The Benefits of Vertical and Horizontal Collaboration in Schools

Emily Coleman
Emily Coleman
ELL academic support specialist; Ph.D. candidate in Strategic Leadership and Administrative Studies with Education concentration
A group of teachers sits around a table and discusses with each other.

The school day can pass in the blink of an eye for most teachers. There are days when they do not even get a chance to eat their lunch or use the restroom. However, when they do have an opportunity to speak with their fellow teachers, great conversations are bound to happen.

Collaborating with other teachers in your school buildings, grade levels, or faculty lounges gives teachers the opportunity to celebrate their successes and share their failures. During these chats, teachers learn from one another and find solutions to problems they might face in their classrooms or with challenging students.

Typically, the most challenging part of having these conversations is finding the time. School administrators who build time into the school day or during professional development days for horizontal and vertical collaborations will immediately notice how new plans are progressing, and new ideas are being created for the benefit of the entire school.

What is Horizontal Collaboration?

When thinking about horizontal collaboration, one should picture the group of teachers working with the same group of students. For example, horizontal collaboration occurs when all of the first grade teachers meet together. It can also happen when the school psychologist, school counselor, and other mental health staff meet. Special education teachers are another group of teachers who often collaborate horizontally.

What is Vertical Collaboration?

Vertical collaboration is more of a heterogeneous group of school employees. These groups typically span various grade levels. They include both teachers, staff, and administrators often are part of these groups as well. This type of collaboration should have specific goals to meet throughout their time together.

What are the Benefits of Vertical and Horizontal Collaboration?

Both types of collaborations have excellent benefits for the teachers, the school climate, and the relationships amongst all staff. First and foremost, these horizontal group collaborations become a sounding board for new techniques, strategies that have worked, and tips that might not have worked so well. Teachers can also self-reflect on their professional development, where they are in the curriculum, and share creative lesson plans. Additionally, this is the perfect setting to make sure all teachers follow the same instructional strategies.

Non-teaching staff can also use this time to discuss projects, events, or strategies that have worked for them; two brains are better than one.

The benefits of vertical collaboration are countless. As long as the group leader has specific objectives to meet, these types of meetings can be very productive. School improvement plans are typically the main topic discussed in vertical collaborations. All areas of the school are usually addressed in these plans; hence, the perfect setting for a meeting would be this type of collaboration.

Ways to Use Vertical and Horizontal Collaboration

Horizontal collaboration works great when teachers in the same grade are preparing their students for state assessments or grade-level projects. All teachers can discuss the standards and strategies on how to get their students to meet their goals. They can also discuss specific students and their needs to see how other teachers may have found success with similar types of students.

Another great use of horizontal collaboration is for elective teachers to create common themes in their lessons. When topics cross from one class to another, students truly begin to learn those areas.

Vertical collaboration also works wonders in schools. When teachers from the previous grade get time to work with the grade ahead of them, they can share their thoughts and experiences with the students that the new grade now has. This will give the new teachers valuable insight as to what works and does not work for the new students in their classes.

Teachers will also find success when doing curriculum mapping in vertical collaborations. Seeing where one teacher has ended the school year will help the next grade level teacher know where to begin in the fall. Curriculum mapping is a fantastic tool to have as time goes on. When teachers have these maps, they can refer to them throughout the year to ensure they are on target to complete what the next year’s teacher expects.

No matter what, shared planning time for teachers and school staff is crucial. Building this time into the school day, whether it is once a week or only once a month, can be extremely helpful to everyone. One person may know the key to unlock a student’s potential but does not realize who else could benefit from knowing it. These collaborations give the time and space to share and come together as a team.

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