The Importance of Authentic Teacher Collaboration for Effective PBL Instruction

By design, Project-Based Learning lends itself perfectly to student collaboration. Through all phases of a task, students have opportunities to work together, make decisions, think, and talk about how to best achieve project goals. Shouldn’t that same effort be mirrored in teacher collaboration? Could the same collaborative mindset and structure benefit the partnerships that often occur in a co-taught classroom? Are our students not the most authentic audience? Of course!

Simple teacher collaboration may look different in the development and planning around a project. When co-teachers push into a regular education classroom, there may be a perceived imbalance in each teacher’s role and responsibility to the students. By implementing authentic collaboration, teacher partners can enjoy the same voice and choice as their students. Authentic collaboration occurs when educators (content and English Learner teachers) share responsibility and accountability for the academic success, language development, and social-emotional needs of their students. This is accomplished through ongoing meaningful communication, trust, and transparency (Marrero & Carey, 2023). Some may say it’s easier said than done.

Of course there are common barriers, most often, the need for ample planning time, but also the need for a clear understanding of each teacher’s role, and even a deficit mindset around the abilities of English Learners (ELs) to succeed with the demands of PBL. However, there is a multitude of benefits to the authentic collaboration model, particularly when it comes to English Learners and utilizing Defined Learning’s online platform. ELs see positive impacts to their academic achievement, improved higher-order thinking skills, enhanced rigor, and even higher graduation rates. For teachers, the opportunity to work together promotes job satisfaction, efficacy, and morale as well as enhancement of teacher quality (Giles & Yazan, 2019, 2020; Gladman, 2015; Nguyen & Ng, 2020).

For ELs, collaboration and time to practice language skills are critical to language acquisition and literacy skill building. The partnership between a regular education and an EL teacher can ensure the proper scaffolds are in place for student success. Even better, the authentic collaboration between teachers is an excellent model for the same partnership expectations for students when engaging with Defined Learning tasks.


Here are three ways teachers can embed authentic collaboration into planning for PBL using Defined Learning:

1. When schedules conflict, find a different way to share ideas, expectations, and goals.

Demands on teacher time are not new. For co-teachers, using a common form to share PBL goals and materials can help appropriately scaffold students in order to maximize learning. Here’s a tool that can provide a place for idea sharing even when in-person meetings are not feasible. Both teachers can offer input and clearly set goals.


2. Balance the workload in planning and delivering instruction.

Whether it be frontloading vocabulary or facilitating a discussion around the GRAS, when both teachers have an active role in lesson delivery, students see them as equals and become comfortable with the shifting responsibilities involved in guiding learning and discussions. Consider grouping students based on product selection and alternating which teacher oversees the groups. This model reinforces everyone’s importance in lesson delivery, classroom management, and student engagement.


3. Consider how interdisciplinary task selection might enhance student experiences and build strength across content areas.

Co-teachers may not always share the same content area expertise, but that doesn’t have to limit teacher involvement. In fact, exploring the variety of tasks offered through Defined Learning could illuminate a co-teachers content area strengths and interests. Not only would this model benefit students, but it could also improve the partnership between teachers when one teacher’s talents are unexpectedly uncovered.


Similar to the PBL model used with students, there is great value in teacher partners' ability to reflect on their experiences and plan for future opportunities to collaborate authentically. In the end, everyone comes out stronger. 





About the Author:

Dr. Joy Carey is a 20-year veteran middle school English Language Arts teacher and currently serves as the Secondary Literacy Coach for Arlington County Public Schools in Virginia. She is passionate about writing and building connections with students. Her research focuses on how PBL influences literacy skills for middle school English Learners. Always up for a learning challenge, Joy is currently working on agility training with her Border Collies.


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