Collaboration. It’s one of the biggest buzzwords in education, and when done properly can take your teaching to the next level. The problem is that time is not something teachers have a lot of. What tools exist for asynchronous collaboration that will actually make life easier while enhancing student learning?
This was my guiding question as I considered ISTE Teaching Standard 4: “Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems.” Technology is an obvious asset when considering ways to asynchronously collaborate.
Like a growing majority of schools across America, my former school was a Google school. My department and I used Google Apps for Education extensively to communicate and collaborate. We shared resources, planned assessments, and compared student results using Gmail, Drive, and the commenting features within Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets. This strategy worked well for the most part. However, I knew there had to be a way to streamline the process by collecting all this information in one place, sort of how Google Classroom helped me corral all my students’ work files, comments, and information into one place. And then it hit me…why not use Google Classroom to collaborate with your department?
I’ve been told my Google kung-fu is strong, but I couldn’t find any teachers currently using Classroom as a tool for collaboration. What I did find is a principal using Classroom to share information and hold teachers accountable. Amy Heavin is an elementary school principal in Indiana whose frustration with the large number of emails, announcements, and random Shared with Me files in Google Drive led her to create several Google Classrooms for communication between teachers. She creates classes by grade-level and instead of sending out mass emails that are easily lost or deleted, she posts the information in the appropriate class. As a principal, she also utilizes the assignment option to keep track of which teachers had submitted required forms.
As I read Heavin’s post, I kept thinking about how great it would be to apply this same concept, but within department or grade levels. Instead of it being used strictly for communication and accountability, it could be used as a powerful collaboration tool. All teachers within the department or grade level could be added as co-teachers so that anyone could post and access shared materials. I see this being a place to send reminders, share resources, co-plan lessons, ask questions, share student successes, and house commonly used files.
This Google Classroom “hack” streamlines the collaboration and communication process while allowing teachers to access or input information asynchronously. It would promote ongoing collaboration and work to break down the silo effect between classrooms. To demonstrate how I envision this collaboration happening, I created a sample Classroom and made the following screencast overview.
When implementing a digital collaboration system (whether that is with Google Classroom or another tool), it is important to acknowledge that such systems require careful planning. Richard Beach suggests the following approach:
Step 1: Get all teachers on board with the plan. They must see it as valuable if you want them to participate.
Step 2: Create a leadership team of select administrators, parents, teachers, and/or community members who already utilize digital tools. The leadership team then develops a plan for the district to implement tools within PLCs.
Step 3: Recruit a group of teachers to pilot the digital PLC tool of the school’s choosing. (2012)
While Beach’s steps are certainly helpful, I would encourage teachers in districts without an adopted system to take the initiative to try a digital collaborative approach. Even if your school isn’t a Google school, you can create and participate in classes via Google Classroom for free.
Beach, R. (2012). Can Online Learning Communities Foster Professional Development?. Language Arts, [online] 89(4), pp.260-1. Available at: http://www.ncte.org.ezproxy.spu.edu/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/LA/0894-mar2012/LA0894Research.pdf [Accessed 5 Apr. 2018].
Heavin, A. (2017). Streamlining Teachers and Staff with Google Classroom. [online] Fractus Learning. Available at: https://www.fractuslearning.com/2015/09/30/staff-streamlining-google-classroom/ [Accessed 1 Apr. 2018].