High School Teacher Collaboration: Does a Review of the Literature Show It Helps with Teacher and Student Success?

Submitted by:

Deborah Wachtel Addison

EDCI 6303

Questions arise concerning where teacher collaboration goes once the student progresses out of elementary into the secondary level of education, especially at the high school level. What effect, if any, does it have on student achievement? Secondary teachers are often isolated from not only teachers in other subject areas, but also from teachers in the same subject areas. Class sizes are big and classes only last forty-five to fifty minutes. With teachers isolated from each other, will they be less effective on overall student success rates, as well as less effective in developing teacher support systems? If collaboration could be implemented into the secondary system, will it impact student success? Will it impact teacher success as well? What do the studies show?

High School Teacher Collaboration: Does a Review of the Literature Show It Helps With Teacher and Student Success?

Elementary school gives a warm invitation to all students who enter the halls. Teachers and administrators work hard to ease the fears of each kindergartener and build him/her up through each year so that all can be ready to jump into the secondary level experience. The hope for a smooth transition is universal for elementary teachers as they see their charges leave this warm environment. Through the six years of work and guidance, teachers find time in their schedules to talk with each other and work with one another to better the learning experience each day. This collaborative effort helps with each student who needs the extra help to succeed. Time is set aside for these teachers to get with parents to plan ways for them to assist their children when the school day has ended. Alternate music and physical education time is put into a student's schedule so that teachers can get together to plan, share ideas, and improve the success of each student.

In the high school, there is no opportunity for collaboration in the typical setting. Teachers teach five or six classes out of six or seven respectively. Each class is forty-five to fifty minutes long with class size twenty-five to thirty students each. The one conference period that teachers do have is spent grading papers, calling parents, meeting with administrators, running off papers or preparing for the next day. Not every teacher has only one class preparation either. Most teachers have two, three, or even four different preparations for each day. Time before school is spent on tutorials for students who will voluntarily come in for assistance. After school, if teachers don't have extra-curricular activities to sponsor or children of their own to pick up, they are preparing for the next day. It can be a problem trying to change the typical setting in a high school. All teachers have the mentality that they are confined within four walls and that is the way it will always be. (Slater & Simmons, 2001) There was in the 1960's an effort to propose team teaching as a way to help gain better control of large groups of students as well as a way to prescribe teacher actions. (as cited in Murata, 2002)

Teacher teaming in large high schools helps to create smaller learning communities. Many schools have been looking into this topic. (Spraker, 2003) There are several different types of teacher teaming tried and used in today's schools, some of which include interdisciplinary teaming, teacher collaboration, and partnering. Interdisciplinary teams are the most common type found. Three to five teachers from different subject areas put their talents together to provide an integrated curriculum or instruction, mostly in the form of large cross-curricular projects. These teachers share the same planning time and the same group of students. School-wide block scheduling is common in this type of teaming. In teacher collaboration, teachers come together and focus on learning together as colleagues so that student achievement and instruction improve. Partnering is when two staff members are working together to collaborate instruction only. (pg. 6-8)

Interdisciplinary teaming has shown a positive effect on teacher self-efficacy which in turn raised students' achievement test scores. P. Ashton and R. Webb conducted this study in a south-eastern university community in 1986. (p. 32) D.J. Daniels conducted a study in 2002 on the same type of teaming with ninth graders. His study found that not only did student instruction improve, but also professional development was provided for teachers at the same time. (p. 43)

Also in 2002, K.A. Kerr conducted a study to see if interdisciplinary teaming could help ninth graders in the transition from junior high to high school. Drop out rates were reduced, classroom experiences for teachers and students had positive effects as did teacher collaboration on student behavior. Positive effects were also seen on student-teacher relationships. (p. 67)

When Indiana requirements made science a two year mandate rather than one year mandate in 1987, administrators became concerned with lower-ability students. Science teachers and special education teachers were paired to help those students become more successful. The result was an increase in the students' mean grade in the teamed science classes by a significant number. Their mean grade became higher than the mean grade for all science classes. (p. 40)

Teacher collaboration was investigated in 1996 by V.E. Lee and J.B. Smith. They used teacher questionnaires given in 1988. Composite scores were calculated for more than 800 high schools on three constructs: collective responsibility for student learning, staff cooperation, and control over classroom and school conditions. It was found that schools with large levels of collective responsibility had significantly higher achievement gains for students in core academic subjects. The other two constructs had no effect on student achievement. (p. 70)

Procedures for grouping are not easy and can be quite challenging in certain situations. Inclusive classrooms have special needs students included in the regular classroom setting performing regular classroom activities. This proves to be very difficult to use a partnering type of collaboration. There is a greater emphasis on content area knowledge, a need for independent study skills that special needs students don't have, and instruction is faster paced than in a special education class. Other factors that make it difficult are that high skills testing has more pull in the regular classroom, and lower-ability students must successfully complete competency exams when involved in a regular classroom. Regular classroom teachers have a less than positive attitude toward working with the special needs students, adding one more item for which they are responsible. Even having the special education teacher present to help does not give a perception to the regular classroom teacher that the situation is improved. Also seen in this situation, strategies that are successful at the elementary level with partnering of a special education teacher and a regular classroom teacher are not consistently successful in the secondary level. The process won't work if the two teachers cannot get along and agree with the instruction. Special education teachers felt that there was not enough time for them to meet for these students. They definitely would not have enough time to meet with regular teachers. (Keefe & Moor, 2004)

