Collaboration, for some teachers, is often seen as a “necessary evil” of the job.

It
becomes very difficult for some teachers to work together when planning lessons due to
differences of opinion, different students, and wanting to work in different ways. However,
according to Hattie (2012), “most powerful is when teachers work together to develop plans,
develop common understandings of what is worth teaching, collaborate on understanding their
beliefs of challenge and progress, and work together to evaluate the impact of their planning on
student outcomes” (Hattie, 2012, p. 41). With research-based evidence in mind of how effective
collaboration is, it would be difficult for most educators to argue with the premise of needing to
plan with other teachers; but how does a teacher stop making excuses and start making effective
plans with their colleagues? The following research-based tips and templates should assist
teachers in their quest for frustration-free planning with colleagues.
A study conducted at Old Dominion University regarding the planning habits of teachers
tested the hypothesis that, “planning is not a linear process” (Wolcott, 1994), and found that
though there is no linear process to which teachers plan, there are recurring stages that happen in
the planning process. Though teachers go in and out of these five stages, at the end of the
planning session, an effective lesson is planned. These five stages are:
1. Orienting – Setting agendas, making decisions, checking in, getting back to topic
2. Coordinating – Aligning schedules to share resources, students or activities
3. Making Connections – Connecting curriculum to resources, other curricula, or past
experiences
4. Making Sense – Understanding curriculum, teaching, resources, or student learning
5. Drifting – Any “other) talk that led away from the planning agenda (Kimmel, 2012).

As a teacher, I identify with each of these five stages when thinking about my own planning
sessions with colleagues. Often, however, when planning with colleagues, I consider how my
time can be used more effectively.
The first step in using time more effectively is to have an agenda for what needs to be
accomplished during the planning session. I suggest using these five stages when developing the
agenda, because the five stages do cover any planning activity that may need to be accomplished.
The following table may be helpful when planning the agenda for a planning session. This table
is based upon a sixty minute block of planning time for the teachers who are collaborating.
Stage of Planning
Orienting

Coordinating

Making Connections

Making Sense

What Needs to be
Possible Activities
Accomplished
Who, what, when,
- Sharing the
where and why of the
agenda
meeting
- Determining what
will be discussed
- Timeline for the
lesson or lessons
that are being
planned
Determining when
- Backwards
the lesson/lessons
planning
will be taught
- Creating the
learning targets
for the lesson or
lessons that are
being planned
Resource Gathering
- Pulling resources
from the internet
- Pulling resources
from the
curriculum
- Pulling resources
from past
experiences
Making the resources
- Connections to
“work” for the end
individual
goal or lesson targets
students
that are being
- Differentiation

Maximum Amount
of Time
5 Minutes

10 minutes

15 Minutes

25 Minutes

planned

-

Creation of
worksheets if
necessary
Drifting
“Other”
- Conversations
5 Minutes
Conversation
about struggling
students
In my experience, use of an agenda (and sticking to the agenda) has greatly increased
productivity. If this agenda is developed using research-based patterns in teacher collaboration,
teachers should have no problem sticking to the agenda and more will be accomplished.
Another key to productivity is ensuring that each teacher has a clear idea, from the
beginning of the unit, exactly where the unit is headed and what the students need to know and
be able to do by the end of the unit. In my school, we use a “stairstep” learning target template
to facilitate backwards planning. We then share the stairstep with the students each day to
ensure that they know what their success criteria is, and understand what they need to do to be
successful. A template for this stairstep, with explanations for each part, is below.

This template should be used when planning units to assist the educators in the backwards
planning process and to help align units with state standards. During the course of the unit, the
students should have an identical stair step on which they write down their daily success criteria
and learning targets, and are able to connect these two daily aspects of learning language to the
enduring understanding at the end of the unit. When students are aware of learning objectives,
they are 27% more likely to succeed at a lesson than when they are not aware of the learning
objectives (Wong & Wong, 2011, para. 3). Therefore, the teachers need to ensure that they are
providing learning objectives to the students and that the students are writing them down, and
this format allows this to be more effective.
Finally, key to making collaborative planning successful is having the resources to be
able to plan lessons and learning experiences effectively. Schools should have a central drive

where all lesson materials can be stored for easy access later. Additionally, each teacher needs a
copy of the state standards and any curriculum materials. The teacher needs to be given enough
time to review these materials so that they are familiar enough with them to have something
productive to contribute to the planning session so that the session goes as smooth as possible.
These steps, which can be taken well before the planning session commences, will allow for a
much more effective and efficient use of time.
Collaborative planning does not have to be the bane of every teacher’s existence.
Teachers, however, need to take ownership of the planning sessions to be able to make the most
out of them. With an agenda, the idea of backwards planning, and key resources in place, the
teacher should be able to gain more impactful results when planning with colleagues rather than
when planning alone.

References
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New
York, NY: Routledge.
Kimmel, S. C. (2012). Collaboration as School Reform: Are There Patterns in the Chaos of
Planning with Teachers?. School Library Research, 15
Wolcott, L. L. (1994). ―Understanding How Teachers Plan: Strategies for Successful
Instructional Partnerships.‖ School Library Media Quarterly22 (3). www.ala.org/aasl/slr
Wong, H., & Wong, R. (2011, March). Learning objectives: The heart of every lesson. Retrieved
from http://teachers.net/wong/MAR11/