In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Teacher Collaboration in School Improvement

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Literature Reviews on Teacher Collaboration
  • Leading Teachers’ Collective Work
  • Teachers’ Learning Through Collaborative Interactions
  • Emotional and Micropolitical Dimensions of Teachers’ Collective Work
  • Teacher Collaboration and Data Use
  • Impact of Teacher Collaboration on Student Learning and Achievement
  • Evolving Conceptions of Teacher Collaboration

Education Teacher Collaboration in School Improvement
Hayley Weddle, Marie Lockton, Amanda Datnow
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0248


Research on teacher collaboration as a lever for capacity building is vast, spanning international contexts. To facilitate collaboration, many districts and schools have dedicated time for groups of teachers to meet and exchange ideas, with the goal of improving instruction and promoting student learning. Collaboration meetings serve as opportunities for teachers to shape ideas together through sharing perspectives, knowledge, and strategies. The potential benefits of collaboration are well researched and include decreased isolation, the development of supportive relationships, and increased understanding of content knowledge as well as pedagogical approaches. Engagement in formal collaboration is linked to changes in classroom practices, impacting learning environments in potentially transformative ways. Several studies exploring the impact of teachers’ collective work on student learning have found a strong relationship between collaboration and student achievement. Teachers’ collaboration experiences are influenced by a variety of factors, including leadership, interpersonal dynamics, external accountability pressures, and the availability of time and space. Close relationships with colleagues based on trust and respect are also pivotal for teachers navigating collaborative efforts to improve instruction. Such relationships must allow for disagreement and debate, as these characteristics are key to promoting growth and deprivatizing practice. This article explores the features and outcomes of teacher collaboration for instructional improvement and includes an overview of foundational literature shaping current research on teachers’ collective work. While teacher collaboration has the potential to improve both teacher practice and student learning, this review of literature demonstrates that achieving such outcomes is challenging. Given complexities related to policies, relationships, and infrastructure to support collective work, teachers’ collaborative efforts often fall short of espoused goals.

General Overviews

Early publications about teacher collaboration for school improvement conceptualize teachers’ collective work as a joint enterprise to improve practice and promote student learning (DuFour and Eaker 1998; Little 1990; Louis, et al. 1996; Wenger 1998). These seminal works were some of the first to foreground teachers’ work outside of the classroom, highlighting teacher learning through collaboration as a social and dynamic process. Little 1990 outlines several forms of collaboration and emphasizes that teachers engaging in effective joint work deliberate about practice and develop either a shared course of action or an agreement on principles to guide future choices. Little 1990 also argues that effective joint work requires teachers to shift from a “private” version of autonomy to a “collective” conception, which allows for beliefs and practices to be made public. Wenger 1998 details how teachers build repertoires of resources through collaboratively sharing practices. He explains that these resources then shape how teachers approach their daily work, including improvements to instruction. While Wenger 1998 refers to such groups as communities of practice, DuFour and Eaker 1998 characterizes them as professional learning communities. In their practitioner-oriented publication, DuFour and Eaker 1998 outlines characteristics of effective professional learning communities such as focusing on specific student learning goals to inform collective reflection on data to inform instructional improvement. Aligning with these features of effective learning communities, Little 1990 and Louis, et al. 1996 highlights open and reflective dialogue about practice as key to the development of effective collective work. Effective collective work also depends on genuine, focused, and organic interactions between teachers. Hargreaves 1994 warns that too often these authentic collaborative relationships are replaced by contrived forms of collegiality created and contained by administrators.

  • DuFour, R., and R. Eaker. 1998. Professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

    Practitioner-oriented publication outlining how professional learning communities can best be structured and implemented to support student learning. Recommendations include focusing on specific student learning goals to inform instructional improvement, deprivatizing practice, and reflecting on data to drive practice change.

  • Hargreaves, A. 1994. Changing teachers, changing times. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Explores how connections between teachers can either be collaborative or characterized by contrived collegiality. Collaborative relationships involve genuine, focused, and often organic interactions between teachers, while contrived collegiality represents a form of surface-level collaboration that is created and contained by administrators.

  • Little, J. W. 1990. The persistence of privacy: Autonomy and initiative in teachers’ professional relations. Teachers College Record 91.4: 509–536.

    Conceptualizes teacher collaboration as joint work, which includes deliberation about present practice as well as discussion of future actions. Joint work may include moderate levels of conflict.

  • Louis, K. S., H. M. Marks, and S. Kruse. 1996. Teachers’ professional community in restructuring schools. American Educational Research Journal 33.4: 757–798.

    DOI: 10.3102/00028312033004757

    Draws on extensive survey data to outline features of professional community across schools and identifies conditions supporting such communities. Defines professional communities as embodying five characteristics: shared values, a focus on student learning, collaboration, deprivatized practice, and reflective dialogue.

  • Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511803932

    Defines communities of practice as groups of individuals sharing a common interest or concern learning to improve together through ongoing interactions. Teachers engaged in a community of practice are concerned about a shared set of problems or topics, referred to as the “joint enterprise” of the group.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.