How can common preparation periods be used to
increase teacher collaboration?
The institutionalization of collaborative working
environments is widely considered to be critical
to the creation and maintenance of schools as professional
learning communities. Prevailing thought suggests
that improved student performance may be fully realized
only when teachers routinely function as teams and
abandon their traditional norms of isolationism
and individualism. (Leonard, L. & Leonard, P.,2003).
On September 13, 2004 I began working in C.E.S.
73 in the Bronx as one of the Lead Teacher for Community
Collaborative to Improve District 9 Schools, more
commonly known as CC9. One of the responsibilities
of this assignment is to serve as mentor to five
fifth grade teachers. I am scheduled to work with
my teachers in their classrooms three periods every
day and once a month during their common preparation
One afternoon, early in the school year, as I
walked the fifth floor hallway at C.E.S. 73, I noticed
that during the common preparation period my teachers
were scattered throughout classrooms, one or two
in each. Collaboration among teachers did not seem
to be encouraged by the administration and consequently
they did not feel it was important. A few years
ago, teacher collaboration wasn't on anyone's agenda.
Now, teaching is no longer a solitary act behind
closed doors. Teachers are calling for more resources
that allow them the time to collaborate. Finding
the time to meet, share, and discuss issues around
practice has been very difficult for teachers. I
realized I would need to work very hard to develop
within my teachers a sense of community, trust,
“critical friendship”, and collaboration. I set
out to find out if the common preparation period
could be the means by which this would be achieved.
C.E.S. 73 is located in the Bronx, District
9, Region 1. The neighborhood is mostly high-poverty
with a high percentage of Hispanics (70%) and African
Americans (28.3%). The school has an enrollment
of 869 (which has been consistently dropping since
2002 when enrollment was 1,069) with 96.7% eligible
for free lunch. Our English Language population
now stands at 226 students many of which are performing
below standards. Student suspensions are increasing
(2002: 3.7%; 2004: 19.0% in comparison to city school
suspensions which are now at 10.2%). This rise in
suspensions may reflect the difficulty with discipline
problems fifth grade teachers are experiencing in
As I researched my question on how to increase
teacher collaboration I turned to the work of Leonard,
L. & Leonard, P. (2003), Hoerr (2005), Howland,
J. & Picciotto, H. ( 2003) who emphasize the
need for teachers to have scheduled time to meet
and share in joint common activities. They maintain
that teachers are dissatisfied with scheduling and
appropriations of time, which often deters collaboration.
Lack of time is a major problem in schools because
there are so many programs and activities that teachers
are involved in planning and conducting that there
is no time left for professional collaboration.
During common preparation meetings with teachers,
agendas were planned around specific goals in order
for teachers to have a focus for their work. Informal
classroom observations then followed to assist teachers
in carrying out their goals. Peer observations were
encouraged and arranged so that a feeling of “critical
friendship” could be developed. Math curriculum
manuals were available for lesson planning. Final
products were students’ assessment portfolios, focus
lessons for assessment preparation, student assessment
summary sheets, and one curriculum map.
All data was collected during the common preparation
periods. At the beginning of the year, common preparation
meetings were held once a week, every Wednesday.
As the year progressed, however, teachers became
overwhelmed with stringent accountability measures
and as a result, towards the end of the year, meetings
were held sporadically but at least once a month.
My work resulted in the emergence of some principal
- The common preparation period can be one way
to mentor new teachers
- The common preparation period can be used to
train teachers in being “critical friends”
- Teacher collaboration can be achieved through
the common preparation period
- Teacher collaboration through the common preparation
period can be used to help teachers complete their
daily tasks and responsibilities.
- Find ways for teachers and school staff to
collaborate on significant changes needed in the
- Seek ways to reformulate the roles and authority
of teachers and administrators.
- Consider reformulating staffing, resources,
time, and space to increase collaboration.