Collaborative Teaching

Mal Lee and Lorrae Ward



Those of you whose schools have gone digital, who have normalised the everyday use of the digital in all your classrooms and who are seeking to take advantage of the opportunities opened within the networked mode will want a teaching approach apposite for a networked and ever more integrated and collaborative world.

The author’s suggest you give careful thought to adopting a collaborative mode of teaching where your teachers work with parents – and where appropriate grandparents or carers – the community and your students in the 24/7/365  teaching of the academic, cognitive, digital, social and emotional skills and attitudes vital to the students’ success at school, life and work in the C21.

At the moment circumstances have in some part dictated the teaching of that suite of attributes be sharply divided with the schools primarily handling the academic and the parents, grandparents and students being left by default to teach all the other vital attributes from birth onwards.

At the moment schools, the homes and the wider community work largely in isolation teaching different attributes with little communication or interaction in an educational sense. Schools generally handle the academics with some social, emotional and cognitive learning. Parents, grandparents and/or carers may be involved in homework and presumably the teaching of values and life skills. However, there is little interaction, if any between the two. Imagine the potential for learning if the messages were consistent, if schools and the home shared responsibility for the learning of their children and worked in educational partnerships.

Significantly that collaboration is happening increasingly in the pre-primary years as the families and teachers embrace a more integrated early childhood and care (ECEC) approach that recognises the key teaching role of the home.

However once the children enter formal schooling that home contribution is soon forgotten. Schools appear to give little value to the knowledge and experience these early educators have. Further, and perhaps more significantly they appear to give little cognisance to the knowledge parents and grandparents have of their children. This is despite an extensive literature confirming that when teachers know their students and teach in ways that values and acknowledges what students bring to the classroom and where they come from there is a marked improvement in academic outcomes.

Significantly, despite operating in an increasingly networked and interconnected world, that formal teaching is usually done in isolation, behind the walls of ‘stand alone’ schools, using a teaching approach that occupies the young less than 20% of their waking time each year.  It is a construct of an agrarian age.

The very considerable and vital teaching capacity of the homes and the community that shapes the learning of the young the other 80% of the time remains separate from the school, largely untapped and unshaped by the authorities, underused and not making the contribution to enhanced ‘national productivity’ it could.

In the networked world where the young have normalised the everyday use of the digital technology the learning the children do every minute they are awake has been heightened and their facility to learn independently increased.

It is time to adopt a mode of teaching from birth onwards where the school and its homes collaborate, using their particular strengths, particular teaching approach and the technology to provide the young the desired teaching and learning.

The model does presuppose the children, parents and teachers have normalised the use of the digital in their teaching.

In observing the pathfinding networked schools that teach collaboratively with their homes and community it seems so natural, such common sense and so in keeping with a vast body of research.

The surprise comes when you seek out the educational literature endorsing this kind of collaboration. There is much on collaboration between teachers, between teachers and students and between students; but little on authentic collaboration with the homes and the community. The value of home-school partnerships can be found in most policy discourse, it is less apparent in the research and even less so in the discourse of schools.

In the networked world teaching and learning ought no longer be restricted to a physical location, to one group of professionals or to one time. Nor should it occur in isolation across different locations.


The research and reasons underpinning the adoption of a collaborative model of teaching is vast, growing and strong. It is discussed in depth by the authors in a forthcoming publication by Lee and Finger on Leading a Networked School Community (in press) and by the authors in Collaborative teaching; the beginning of the journey (in press).

The research relates to the crucial teaching role that ought be played respectively by the parents, grandparents, children, community members and the teachers in the teaching of key attributes, the value of various parties working together in the teaching of key skills and attitudes and the very considerable impact on student attainment of school’s adopting a more open and collaborative style of teaching and forming a strong home-school bond.

The modes of teaching desired need not be markedly different to that employed by good parents, teachers and students today – except for the fact they will be more consciously collaborating, making significantly greater use of the human and technological capacity of the networked world and working upon the learning with greater awareness of what each other is doing. The combined collaborative effect is likely to be much greater than any achieved through separate activities.

The research affirms the imperative of parents being the child’s prime teacher from birth onwards. In the pre-primary years they have to play the lead teaching role in the development of all the attributes (Strom and Strom, 2010) mentioned above but when the children start school they can shed their prime responsibility for the academic and gradually devolve ever-greater responsibility for the development of the other attributes to their children. However, the research points to it being crucial they still play a lead teaching role in the on-going development of their children’s social and emotional skills and attitudes and a major role in nurturing the cognitive and digital skills well into the secondary schools years (Harvard Family Research Project, 2004). This poses an equity dilemma, as there are vast differences in the capacity of parents to support their child’s development. Schools have a role in supporting and guiding parents to be effective educators. The networked world provides endless opportunities for them to do so.

What many tend to forget is that today’s parents have become increasingly digitally empowered. They are increasingly ‘Net Generation parents, have largely normalised the everyday use of the digital and expect teachers to both use the digital in their everyday teaching from Kindergarten on and for teachers to collaborate with them in the use of that technology (Project Tomorrow, 2011).

The experience of the pathfinders and recent research attests to the ever greater role grandparents are playing and can play in the teaching of the young often well into the secondary years. Recent US Census data reveals that in 2006 12.8 % of children in the 5-14 year group were spending on average 14-16 hours a week with a grandparent (Sparks, 2011). With the ‘Baby Boomers’ moving increasingly into the grandparent ranks its capability will continue to grow.

So too will the facility of the elders within the school’s community to assist, many being highly qualified and with that rare commodity in education, time.

