Ainsley B. Rose

Ainsley B. Rose is an author, a presenter, and a consultant. An experienced elementary and secondary teacher and principal, he is former director of education for the Western Quebec School Board.

Collaboration Is a Team Sport

It has been said that terms and labels travel easily, but application and practice rarely follow when talking about implementing new initiatives. When it comes to the basic tenets of a professional learning community, this is certainly evident, particularly when it comes to working in collaborative teams.

In much the same way a cooperative learning lesson assumes putting desks together in groups of four will lead to students working as a cooperative group, simply demanding teachers meet weekly or monthly does not a collaborative team make.

Ron Heifitz first introduced the distinction between technical versus adaptive change (Fullan, 2003). This distinction is a useful notion as it applies to schools that struggle to implement the complexities of a PLC. As I travel extensively to school districts across North America, I encounter many who proudly claim to be “doing PLC.” What I come to find out with further probing is that they have made technical adjustments to schedules to provide time for teachers to meet. However, rarely do I see the vestiges of true collaboration occurring.

For me, the defining aspects of true collaboration require that teams have taken the time to learn and hone specific practices of collaborative work. The example I gave about cooperative learning makes this point. We can’t assume that students whose desks are physically positioned together have any concept of what it means to be cooperative. As Johnson and Johnson (1999), Kagan and Kagan (2009), and others have demonstrated, students need to be taught the skills of collaboration in order to benefit from the conversations that cooperative learning affords. Without the skills of active listening, paraphrasing, and probing (among others), student conversations fail to achieve intellectual benefit.

The same applies to collaborative teacher groups. Teacher teams need to be intentional about creating and agreeing to team norms, learning to actively listen, arriving at consensus around important matters, resolving conflict, and developing an attitude of trust. The latter is especially important when examining student test scores and the quality of teaching of those students. Collaborative team members must also be introspective and data-informed about their own performance.

So, what are some of the skills that collaborative team members need to practice before they participate in the “game” of collaboration? Probably one of the best sources to help us answer that question is a wonderful and helpful book titled The Adaptive School (Garmston & Wellman, 2009). Filled with activities, tools, and explanations, this book provides readers with ample examples of practices that collaborative teams can use to become skilled in the art and science of collaboration.

Most notable is the chapter on the seven norms of collaborative teams. The authors list skills that teams can apply to their work and include a tool that allows teams to gather and monitor evidence in order to determine their own effectiveness.

To conclude, if you want to do more than just talk about “doing” PLC in your school or district, then begin with helping adults learn and practice the skills that will help them, rather than keeping a checklist about all the technical components of PLCs. Let’s help the professionals learn those skills to become adept at true collaboration, rather than what David Perkins referred to as “coblabboration.”


Fullan, M. (2003). Change forces with a vengeance. London: Routledge Falmer.

Garmston, R., & Wellman, B. (2009). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups (2nd ed.). Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (1999). Learning together and alone: Cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Kagan, S., & Kagan, M. (2009). Cooperative learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.


Joe Caterino

I found this article extremely insightful. I am a firm believer that in order to have a positive and productive school environment educators must be able to strategically work together. The members of the team must first take a step back and look at the situations they are dealing with objectively. We must be candid in discussing our strengths and weaknesses. The toughest area that adults must harness is the ability to accept criticism and feedback from a peer or administrator. We must be open to suggestions and understand that there is always room to improve. When honest sincere collaboration takes place tremendous results can occur. The team within your school needs to have cohesiveness and not have any one individual not bought into improving the learning of your students. I think as adults the more we show that we are willing to learn and improve the better chance there is for these actions to be portrayed to our students.

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Vicki Bishop

I enjoyed your article, especially the title, Collaboration is a Team Sport. My grade level meets weekly, which I think is very important. It keeps everyone on the same page. However, there are several times that the meetings turn into a session of venting or we just get off topic. Recently, we set up a meeting to review our most recent math assessment. It was true collaboration, we reviewed the data, analyzed the results and reflected on the various strategies we had used in our classrooms. As a group, we felt good at the end of this meeting, we stayed focused, we collaborated. Teachers have such little time, if we are able to truly work as a PLC it will benefit everyone.

