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Designing Systems that Enable Teacher Collaboration

Designing Systems that enable teacher collaboration

Designing Systems that enable teacher collaboration

Team Protocols or Norms:

In an environment where the constant is change, colleagues can be placed in situations that have not been their ‘usual’ experience. It is advisable that team members have a conversation that leads to an agreement about how they will operate.

There are no hard rules about what should be included in this agreement, other than that it is wise to adhere to key principles such as:

  1. All team members are involved in the drafting.
  2. All team members need to commit to the final document.

There are some elements that are useful to consider, including the following:

  1. What is the agreed structure of our meetings?
  2. How do we conduct ourselves in conversations?
  3. What is the agreed meeting cadence (i.e., how often are you meeting, what is the purpose of the meeting, how long will it be, etc.)?
  4. How do we raise and resolve things that annoy us?

See page 3 for an example of what this could look like.

Learning Design is Digital:

It is almost so simple and so obvious that it doesn’t need to be mentioned. However, even for teams that are in the habit of designing learning on a digital platform, there are pitfalls that need to be considered when operating in a hybrid manner:

  1. Without exception, the expectation is that all learning design is digital.
  2. Learning design documents need to be placed in a shared drive or folder, like a Google Team Drive. This takes care of all permissions and ensures the documents are available to all the people who might need access. It prevents technology from getting in the way of the learning.
  3. Work from an agreed document layout and design. This makes it easier for people to do the thinking if the layout is the same. It is one less thing for teachers to have to think about.

Reflection is Baked In:

Built into the New Zealand Curriculum is the idea of reflection. It comes through the Teaching as Inquiry model and also through the Thinking key competency, among others. It is something that comes quite naturally to NZ educators. However, it is also a practice that can be codified and baked into the process of teacher collaboration. Doing this will iterate the effectiveness ofthe collaboration. The tips below have been gathered and synthesised from anecdotal conversation around themotu. Consider these when working to make reflection a cornerstone habit of your teaching: 

  1. Having an agreed framework for reflecting on the various elements of the hybrid learning design is essential. 
  2. This agreed framework does not need to be overly complicated. Indeed it is more likely to be responsive if it is kept simple and used with a higher frequency.
  3. Most examples that were discussed with the author involved the use of simple graphic organisers or frameworks. Some used a form of appreciative inquiry, while others asked three questions: what’s working, what’s not working, and what are we going to do about it?
  4. The actual framework is secondary to three key principles:
    1. Reflection is scheduled.
    2. It includes all team members.
    3. Frequency is short (i.e., both in how often and how long each session takes). A suggestion would be no less frequent than weekly and no longer than 20min each session.

Wellbeing is Embedded

It is helpful to have one or two strategies that give team members an opportunity to check in with each other. Some ideas on how to do this include the following:

  1. Get each team member to enter a self-rating out of ten for their energy levels.
  2. Ask each person the question, if there is one thing I can do to help in the next 5 days, what would that be?
  3. Team Leader / AP / DP or Line Manager then checks in 1:1 and asks the following:
  4. Give me the background thinking about your energy level rating?
  5. If you could wave a magic wand, what is one thing you would change about your work at the moment?

Where might you start?

Take action on teacher collaboration through the following:

  • Write shared team norms for team operation.
  • Move all learning design into a shared digital space.
  • Agree on a process for reflecting as a team.
  • Ask each team member to rate their energy levels out of ten at the top of each meeting.

 Further Information

  • Values for a Learning Community. Learning to know, (1999) Dr Julia Atkin.Permission to Play Values. Shotover Primary School. Profession al Norms example. Types of Meetings for Education. Ben Witheford adapted from Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni

Permission to Play Values

Shotover Primary School 

Laugh and Smile Speak Up Listen
Positivity sets the weather Speak with gentle honesty and seek to understand We actively listen and seek a shared understanding
  1. Be aware (self and others)
  2. Make someone's day
  3. Keep a sense of humour
  1. Be curious - ask questions
  2. Start with the heart & then go to the facts
  3. Make it face to face
  1. Stop, look and give attention
  2. Paraphrase, to clarify
  3. Observe - read the situation
Honour time Assume good intent Seek help & expect help

Respect time by communicating well, being prepared on time and on task

We respect & acknowledge different perspectives for the good of the team Our culture creates safety so everyone feels supported and is supportive
  1. Be on time
  2. Be prepared
  3. Communicate expectations
  1. Honest critic privately, raving fan publicly
  2. Take things @ face value
  1. Ask "what do i need?" and then find the right person.
  2. If asked for help - respond - sensitively/positively


  • "Crucial Conversations - Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High" - Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler
  • "Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together" - William Isaacs
  • "The Coaching Habit - Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever" - Michael Bungay Stanier
  • "Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well" - Douglas Stone 
  • "Our Code Our Standards Code of Professional Responsibility and Standards for the Teaching Profession" - New Zealand Education Council
  • The Advantage - Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business - Patrick Lencioni 

Types of Meetings for Education

Meeting Duration Purpose/ Format Keys to Success
Daily Stand Up 1 minute per person attending

Each person shares

  • Priority for the day
  • Anything other need to know
  • Keep it short - standing
  • Only those two question - don't get sidetracked
  • Fixed time and place - start on time
Weekly Tactical 60 - 90 minutes
  • Resolve blockages to progress
  • Energy Check-in
  • Progress review - what has been achieved since last week
  • Stick to resolving identified blockages 
  • Commit to team priorities for the next 5 days
Strategic - once a term 2 - 4 hours

Deep dive into learning design and teaming for long term success

  • Teaming review - 3 fence posts and commit to action
  • Learning Design review - 3 fence posts and commit to action
  • Retain the focus on learning design and teaming
  • All participants should come prepared and researched
  • Embrace constructive conflict and cognitive dissonance

 Ben Whiteford - Adapthed from Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni