Analysing the relationship between teachers collaboration patterns, teaching practices, and student learning and engagement
Teachers who collaborate frequently with their colleagues and are, therefore, central to their schools’ collaboration networks, have increased access to resources and a high potential to create new linkages that may enhance their ability to support students. Research evidence suggests that developing a school improvement structure that supports teachers working collaboratively benefits student learning and conversely that teacher isolation is linked with poor student performance.
This project investigated the relationship between teachers’ patterns of collaboration, their teaching practices and their students’ levels of engagement and attainment in literacy learning, with a focus on vulnerable students. In the first phase of the project, the researchers worked closely with the Oxford Education Deanery Research Champions to map the patterns of collaboration in local secondary schools. The second phase looked closely at one school identified with high patterns of collaboration and which served a disadvantaged pupil intake. We were particularly interested in the position of girls; indications existing of pervasive gender differences in achievements and manner of relating to school.
How the research was carried out
Seven secondary school teachers in Oxford were selected for their patterns of collaboration as highly or less central teachers. 22 lesson observations in Year 9 were carried out to analyse the teachers’ classroom practices. Measures of their inclusion and differentiation practices aiming at supporting vulnerable students were used. Data about 9 vulnerable students were also collected for their levels of literacy attainment and engagement, which were then compared to the whole year cohort.
The findings suggest that, in the school studied, teachers who were central to the collaboration networks of their school were more likely to demonstrate teaching practices associated with teacher effectiveness than less central teachers. This relationship is not related to the number of years of teaching experience, whether in the school or in total. The aspects of teacher effectiveness included, for example, engaging students in learning, implementing a logical and smooth flow in lesson, sufficient wait time, responsiveness to all types of learners, questioning that elicits thinking and feedback, and interactive instructions. A measure result also showed that boys were more likely to be restless in lessons than girls; whereas girls were more likely to feel anxious or unhappy in school.
The findings suggest that school culture has a significant effect on patterns of teacher collaboration. The school studied in this research had a strong culture of collaboration and represented an environment with a positive professional climate among staff. Teachers most involved in these social networks were more likely to use teaching practices associated with effectiveness regardless of experience.
Implications for teachers
The findings suggest that school culture is highly related to teachers’ patterns of collaboration. Teachers who were central to the collaboration network tended to demonstrate good teaching practices in classrooms, particularly in enhancing student engagement and literacy attainment. Schools should therefore promote a strong culture of collaboration and an environment with a positive professional climate among staff. This positive climate can be characterised by a common set of beliefs, mutual respect for colleagues’ ideas, a culture of sharing success, and the ability to have open discussions about difficulties. Such a positive collaborative climate is beneficial to teachers regardless of their years of teaching experience.
Prof. Harry Daniels, Dr. Ian Thompson, Dr. Lorena Ortega, Alice Tawell (Department of Education, Oxford University)
University of Oxford, John Fell Fund