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Elvia Maldonado

I really enjoyed reading your blog! I teach 8th grade and we meet with our PLC every Wednesday for about an hour. Although we have been a learning community for over five years now, I still can not see that time as well invested time. My main problem is that I teach an elective and my collaborative team is the rest of the electives' teachers. We usually do not have anything in common to share and can not analyze data or create common assessments. The only time I find it useful is when I go to other schools to collaborate with teachers who teach my subject. Do you have any suggestions for us to make our time more productive at our school?

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Tonya Watson

Kristen G,

In all of our grade level meetings that consist of 'kid talks' we do what is called "Tuning Protocol". Honestly, it seemed ridiculous and such a waist of time but now we appreciate the protocol. First, you must set up the protocol by working together and establishing some 'norms'. Some of our norms are 'equity in voice', respecting others, being in the moment, etc. If you have a child who is struggling you can bring in some work samples. The teacher of the student 'presents'. Then there are clarifying questions, examination of the work, reflection, and different types of feedback. You could also adjust this protocol to all of your meeting. Here is the link to the information regarding Tuning Protocol:

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kathleen telemacque

I loved reading your piece. Presently, I am employed as an 11th grade History teacher at a private school where more collaboration can take place. It is very difficult due to the limited time and the fact that we are driven by the curriculum. In an attempt to complete the syllabus we do not make sufficient time to meet as teams and share our best practices. This should be done regularly in an attempt to be more effective in our teaching and increase our students’ success. I agree with you when you stated that true collaboration is defined by the teams’ active learning of collaborative work. The need for teachers to learn the skills of collaboration will surely be beneficial throughout the entire process. I will take your advice and do more than just talk about PLC at my school. I will surely assist the teachers within my department and ensure that they understand the skills which are necessary to become professional collaborators. We can do so much through collaborative effort and should realize how these collaborative opportunities enhance our skills and knowledge while at the same time impact student learning.

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Laveta Ebbin

I enjoyed reading your article . At my school we have be meeting and collaborating with a focus on best meeting the needs of students. We have collected data for areas in which we have concerns so that we can evaluate and make necessary adjustments in the classroom. Your article confirmed the direction we have been recently taken to improve our learning as teachers and students learning. I like that our collaboration is focused and centered around enhancing our teaching and student growth.

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Emily Freed

Great article! The school I work at currently have Effective Schools Correlates, which are essentially PLCs. Each correlate has a goal for the year, but I have never seen or heard of a correlate accomplishing anything. The half hour we meet usually ends up being a half hour of teachers complaining, or things needing to be re-explained for late teachers. I do, however, believe PLCs that are subject based and focused on student learning could be a wonderful thing, if handled correctly.

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Christy Carlton

I currently teach first grade in a PLC district where students are released an hour early on Friday's so that teachers can collaborate. During this time we determine smart goals for our grade level, review team goals, agree to team and building norms, report data on certain subjects, meet with interventionists once a month and at times take school wide surveys on different components of our building. I believe that this time is valuable but I also feel that there are weeks when we just waste time. I recently read an article written by four teachers who created a BASE, which is a system for identifying the Big ideas, Analyzing areas of difficulty, creating Strategies and supports, and Evaluating the process. This BASE guided them in their weekly collaboration sessions. In this article the teachers explained the benefits of having this guideline and how it made them keep on track of what items needed to be discussed, researched, and planned for in advance. I believe that our team needs to acquire more skills that go with collaboration. I am very curious about the book Adaptive School and am interested in reading it to acquire some ideas to share with my team and possibly make some changes as to how we collaborate when we aren't given an agenda. Thanks for all your information.

