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Teacher Preparation

September 2020


What research resources are available on collaborative teachers and school improvement/effectiveness?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and literature reviews on collaborative teachers and school improvement. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Akiba, M., & Liang, G. (2016). Effects of teacher professional learning activities on student achievement growth. The Journal of Educational Research, 109(1), 99–110. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The authors examined the effects of six types of teacher professional learning activities on student achievement growth over 4 years using statewide longitudinal survey data collected from 467 middle school mathematics teachers in 91 schools merged with 11,192 middle school students’ mathematics scores in a standardized assessment in Missouri. The data showed that teacher-centered collaborative activities to learn about mathematics teaching and learning (teacher collaboration and informal communication) seem to be more effective in improving student mathematics achievement than learning activities that do not necessarily involve such teacher-centered collaborative opportunities (professional development programs, university courses, individual learning activities). Teacher-driven research activities through professional conference presentation and participation were also found to be associated with student achievement growth in mathematics. The districts and schools may benefit from investing their professional development funds and resources in facilitating teacher-centered collaborative and research-based learning activities in order to improve student learning.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Archibald, S., Coggshall, J. G., Croft, A., & Goe, L. (2011). High-quality professional development for all teachers: Effectively allocating resources (Research & Policy Brief). Washington, DC: National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This Research & Policy Brief addresses the aspect of the teacher support system that is perhaps the most important and often the most weakly implemented: teacher learning and development. This brief includes the following to help state and district leaders select professional learning activities that are worth the allocation of scarce resources: (1) A summary of current research and policy related to high-quality professional development; (2) A discussion of factors that decision makers need to consider when making resource allocation decisions; (3) A description of evaluation methods for professional learning activities; and (4) Examples of promising approaches to professional development. High-Quality Professional Learning Activities Self-Assessment Tools are appended.”

Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Allensworth, E., Luppescu, S., & Easton, J. Q. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In 1988, the Chicago public school system decentralized, granting parents and communities significant resources and authority to reform their schools in dramatic ways. To track the effects of this bold experiment, the authors of ‘Organizing Schools for Improvement’ collected a wealth of data on elementary schools in Chicago. Over a seven-year period they identified one hundred elementary schools that had substantially improved—and one hundred that had not. What did the successful schools do to accelerate student learning? The authors of this illuminating book identify a comprehensive set of practices and conditions that were key factors for improvement, including school leadership, the professional capacity of the faculty and staff, and a student-centered learning climate. In addition, they analyze the impact of social dynamics, including crime, critically examining the inextricable link between schools and their communities. Putting their data onto a more human scale, they also chronicle the stories of two neighboring schools with very different trajectories. The lessons gleaned from this groundbreaking study will be invaluable for anyone involved with urban education.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Datnow, A., Park, V., & Kennedy‚ÄźLewis, B. (2013). Affordances and constraints in the context of teacher collaboration for the purpose of data use. Journal of Educational Administration, 51(3), 341–362. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Purpose: An increasing number of schools and districts across the US are requiring teachers to collaborate for the purpose of data-driven decision making. Research suggests that both data use and teacher collaboration are important ingredients in the school improvement process. Existing studies also reveal the complexities of teacher collaboration and the importance of context in shaping teachers’ collaborative work, especially with data. Yet, the intersection of teacher collaboration and data use has been understudied. The purpose of this paper is to examine the affordances and constraints that exist in the context of established teacher collaboration time for the purposes of data-driven decision making. Design/methodology/approach: The paper draws upon qualitative case study data gathered in six schools that structured teacher time for collaboration on data use. Findings: An analysis of the data revealed that a variety of leadership activities and organizational conditions shaped teachers’ collaborative work with data. These included leadership focused on thoughtful use of data and the framing of data-driven decision making in terms of collective responsibility; the establishment of norms for teacher collaboration; the implementation of data discussion protocols; and teacher groupings and subject matter subcultures. Originality/value: Knowing how and when a leadership activity or organizational condition becomes either an affordance or a constraint to teacher collaboration around data use has important implications for leadership and educational change. The findings of this study also help to lay the groundwork for future research regarding teacher collaboration around data use.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

DuFour, R., & Mattos, M. (2013). How do principals really improve schools? Educational Leadership, 70(7), 34–40. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Principals are in a paradoxical position. On one hand, they’re called on to use research-based strategies to improve student achievement. On the other, they’re increasingly required to micromanage teachers by observing in classrooms and engaging in intensive evaluation. The authors point out that these two positions are at odds with each other. In fact, research has shown that teacher evaluations, along with many other mandated practices, have not improved teaching or learning. If principals want to improve student achievement, rather than focus on the individual inspection of teaching, they must focus on the collective analysis of evidence of student learning. The most powerful strategy for improving teaching and learning is creating the collaborative culture and collective responsibility of a professional learning community. The effort to improve schools through tougher supervision and evaluation is doomed to fail, the authors note, because it asks the wrong question. The question isn’t, How can I do a better job of monitoring teaching? but, How can we collectively do a better job of monitoring student learning?”