While schools-within-schools, another form of interdisciplinary teaming, works to improve student achievement, teachers found it difficult to split their time between the smaller school and the host schools. In spite of the difficulty, it is shown that strong professional communities promote student achievement and show positive student outcomes. Data also showed that student behavior also improved as a result of strong professional communities. (Holland, 2002)

In Canada, one high school was studied for its success with students with a variety of educational needs. As a result, many of the students who could not be successful became high school graduates, successful in college and in chosen careers. The study began in the classrooms, student lounges, and the everyday actions of the school's community members. The leaders of the school were completely involved in the running of the school and the community involvement. Grading was holistic and on a project-based curriculum. All parts of the students' lives were involved- intellectual, emotional, social, moral, imaginative, aesthetic, as well as spiritual. Collaborative work was emphasized in culture, connectedness between school learning and life experience, development of commitment to the learning community as well as the wider global community. Students who are enrolled in this school come from all over the city. Most have dropped out of other schools before coming here. Parents say there is a high rate of success because everyone shows respect for young people, there is a deep understanding of individual needs and ways of meeting those needs, there is a strong emphasis in teaching the students to think independently, and there is a deep understanding in the creative process and its role in teaching. (Beattie, 2002)

A high school in Maine was created from the ground up to use teacher collaboration for high student achievement. One team studied contained a social studies teacher, science teacher, English teacher and special education teacher. This team like all the teams had a common workplace. They shared an office space and took what they needed to each class room. In their office they could work together to solve problems and help each other through whatever arose in the classroom that hindered student learning. They also had a common time, the same conference period, to work on issues their students were having. All the teams in this school were allotted thirteen hours a week during school time to plan together. The teachers not only collaborated with each other, but they also collaborated with students, parents, and community members. At the same time each teacher advises a group of ten to twelve students throughout those students' high school years. Teachers have support and students are successful. (Shank, 2005)

Implications from review of these studies show that teacher collaboration in its various forms makes for successful improvement of student achievement. The change and upkeep of the programs is very detailed and involves the backing from administration, teachers, staff, and community. The programs cannot work effectively without that support and teachers cannot keep up with the load of work involved without that outside support. The result is positive and shows in each case that students improve in their grades and achievement. The work is hard, but the success is evident.

Several questions arise during this study of literature on teacher collaboration. Can more high schools adopt this change when shown the results of the research? Can colleges and universities adapt their teacher instruction to help those going out to the workplace to become strong for this change? How can researchers get the message out concerning the success that these schools are having? Therefore, where and how in our current state of educational discourse can we as educators promote and incorporate these changes in our schools to make student achievement higher?

The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory calls this teacher collaboration Professional Learning Teams. (Sather, 2005) They have shown through the study of research that teacher collaboration or creating professional learning teams benefits teacher, student, and community. They have materials to help schools through the transition of the old style of high school set-up to the new collaborative style. A final question would be why haven't the powers that be, the government, been shown these schools and why hasn't there been a push to help other high schools accomplish the same successes? The world is evolving rapidly and the educational field needs to be able to evolve with it. Instead of being given mandates with no real solutions for their success, schools need the support to take these solutions and successfully accommodate students and teachers to a successful conclusion. J.W. Little conducted an analysis in 2003 to challenge as well as build on the research of the past ten years which claim that strong professional communities are important contributors to school reform. (Little, 2003) The need and desire are there; more successful studies need to follow to improve the transition from the old style of teaching to a more modern and successful form of education.


Beattie, M. (2002). Educational leadership: Modeling, mentoring, making and remaking a learning community. European Journal of Teacher Education. 25(2 & 3), 199- 221.

Holland, N.E. (2002). Small schools make big changes: The importance of professional communities in school reform. Presented at 2002 Monograph Series An Imperfect World: Resonance from the Nation's Violence, Houston, TX.

Keefe, E.B., Moor, V. (2004). The challenge of co-teaching in inclusive classrooms at the high school level: What the teachers tell us. American Secondary Education, 32(3), 77-88.

Little, J.W. (2003). Inside teacher community: Representations of classroom practice. Teachers College Record, 105(6), 913-945.

Murata, R. (2002). What does team teaching mean? A case study of interdisciplinary teaming. Journal of Educational Research. 96(2), 67-77.

Sather, S.E. (2005). Improving instruction through professional learning teams: A guide for school leaders. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Shank, M. (2005). Common space, common time, and common work. Educational Leadership, 62(8), 16-19.

Spraker, J. (2003). Teacher teaming in relation to student performance: Findings from the literature. Portland OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved February 6, 2006.

The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory provides articles and links for teacher research on educational issues. (