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Collaborating for Student Success, Phase 2: Act

Learn how to build the structures and processes needed to start collaborating effectively.
Published: 06/2020

Act, the second stage of collaborating for student success, is about building the structures and processes needed to started collaborating. There are four steps in this phase:

  1. Identify collaborative teams and functions
  2. Define content for collaboration
  3. Define the process for collaboration
  4. Establish support resources

Below you'll find guidance for each step, and key questions to help you tailor the process to your needs.

Stage 2 of Collaborating for Student Success flowchart

Identify Collaborative Teams & Functions

What collaborative committees or working groups already exist in your system? How can we ensure that all necessary stakeholders are included in them, and refocus their work toward collaborative problem-solving? What additional committees or teams are needed?

In highly collaborative environments, there are typically two types of teams at the school and/or the district levels: leadership teams and working committees. The district or school leadership teams will usually set vision and goals for the partnership and guide and support the work of the working committees. The working committees are the teams who implement specific projects to realize student-centered vision and goals.

Define Content for Collaboration: The 'Start Somewhere' Approach

Where can you start? What student-centered projects might your team or committee agree to get started on first?

The narrowing of focus on a goal that is locally impactful and attainable is often called the “Start Somewhere" approach. This step is where you and your partners get specific about what you want to accomplish.

Teams need to start their work on something that is within their reach and capacity. The issue must be meaningful to all team members and under the control of the team.

A first-time working committee should not attempt to solve all the woes of the district, but agree to tackle a local issue that affects the students in their area. Even better is when new committees can start with an issue that might be a little less controversial.

Remember: education partnerships are not only about the issue or content, but it is also about the process and the journey the team takes to resolve that issue.

Define the Process for Collaboration: Shape Your Relationship

What norms, communication structures, and decision-making processes will you use to collaborate effectively?

Group norms are behavioral guidelines for group activities. They help determine how people interact and cooperate with each other. Groups who define norms reduce ambiguity that can be inherent when many individuals work together and set expectations for member behavior.

Ideally, group norms should be established by group members and all members of the group should abide by them.

Group norms should be established on the following topics:

  • Meeting Logistics: Document expectations around meeting times, tardiness, absences, meeting cancellations, meeting location and time and any other meeting details
  • Participation: Set parameters to ensure that all team members have an equal voice, promote active listening, discourage interruptions and support the collaborative process
  • Record-keeping: Determine how the agenda will be compiled, how notes will be recorded and if there will be any kind of exit activity for each meeting
  • Decision-making: Ensure that a method for making group decisions is defined and that allows for inclusive decision-making and deals with conflicts
  • Expectations: Determine how the group will hold members accountable for upholding group norms
  • Communication: Determine how you will communicate about your group activities with stakeholders outside of your group

Establish Support Resources

How will your partnership offer training, facilitation, support, and leadership to the committees doing the work?

Occasionally a team or workgroup needs assistance in either the subject matter in which they are working, or on how effectively they are working together. It's useful to identify the resources available to you for both the content and processes for collaboration.

When collaboration is most effective, systemic structures forged at every level support and reinforce each other:

  • State consortia support districts engage in collaboration
  • District-level structures are formed for shared decision-making and to support school collaboration
  • School-level structures are formed for shared decision-making that supports school improvement

Oftentimes independent trainers and/or facilitators who are neutral, independent resources, not associated with any of the stakeholders, can help with training and strategy development. Ideally, states and districts will begin to cultivate facilitators from within their ranks, so that they can actively support and sustain the education partnerships.

You can also learn more about the details of an education partnership by working with local education associations and districts that have been engaged in this work through opportunities, such as:

Implement Collaboration

At this stage of the collaborative process, it is useful to develop two plans: a project plan that helps the group understand and agree upon the activities, milestones, and expectations for the project at hand, and a communications plan to let other stakeholders know about the group’s work, progress, and insights.

1. Develop a project plan.

The project plan helps you to monitor group progress and track the completion of work. Often, a group member is tasked with managing the plan and reports on group progress at scheduled intervals.

A project plan usually includes a statement of the goals set by the groups, a list of steps needed to accomplish the goals and a discussion about how progress will be measured and how lessons learned will be shared. 

It is important to note that just as the project plan sets expectations at the beginning of the project, it should also reflect changes in the project as it moves along. It should be flexible and adjusted by the group when unanticipated factors affect the original plan. Keep a copy of your original project plan so that later, you can use it as a baseline to evaluate plan modifications.

2. Develop a communications plan.

The collaborative process goes beyond the borders of your current group and some attention should be devoted to letting other stakeholders know what you’re learning. A communications plan helps you determine when, why, and how you will communicate with other stakeholders.

It can be formal or informal, and might involve multiple media (e.g., weekly email, quarterly report, in-person update at meetings). Make sure that communication is regular, timely, and informative. Solicit feedback from stakeholders along the way, to make sure they are getting the information they need. Assign a team member or members to manage this task.

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