Education Resource Strategies. (2013). A new vision for teacher professional growth & support: Six steps to a more powerful school system strategy. Watertown, MA: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “One of a series of Education Resource Strategies (ERS) publications and tools, this paper explores important ways to organize and invest in Professional Growth & Support that strengthen teaching capacity and effectiveness at the system level. It draws on research, ERS experience with urban school systems nationwide, and detailed analyses of Professional Growth & Support spending in Washington, DC; Duval County Public Schools, Florida; and the charter management network, Achievement First (AF). The authors present a new vision in which strategic school systems integrate a core set of instructional improvement activities that strengthen and reinforce one another. They also introduce principles common to strategic Professional Growth & Support systems, describe these practices in the three systems, and identify the biggest levers and challenges to implementing productive strategies. In this paper, the authors hope to both challenge and support educational leaders to create a more strategic, integrated approach to building teaching effectiveness. To do this, they identify six steps school system leaders can take to implement this vision cost-effectively. With each step, they describe the strategy, share insights from spending and practice data across school systems, highlight challenges, and provide some tips for taking action.”

Klostermann, B. K., White, B. R., Lichtenberger, E. J., & Holt, J. K. (2014). Use of the Illinois 5Essentials survey data (Policy Research: IERC 2014-2). Edwardsville, IL: Illinois Education Research Council. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study is to examine how Illinois school districts are utilizing the Illinois 5Essentials Survey results, particularly for school improvement, to determine challenges to successful implementation, and to make recommendations for improvements to the 5E Survey and implementation process for statewide use. We also summarize district/school stakeholders’ familiarity with the 5E Survey, perceived value of the survey, preferences for training, levels of supports, and reasons for not using the 5E Survey data. Examples of district’s promising practices for utilizing the 5E data are also highlighted.”

Klugman, J., Gordon, M. F., Sebring, P. B., & Sporte, S. E. (2015). A first look at the 5Essentials in Illinois schools. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In the first comprehensive analysis of Illinois’ statewide survey of school climate and learning conditions, this report finds systematic differences among schools in the degree to which students and teachers report strength in the five essential supports. Previous University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (UChicago CCSR) research has linked strength on the five essentials—effective leadership, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environments, and ambitious instruction—to engaging instruction and learning and ultimately to improvements in test score gains and attendance trends. This report analyzes data from the 2013 survey administered by the Illinois State Board of Education and the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute to all teachers and students in grades six through 12. The goal of the survey was to help schools across the state better identify their strengths and weaknesses. Nearly 90 percent of schools responded. The report finds a higher proportion of urban and suburban schools are strong in supportive environment and ambitious instruction, compared with schools in towns and rural areas. Meanwhile, teachers in rural schools are more likely to report having effective leaders. Small elementary schools are more likely to have strong essentials than are large schools, and schools serving more socioeconomically advantaged students are more likely to show strength in the essential supports than those serving students living in poverty. One notable exception is Chicago, which has a relatively high proportion of schools with strong effective leaders, supportive environments, and ambitious instruction despite serving student populations with very high levels of poverty. The report also considers whether the essential supports are related to student outcomes in contexts beyond Chicago, where the original research was conducted. The report finds that in general this is the case though some of these relationships are stronger than others depending on the school context and the outcome being considered. In elementary/middle schools, the essential supports are strongly related to ISAT gains in math and reading. In fact, the relationship between the essential supports and reading gains is even stronger than the relationship between reading gains and poverty. At the high school level, strength in the essential supports is modestly related to better student outcomes (attendance rates, ACT scores, graduation rates).”

Kraft, M. A., Marinell, W. H., & Yee, D. (2016). Schools as organizations: Examining school climate, teacher turnover, and student achievement in NYC. New York, NY: Research Alliance for New York City Schools. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “During the last decade, education research and policy have generated considerable momentum behind efforts to remake teacher evaluation systems and place an effective teacher in every classroom. But schools are not simply collections of individual teachers; they are also organizations, with structures, practices, and norms that may impede or support good teaching. Could strengthening schools—as organizations—lead to better outcomes for teachers and students? This study begins to address that question by examining how changes in school climate were related to changes in teacher turnover and student achievement in 278 NYC middle schools between 2008 and 2012. Drawing on teacher responses to NYC’s annual School Survey, as well as student test scores, human resources data, and school administrative records, we identified four distinct and potentially malleable dimensions of middle schools’ organizational environments: (1) Leadership and professional development; (2) High academic expectations for students; (3) Teacher relationships and collaboration; and (4) School safety and order. We then examined how changes in these four dimensions over time were linked to corresponding changes in teacher turnover and student achievement. We found robust relationships between increases in all four dimensions of school climate and decreases in teacher turnover, suggesting that improving the environment in which teachers work could play an important role in reducing turnover. (The annual turnover in NYC middle schools is about 15 percent.) We also discovered that improvements in two dimensions of school climate—safety and academic expectations—predicted small, but meaningful gains in students’ performance on standardized math tests. Taken together with other emerging evidence, these findings suggest that closing achievement gaps and turning around struggling schools will demand a focus on not only individual teacher effectiveness, but also the organizational effectiveness of schools. The policy brief outlines several potential areas of focus for districts that want to help schools in building healthy well-functioning organizations.”

