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When Collaboration Goes Online, and Around the World

By Andrea Honigsfeld & Jon Nordmeyer

04/08/2020

When Collaboration Goes Online, and Around the World
Where in the world are you? Do you shelter in place, work in self-quarantine, and try to stay focused on the day-to-day business of teaching remotely as much as possible? Some international teachers have been in virtual school for months, for others it is a new experience. This article will share some key takeaways from what are we learning about supporting international schools to maintain collaboration in support of English Learners (ELs).

Teacher collaboration, coteaching, and content-based instruction have been emergent approaches among international educators for a decade, with teachers working together to serve cultural and linguistic diversity in school populations. Many schools have shifted away from the fragmentation and segregation of a pull-out program, towards collaboration and integration offered by in-class support. In the new COVID-19 world, being connected—with students and colleagues—and finding meaningful opportunities for collaboration are more important than ever.

Key Lessons

We know that effective collaboration involves a cycle of coplanning, coteaching, coassessing and coreflecting (Dove & Honigsfeld 2018). And while co-delivering instruction in virtual spaces might not happen the same way as in person, connecting with each other, planning around diverse student needs, and figuring out what works and what does not has become essential in our current interdependent and interconnected remote learning environments.

Here are three key insights:

1) Coplanning: Plan together using clear protocols and coplanning tools

2) Intervisitation: Visit other teachers’ online spaces to gain a student’s perspective

3) Coreflection: Take time to build structures to recognize what’s working and why

We present a case study from one international school in China, Nansha College Preparatory Academy (NCPA), which has been engaged in e-learning for two months. We interviewed Will Arnold from NCPA to learn how their school’s rich culture of collaboration before school closure translated into virtual collaboration to serve their students learning from home.

Planning together: Coteaching was thriving in Leah Wikler’s, Will Arnold’s, and Chris Cheronis’s secondary math classrooms prior to January 2020, since they effectively used a collaboratively designed pacing and lesson planning tool consisting of target standards, language and content goals, and key learning activities.

NCPA recently refined their tool in order to better suit a virtual learning environment while continuing to allow collaboration by helping two secondary math educators and an EAL specialist simultaneously address students’ conceptual and skill development in mathematics and in English. This tool more clearly identified roles and responsibilities, highlighting what learning experiences will be delivered simultaneously and what asynchronous assignments may be given to students using Canvas.

Will reflected on the coplanning experience: "It’s been interesting watching this situation push us into better collaboration practices. I can imagine less committed or established partnerships might prefer to give up under the pressure because it’s easier to just fall back on what you know: just working alone."

Virtual visits: In January, merely a few days before all schools closed in China, coteachers at NCPA were introduced to a few collaborative protocols, including intervisitations. In our busy face-to-face schools, teachers may not have the opportunity to visit each other’s classrooms often. Intervisitations encouraged teachers to collaboratively inquire and learn from colleagues.

Unexpectedly, some of these same protocols transferred well to the online environment as Will explains: "I did an inter-visitation of a grade 9 online Chinese class set-up. We've been having difficulty with instructions so it was really helpful to see how another teacher organised that in Chinese. Simple differences like seeing that she had her class in reverse chronology (top to bottom) got me reflecting some decisions we made early on without thinking much."

Planning together: NCPA also used an adapted version of the Appreciative Inquiry protocol, which—as its name suggests—invited coteachers to share what they appreciate about their collaborative practices in planning, teaching, assessing, or reflecting together. This was a practice that had just been put in place before the school moved to a virtual format. A small group of colleagues visited a lesson then shared what went well along with affirming feedback for the focus teacher. (For more on Appreciative Inquiry, see for example Whitney and Trosten-Bloom’s 2010 overview.)

Building on a virtual form of the appreciative inquiry protocol was a natural evolution when collaboration went online at NCPA. It allowed teachers to coreflect and refine the learning experience for their students. Will shared: "I found the appreciative inquiry valuable, both in guiding further improvement of our class, and just in affirming that we're doing some things well. Since this is all new for everyone and we all have plenty of other life stress happening, you do question yourself and your approach. I think I needed some positive professional feedback more than I realize."

When teachers work in physical isolation and collaboration needs to go online, there is no need to start from scratch! Look at some existing protocols and practices and consider how to adapt them to support language and content learning, to continue staying connected personally and to maintain professional relationships. When shifting to virtual school, consider tools and practices that support coplanning protocols, peer coaching/intervisitation, and coreflecting.

One final benefit of teaching remotely is the ability to collaborate across schools. Whether through interviews, guest readers, or visiting scientists, online learning provides the opportunity to bring additional expertise into a virtual classroom for synchronous or asynchronous coteaching. In this way, working together to serve student learning also provides valuable job-embedded professional learning (Nordmeyer 2015). As the global K-12 learnscape continues to evolve, collaboration holds the promise of transforming professional relationships, with profound implications for everyone’s learning.

Continue the conversation: International teachers from four continents have shared their experiences teaching and collaborating virtually here. As we collaborate together with educators around the world, join these global colleagues and share your insights, questions or feedback!

Andrea Honigsfeld is the author of over 20 books, a regular conference presenter and professional development provider both nationally and internationally.

Jon Nordmeyer is a researcher, author and International Program Director at WIDA, supporting educators in 500 schools through its global learning network.


References

Dove, M. G., & Honigsfeld, A. (2018). Co-teaching for English learners: A guide to collaborative planning, instruction, assessment, and reflection. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Nordmeyer, J. (2015). Collaboration: Scaffolding student learning and teacher learning. EARCOS Tri-Annual Journal: Winter, 2015. East Asia Council of Overseas Schools.

Whitney, D., & Trosten-Bloom, A. (2010). The power of Appreciative Inquiry: A practical guide to positive change (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.




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