try out new practices, have resulted in workshops and close collaboration/tutoring of new eTwinners by more experienced teachers. As a result, twelve out of the seventeen teachers enrolled in eTwinning in the school were actively involved last year in an interdisciplinary project and two of them decided to start their own separate projects with their classes. Like in the Greek School, decision making and the reflection process were not limited to the formal school leadership but students and parents were involved. Col·legi Sant Josep created a world café meeting with two representative students from each class, one parent from each class and teachers. In this world café meeting, the group discussed new ICT and music class and came up with different proposals working collaboratively.
In both schools, collaboration, in all of its aspects was and is one of the main priorities for the schools. As a result, teachers, parents and of course students not only improved their learning and teaching practices, but also became more engaged and dedicated to the school mission and goals.