Levine, T. H., & Marcus, A. S. (2007). Closing the achievement gap through teacher collaboration: Facilitating multiple trajectories of teacher learning. Journal of Advanced Academics, 19(1), 116–138. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “How should district and school leaders improve education for students traditionally underserved by public education: by increasing control over teaching and curriculum, or by empowering groups of teachers to have more collective autonomy, responsibility, and opportunities for professional learning? The second approach—promoting multiple trajectories of learning among groups of teachers—has advantages, as well as some challenges, as a means of closing various achievement gaps. Sociocultural theory informed our research, as it helped us envision how people who work together create opportunities for the adaptation and learning of new practices while increasing the likelihood that individuals internalize new skills and ways of thinking. Through the analysis of a conversation among teachers about Vickie, an English Language Learner, we examine the larger context of a school’s reforms. This analysis illustrates both the possibility and desirability of helping teachers engage in multiple and evolving types of teacher learning in order to succeed with students like Vickie. Closing the achievement gap likely will require more than just choosing the right intervention and implementing it with fidelity. Conceptualizing the work of closing the achievement gap as requiring multiple, ongoing trajectories of teacher learning suggests what teachers, administrators, and district leaders can do to: foster and influence trajectories of teacher learning, promote internalization of new approaches, and sustain teachers’ efforts to close the achievement gap in an ‘exhausting and exhilarating process that never feels finished.’”

Ronfeldt, M., Farmer, S. O., McQueen, K., & Grissom, J. A. (2015). Teacher collaboration in instructional teams and student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 52(3), 475–514. Retrieved from:

From the ERIC abstract: “This study draws upon survey and administrative data on over 9,000 teachers in 336 Miami-Dade County public schools over 2 years to investigate the kinds of collaborations that exist in instructional teams across the district and whether these collaborations predict student achievement. While different kinds of teachers and schools report different collaboration quality, we find average collaboration quality is related to student achievement. Teachers and schools that engage in better quality collaboration have better achievement gains in math and reading. Moreover, teachers improve at greater rates when they work in schools with better collaboration quality. These results support policy efforts to improve student achievement by promoting teacher collaboration about instruction in teams.”

Steinberg, M. P., Allensworth, E., & Johnson, D. W. (2011). Student and teacher safety in Chicago Public Schools: The roles of community context and school social organization. Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In schools across the country, students routinely encounter a range of safety issues—from overt acts of violence and bullying to subtle intimidation and disrespect. Though extreme incidents such as school shootings tend to attract the most attention, day-to-day incidents such as gossip, hallway fights, and yelling matches between teachers and students contribute to students’ overall sense of safety and shape the learning climate in the school. Not surprisingly, schools serving students from high-crime, high-poverty areas find it particularly challenging to create safe, supportive learning environments. Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the subject of this report, is no exception. In many CPS schools, teachers, and students report feeling unsafe in hallways, classrooms, and the area just outside the school building. Yet, in many other Chicago schools—even some schools serving large populations of students from high-poverty, high-crime areas—students and teachers do feel safe. What distinguishes these schools? Two years ago, CPS leadership suggested an innovative method of addressing safety concerns in schools—creating and implementing a ‘culture of calm’ initiative predicated on developing positive and engaging relationships between adults and children. Though not an evaluation of culture of calm, this report provides initial evidence about the potential promise of such a strategy. The report examines the internal and external conditions that matter for students’ and teachers’ feelings of safety. It shows how the external conditions around the school, and in students’ backgrounds and home communities, strongly define the level of safety in schools. It then examines the extent to which factors under the control of schools—their social and organizational structure, and particularly the relationships among adults and students—mediate those external influences.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • 5essentials

  • “Collaborative teachers” “collective responsibility”

  • “Collective responsibility” K-12

  • “Teacher collaboration” “achievement gains”

  • “Teacher collaboration” “collective responsibility”

  • “Teacher collaboration” “quality professional development”

  • “Teacher-teacher” K-12 achievement

  • “University of Chicago” “Urban Institute”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.