Any collaborative teaching model ought factor in what the research is underscoring (Project Tomorrow, 2010), the young themselves want to have a greater voice in their teaching within the school, have a major say in the teaching outside the classroom and will increasingly use the ever-more sophisticated technology – possibly with the support of peers – to teach themselves. Google is the preferred expert of choice for many.

The authors recognise – as the research attests – the professional teacher must continue to play a lead teaching role; by far the major role in the teaching of the academic skills. However, they could contribute significantly more to the development of other key educational building blocks if they worked in collaboration with the parents and children. Further, they must recognise the extent to which parents and their children exist in a networked world; where information is instantly available, where interaction is available at the push of a button.

It may be that one of earliest jobs of the professional teacher is to bring together the ‘language of learning’, to clarify in the minds of our youngest learners the language of the learning processes that they have already learnt at home and in playschool. Rather than seeing school as ‘different learning’ schools should see themselves as the next extension of the Piagetian model previously used by the families, playgroups and preschools.

Significantly, as the pathfinding schools have found, that collaboration need not be just in the face to face teaching but can take the form of providing advice and direction, teaching of the ‘teachers’ and working with the community members to develop teaching support materials.

The educational impact, particularly reflected in enhanced student attainment but also in the improved student attendance, involvement and behaviour, of schools adopting a more open and collaborative relationship with its homes is well documented but appears to be forgotten in many circles.

One could continue.

Suffice it to say that in recent years the level and sophistication of the collaborative technology in the home, in the hands of the young and within networked schools has reached the stage where it can be normalised in the collaborative teaching of not only the young but the wider community.

The Current Situation

You know the scene.

Suffice it to say aside from the schools operating within the networked mode authentic collaboration with the homes leaves much to be desired.

Years of efforts to foster home-school collaboration, even when it was mandated at in Scotland in 2006, and in England with its home-school agreements, have failed. Parents continue to be seen as fund-raisers, taxi drivers and teacher’s-aides. They are generally passive participants in parent-teacher meetings and recipients of school reports.  True educational partnerships are rare.

However, the signs are good with the schools that have moved to the networked phase and are ready attitudinally and ability wise to adopt an ever more collaborative form of teaching.

The Issues

Any shift, as dramatic as adopting a fundamentally different model of teaching and learning, will have to contend with a host of hurdles.  They are as the authors indicate in the aforementioned book many and varied.

The normalising of the approach will take time, some tense moments, astute leadership and the convincing of one’s community the school really does want to collaborate. For too long parents have been held at an arm’s length and teachers protected by authorities from parental “interference”. Changing this will require an attitudinal shift within schools and potentially families. Accepting dual responsibility for the learning of their children will require both parties to reflect on their roles in educating the young.

Tokenism, and ‘one-way’ collaboration where the school determines the nature of the arrangement will not work (Grant, 2009, 2010).

The lessons of the pathfinding schools indicate the school, its head and in particular its teachers – and sometimes the education authority and teacher unions – are likely to be the main stumbling block. However if the school is operating within the networked mode and the staff is ready the transformation can commence very quickly.

We do stress it has to be an individual school decision, and not a mandate from high.


Authentic collaboration is a difficult art but done well can markedly enhance the learning and lives of the children, their families, the school’s community and the teaching staff.


Grant, L (2009) Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies Futurelab August 2010

Grant, L (2010) Connecting digital literacy between home and school. Futurelab December 2010

Harvard Family Research Project (2004) ‘Adolescence: Are Parents Relevant to Student’s High School Achievement and Post secondary Attainment?’

Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (in press) Leading a Networked School Community

Project Tomorrow (2010), Unleashing the Future Educators. ‘Speak Up’ about the use of Emerging Technologies for Learning. May 2010 Project Tomorrow

Project Tomorrow (2011) The New Three E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered Speak Up 2010 National Findings Project Tomorrow 2011

Sparks, S.D (2011) ‘Statistics show more grandparents caring for grandchildren’ Education Week Aug 3 2011

Strom, R and Strom, P (2010) Parenting Young Children Exploring the Internet, Television, Play and Reading, IAP Charlotte




About Mal Lee

Mal Lee is an educational consultant and author specializing in the evolution of teaching and schooling from the traditional paper based mode to one that is digital, and in turn networked, and the impact of the technology on that evolution. Mal’s is a macro focus examining all the elements associated with the development, leadership and operation of schools operating within a digital, and increasingly as networked school communities. Most importantly his is a positive approach that envisions how educators and school communities might best use the ever-evolving, ever more pervasive technology in the home, on the move and in the classroom to provide an ever better schooling for the full range of students. Mal is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and a member of the Mayer Committee that identified the Key Competencies for Australia’s schools. A Fellow of the Australian Council for Educational Administration (FACEA) Mal has been closely associated with the use of digital technology in schooling, particularly by the school leadership for the last two decades. A historian by training Mal has written extensively, particularly in the Practising Administrator, the Australian Educational Leaders and Access, Educational Technology Guide on the astute use of technology in the development of schoolings. Mal has released four publications with ACER Press. In 2008 Mal and Professor Michael Gaffney edited and had published Leading a Digital School. In 2009 he co-authored with Dr Arthur Winzenried The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools – Lessons to be Learned, and with Chris Betcher, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution – Teaching with IWBs. In 2010 Mal joined with Associate Professor Glenn Finger (Griffith University) in the writing of his most significant work yet for ACER Press on Developing Networked School Communities: a guide to realizing the vision – on the next phase of schooling. Copies of the books can be obtained from the ACER Press website at -
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