Collaboration Is In!

by Fritz Geissler, M.Ed., and Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

Nurturing Professional Learning Communities

Encouraging Communities of Practice

Working in Isolation

What's hot in education today? Collaboration is IN! Inclusive schools need all members of the school community working together to ensure the success of all students.

Friend and Cook (2007), define interpersonal collaboration as "a style for direct interaction between at least two co-equal parties voluntarily engaged in shared decision making as they work toward a common goal" (p. 7). Collaboration is characterized by:

  • equal contributions and decision-making power

  • a shared goal or problem

  • shared responsibility for the problem-solving process

  • shared accountability for the outcome

  • shared resources (Friend & Cook, 2007)

One resource that teachers can share is their professional expertise and knowledge. Teachers learn daily from their individual experiences. These experiences become powerful resources in schools where teacher collaboration is valued. In fact, "professional development is accelerated in contexts where teachers work as teams and engage in reflective collegial patterns of work focused on the development of new learning tasks, situations, interactions, tools, and assessments for their own classrooms" (Sanholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997, p. 184).

Both Professional Learning Communities and Communities of Practice emphasize the importance of engaging in collective learning for two goals: becoming better professionals and helping all students succeed. As schools seek consistent improvement, their greatest resources are right before their eyes. According to Wilson and Berne (1999), successful projects involve "the privileging of teachers' interactions with one another ... aiming for the development of something akin to ... 'critical colleagueship'" (pp. 193-195).

Collaboration is the building block for creating and supporting inclusive schools. Administrators can support a culture of collaboration by scheduling time for teachers to work in collaborative teams. School leaders can also encourage and provide opportunities for teachers to openly reflect on their practice. Such reflection and opportunities for feedback increase the collective knowledge of everyone involved, and enhance the likelihood of improved outcomes for students.

For more information on collaboration, visit or The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) also just published "Stepping Stones to Success II," a comprehensive resource on collaborating for the success of all students.


Friend, M., & Cook, L. (2007). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Sanholtz, J. H., Ringstaff, C., & Dwyer, D. C. (1997). Teaching with technology: Creating student-centered classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wilson, S., & Berne, J. (1999). Teacher learning and the acquisition of professional knowledge: An examination of research on contemporary professional development. Review of Research in Education, 24, 173-209.

Date: September/October 2007