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Frances Boges

I was hired as a mid-year replacement to teach first grade. I was handed a schedule and told to meet with my grade level team every week. It was never explained to me why we met and what we were supposed to accomplish. I was never trained in the art of collaboration. A year later, I understand the "whys", but I still struggle with the "hows". I agree so much with a lot that has been said here about the need for training. People are constantly pushed together, but without knowledge, understanding and commitment to the cause, nothing will be accomplished.

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Debyon Brown-Osbourne

I really enjoyed reading your article. I agree with you that the defining aspects of true collaboration require that teams have taken the time to learn and hone specific practices of collaborative work. It is also a proven fact that and nicely put by the other authors that, without the skills of active listening, paraphrasing, and probing (among others), student conversations fail to achieve intellectual benefit. The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) identifies collaboration as one of the core prepositions of accomplished teaching (Kramer, 2003). Likewise collaboration is important in every organization.
At the primary school where I teach we over school earlier than usual every Thursday in order for us to have our professional learning communities (PLCs). We begin at 1:30 and there is no set time to finish. We try our best to cover everything that needs attention:- Lessons that we have taught over the past days, the highs and lows of them, things that we could have done differently and things that really worked that other need to try. We also looked at the students’ behaviours and ways of dealing with them along with make plans for future lessons that need to be taught. I love this form of collaboration as it is very informative and it allows me to share my ideas long with learn from others.
I agree that collaborative learning benefit teachers and students alike but sometimes I find that students are harder to collaborate with each other as there is always a form of competitive spirit within them. Presently collaborative learning has been going well in my class as I made my students aware of the importance of it and the positive values and attitudes that derive from sharing and listening to others. They were also made to realize that work can be easily completed when they work collaboratively.
I love collaborating with my team has it always make me realized that what I experience in my classroom on a day to day basic is not strange or new and that others have been through it or through sometimes even worse and that its makes it easier when we are comfortable expressing where we need help. We are a team that is always ready to help each other. If teachers are to improve what they do and gain more satisfaction from their work, building critical and long-standing relationships with their colleagues is essential. (Nieto, 2003)

Kramer, P. (2003). ABC’s of professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Fall. Retrieved from

Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.

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Kristen G

Thank you for the insight you have provided regarding effective PLCs. I currently meet with my subject area team for weekly collaboration. We do not necessarily follow norms, and it would be helpful to have guidelines on how to establish them. Do you have any suggestions? I would also like to meet with other grade levels and to hold vertical meetings, but do not know where to start. Do you have any suggestions about the steps to educating staff on conducting effective PLCs? In my district there are many teachers who meet, but do not always know what to do during meetings. Any helpful tips on educating teachers would be helpful! Thanks!

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Robertha McKenzie

This is an awesome post.I have also had the experience of seeing teachers putting desks together to group children with the expectation that the children will cooperate and work together. It does not work that way. We need to teach children how to take turns and share ideas in the group. Teach them how to be good listeners and critical thinkers.

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Courtney Cartwright

I really enjoyed reading your blog . PLC is essential for teachers, students, and administrative growth. I agree with you completely on the concept that teachers, including myself, need to be taught on how to collaborate effectively. My school suppose to started PLC this school year. It's a mandatory scheduled time after school For two days out of the week.

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Jade Joseph

This is very true! My school has PLCs set up in general, but my particular PLC has had a hard time working collaboratively and agreeing on various topics. I think one thing we are going to try this year is writing personal mission statements. We all seem to have very different outlooks on education and I think that might be why we are struggling to come together as a team; we don't understand where the others are coming from. Creating and sharing our personal mission statements toward teaching might be helpful in becoming a more collaborative unit.

