Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Collaborating toward Growth

A few weeks ago, when we talked about ownership, you may have sensed that the end of your journey comes when you can “go it alone.” However, taking responsibility for your growth as a teacher does not mean you have to go it alone. In fact, a lot can be learned from collaboration whether with your (peer) mentor or colleagues. In previous posts, we’ve talked about teacher support groups and action research projects. Let’s look at two other ways you can collaborate toward growth.

Team Teaching

“Teacher Wang” and “Carrie” are in their second year of team teaching a writing course for graduate students in a Chinese university. The experience has been positive for both of them but not without challenges. In fact, Carrie gave advice that echoes last week’s post on Inviting Feedback:

  • At the outset, make sure you share your expectations of what the cooperation will look like, how often you will meet to plan, who will teach and when, etc.
  • Also, discuss your attitudes and feelings so that you know how to encourage each other.

What have they learned about teaching? In this cross-cultural setting, Carrie has gained deeper insight into how Chinese students learn and the sources of some of their errors. Teacher Wang explained, “It helps to make my teaching plan more reasonable. I’d never realized how important lesson plans are. I never thought I’d rely so much on Carrie for improving teaching.”

Collaborative Groups

Throughout this professional development series, we’ve encouraged you to collaborate with a mentor or peer mentor. Peer mentoring can be done one-on-one or with a group of colleagues. Two mentors I’ve worked with were asked to set up a professional development component as part of monthly faculty meetings in their U.S. university’s ESL program. With these two peer mentors taking the lead, the teachers discussed articles, analyzed case studies, reflected on their teaching practices, and engaged in peer observation.

Peer observation: Another mentor I’ve worked with organized a collaborative group in order to inspire cooperation between Chinese and expat teachers at her university. First, she modeled what she hoped to accomplish by collaborating with a Chinese colleague on the project. Then together, they set up a series of peer observations. “The outcome was increased collaboration between the two groups and a step towards self-directed professional development.”[1]

Curriculum/course design: In Contextualizing the Journey, you read about the research “Sarah” and her mentees did in order to deepen their understanding of their teaching context. This project was part of a larger needs analysis in order to design a scope and sequence and better meet the needs of their students. “Katie” teaches in an ESL program for refugees in the U.S. As part of their weekly faculty meetings, they break into smaller collaborative groups in order to work on curriculum projects.

In each of these settings, the added benefit of collaboration has been the deepening of relationships. Carrie reflected, “The biggest blessing is that I’ve developed a friendship with a Chinese colleague.” These harmonious relationships can overflow into classrooms and affect entire programs. “Katie described the pleasure of watching a student from one part of the world teach (and encourage) a student from a completely different background. The teachers’ relationships have inspired the students, or perhaps it’s vice versa.”[2]


[1] Robin Schmidt and Xianwen Song, “One Degree of Change: Exploring Attitudes about Observation and Collaboration,” TESOL Theory and Praxis 2, no. 1 (2017): 1.
[2] Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis, Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers: Facilitative Mentoring, (New York: Routledge, forthcoming).

Further exploration

  • All of the posts in this professional development series draw from a forthcoming book:  Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers: Facilitative Mentoring by Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis, (New York: Routledge). We’ll let you know here on Master Teaching when it’s available for purchase. (Both paper and e-versions will be published at the same time.)
  • For more on ways to collaborate: Professional Development for Language Teachers by Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • What are some ways you’ve collaborated toward growth as a teacher? Which have been most helpful?
  • Of the ways listed in this post which would you most like to try? Why?
  • How could your collaboration with a colleague overflow into classroom relationships or have a harmonious effect on your program?

Try it out

1. In discussion with your (peer) mentor, decide which of the ways to collaborate would best help you reach your outcomes or answer your essential questions. (Don’t forget to also consider teacher support groups and action research projects.)

2. Set up a schedule of meetings for the rest of this semester. Project and list what will be accomplished in each meeting.

3. If your choice warrants, invite a couple of other colleagues to join you.

4. Collaborate, grow, inspire your students and colleagues, and then cycle around to a new benchmark as you continue stepping toward professional development.

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith

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This entry was posted on November 1, 2017 by in classroom observation, learning teaching, Melissa K. Smith, professional development.

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