Collaboration key to accelerating student success

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Collaboration key to accelerating student success

Innovation is not new in education. There have always been teachers and researchers who have pushed beyond existing boundaries in the field. What is new is the pace of innovation related to the demands of our 21st century environment.

“It’s an exciting time in education today,” states Dr. Leyton Schnellert, who is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus. “The knowledge economy has really started to take hold, and that is pushing us towards a different approach with students.”

Leyton argues that to be successful today, students need to be collaborative, creative, and critical thinkers. They need to be effective communicators and personally and socially responsible. In response to this reality, teachers and students are starting to break with traditional approaches that limit learning. “We’re starting to realize that we need to go beyond the restrictive boxes, levels, grades, and outcomes we’ve held onto for so long,” he says.

Leyton’s own research in the area of inclusive learning and teacher collaboration grew out of his 20 years of experience as a school- and district-based resource teacher and professional development facilitator across British Columbia, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories. His work on adolescent literacy involving a self-regulated learning and collaborative teaching approach garnered him the 2013 Pat Clifford Award for Early Career Research in Education.

It’s an approach that sees students take a much greater role in theirown learning and in which teachers collaborate with their peers to create each student’s optimal learning environment.
“What this means is that the teacher’s role is to assist students to identify their strengths and set their own learning goals. The teacher helps the student create the strategy and tasks that will get that student to the goal,” explains Leyton. “It’s a process that allows students to learn how they learn and to see the direct link between how they’ve attacked a goal and their eventual success.”

It also allows teachers, schools, and school districts to take exciting new approaches to learning that give students choice in how they learn. This could include such things as literature and information circles, service learning, collaborative inquiry, and community-based activities.

Fostering and sustaining this innovative learning environment can feel like a tall order for educators and administrators. That’s where the power of collaboration plays a key role.

“Teacher collaboration is powerful, because when we collaborate with each other, we’re drawing on our different talents, knowledge, and perspectives,” explains Leyton. For example, teachers can walk through the phases of a lesson together, and create open-ended strategies and graphic organizers that incorporate diverse background knowledge while at the same time guide student thinking.

Leyton’s experience and research reveal the importance of working with colleagues through co-planning, co-teaching, and co-reflecting on students and their work. Alongside formative assessment to guide teaching practices, collaboration has a significant impact on student learning.

Leyton contends that collaboration is essential to sustaining innovation, because when colleagues have a shared goal to implement a new practice, there’s accountability to each other to see it through. “When peers within and/or across schools share their goals and works in progress, get feedback, and plan using this feedback, they create richer, more responsive teaching methods.”

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