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Anne Beckman

Paulette, my school district allows our professional learning communities (PLCs) to meet approximately two hours a month and it is not enough. I believe a successful PLC should meet at least four hours a month, or at least more frequently, so that we can hold each other accountable to the specific data cycle phase without spending time reviewing where we are because it has been so long since we last met, and longer than one hour, so that we can truly have meaningful discussions as opposed to racing through ideas in order to “jump through the hoops.”
I agree that collaborative learning can greatly benefit teachers and students alike. My school district has been working through the collaborative data team process for about three years and while our teacher teams are good about creating and agreeing to team norms, actively listening, arriving at consensus around important matters, and resolving conflict, I personally feel like it has been hard to develop an attitude of trust amongst the group members. Are there any tips or suggestions for how to build that trust?

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Dirk Andrews

I am a looping teacher at an elementary school in Wyoming. This year I will be teaching kindergarten and looping up to first grade the following year with the same students. Thank you for your blog post about collaboration being a team sport. My teaching partners and myself collaborate weekly and have found much student success through the use of PLC's. Many of our staff were trained about 5 years ago in PLC and have been able to implement it in our school; however, we have many new teachers to our building that have not been trained and I have noticed that it affects how they run collaboration. Due to this blog post I am going to advocate for PLC training again at our school. It will serve as a refresher course for those of us that have been trained and give insight to the new teachers who have never been trained.

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Jamie Alldredge

I couldn't agree with you more. My school made the "technical adjustments" to do PLC, but if you were to witness this designated collaboration time, it would be obvious that there is little "true collaboration" going on. Although I am very lucky to be working with a grade-level team who takes collaboration very seriously, there are many teachers who just "put their desks together" without actually participating in meaningful conversation. Our district has put great emphasis on collaboration and has gone through many efforts to encourage our teachers to participate, however there are still some teachers who choose to ignore the importance of it. My question is, how do you influence the mass of teachers within a district to include themselves in meaningful collaboration?

Working with a team who makes collaboration a priority, I can't imagine moving to a different grade level where teachers do not take the time to collaborate. I can honestly say that collaborating with my team has given me the encouragement needed to keep going on days when I thought I couldn't make a difference in students` lives anymore.

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Caroline Hajjar

I have never had the experience of working in a PLC, but see how beneficial they can be for teachers and the students that they teach. My current school is providing “professional development” however it is far from providing opportunities for professional learning. There has been some talk by two teachers about implementing PLC’s into our school. I have been doing a lot of reading about PLC’s and think it is a great idea. Most of the other teachers are unfortunately very set in their ways and have a negative attitude towards “extra work”. They prefer to teach in isolation. If it is not contractually obligated I don’t see them participating. It is senseless to force them to participate. Do you offer any suggestions on how to encourage teachers to participate in PLC’s without making them mandatory? Is it better to form a small group of only a few like minded teachers rather than work with teachers who don’t want to be there?

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Michelle Kyral

I really liked your mention of students putting their desks together did not a cooperative learning group make, and how you compared that to a group of teachers meeting which may not constitute a PLC. The point you raised about how teachers may need some training in how to effectively collaborate at a PLC was well taken. At my campus, sometimes the "PLC" turns into a gripe session or time spent looking at the data, instead of teachers sharing strategies that have been successful in their classroom. I think The Adaptive School would be an excellent resource for my administrators to have, and that we could study the seven norms and other valuable ideas from the book and implement those we found most applicable to our situation.

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Katie Kisicki


I think it is important to not set a certain amount of time for PLC. I think when we set a block of time, it is natural for us to try to fill that time whether it is working together or on our own to say we are all in a room together rather than truly trying to get as much out of the time as possible.

According to Lucy West, a PLC should be a time of excitement, high energy, and hard work where we are working on authentic problems within our schools. I know time is one thing teachers do not have and if we do not schedule a certain amount of time, we wont be able to meet, but it is important that we are spending the time you can with that positive attitude of getting as much out of the PLC as possible instead of spending a long time where we are just going through the motions.

I am interested with what Mr. Rose believes about educating us on what active listening, resolving conflict, etc. looks like and sounds like. If we were all given time to learn exactly what we should be doing in a PLC, we would go into them with an open mind and more preparation rather than trying to check off what we can from a list of things. I am looking forward to going to our next PLC with more information on what our PLC should look like to get more out of it throughout the year!

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Kiersten Hotaling

This was a great way to compare students to teachers. If teachers are not doing what they are teaching their children then they are not becoming good role models. I really liked the way you were talking about children need these skills in order to grow depth in conversations because this helps them to learn the content in a different but effective way. Bring in the checklist was an excellent closing statement because it reminds us that we are not sitting their going through a checklist of what need to be accomplished everyday. When you do this checklist everyday it can cause burnout and working in PLC's can help prevent this burnout.
Thank you for sharing.

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Kendra Smith

Collaboration is almost its own art form. So many times in my district we get together for PLC and we are not learning, rather just talking at one another. Thank you for the suggestion of the book The Adaptive School, I have emailed my administration to see if this could be one of our upcoming book studies. I see how some guidance during PLC can be a great help. Do you have any suggestions of where to start with getting all colleagues on the same page for PLC?

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Kaye-Ann Williams

I am very passionate about collaboration. The powerful collaboration that characterizes professional learning communities is a systematic process in which teachers work together to analyze and improve their classroom practice (DuFour, 2004). The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) identifies collaboration as one of the core prepositions of accomplished teaching (Kramer, 2003). However, for the process of collaboration to be effective teachers must understand that collaboration requires that all team members want to work together towards a common goal and is based on a sense that all participants are valued. Collaboration also embraces the unique perspectives of all team members and requires trust and a sense of shared responsibility.
At my school we have weekly schedule for collaboration, however, it can also be done monthly. While collaborating, teachers work in teams, engaging in an ongoing cycle of questions that promote deep team learning. It is very important for teachers to make the time and participate in the collaboration wholeheartedly as this leads to higher levels of student achievement.


DuFour, R. (2004). What is a professional learning community? Retrieved from

Kramer, P. (2003). ABC’s of professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Fall. Retrieved from

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j guirguis

I agree with you that working with others and collaborating to form a PLC requires trust between the PLC members.

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Jasmin Walkin

I have always supported collaborative learning because I have seen the benefits of this concept from, my days trying to complete my bachelor's degree in secondary education. Moreover, professionals working together in a PLC cannot just be a policy on paper. It needs to be implemented and organized. You are so right about professionals using the time allocated for strategy sessions to do other things.

Furthermore, we need to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold our students to as i relates to group work. We demand it from our students, so we should follow suit.

Effective Professional Learning Communities (PLC) not only improves student learning but according to Niesz (2007) it helps to shape the professional identity of teachers because PLC often have philosophies, values, and ideologies which shape teachers’ identities and allow them to meditate on how they view themselves as professionals. As a result, we can reflect on our practices and make adjusments for the future.


Niesz, T. (2007). Why teacher networks (can) work. Phi Delta Kappan, 88, 605–610. Retrieved May 24, 2007, from

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Ainsley Rose

Hi Paulette,
Thanks for your question. First, we recommend that teachers are part of two collaborative teams. One is horizontal- with your same grade or subject. The second team should be vertical-usually subject specific.
Our recommendation, assuming time has been created for teams to meet is ideally once a week every week. One meeting would be devoted to your horizontal team, another meeting to your vertical team. The other two meetings would be devoted to answering the four PLC questions, or creating common formative assessments, or reviewing the date from those common assessments to alter instruction based on the results you have received. Another use of the weekly meeting is to create the pyramid of interventions so that you can intervene when you know that students are not learning given the results of your common assessments.
Hope this gives you some guidance and useful suggestions.
All the best

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Paulette Davis

I am an advocate for collaborative learning , since I work in a multigrade setting and have to a lot of grouping in my room. Collaborative skills benefits the teacher and students for sure. Is there a suggestion of the amount of time or how often should a teacher be engaged in professional Learning Community annually to be more effective?

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