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Teacher Metacognition and Collaboration: Keys to Bridging Research to Practice

By Marcus Conyers and Donna Wilson

We have the advantage today of a great deal of research on what can be done to improve teaching and learning. To benefit students, however, this research must be implemented through effective interventions in classrooms and schools. This gap between research and implementation is not unique to education. In fact, a new field called implementation science has emerged, with the aim of studying methods to more effectively integrate research findings and evidence into policy and practice.

A fundamental concept in implementation science is that the practitioner is the intervention. Applying this concept to education, teachers must be trained and supported in implementing applications from research and involved in goal setting, planning, implementation, and evaluation of new ideas in practice.

Toward that end, metacognition becomes one of the most useful tools in teachers’ professional repertoire. A metacognitive approach to teaching entails (1) awareness of and control over the way you think about your teaching; (2) purposeful planning, implementation, and evaluation of your teaching practice; and (3) adjustments in teaching strategies based on your assessment of students’ needs and the context of the lesson and subject matter.

blue brain illustrationThe self-reflection and self-assessment that is at the heart of metacognition can also enhance your contributions to the professional community through purposeful collaboration and teacher leadership. To bring implementation of research-based teaching methods to scale requires teachers to widen their contributions beyond classroom practice by modeling and helping colleagues connect to research and resources about the value of a metacognitive approach to teaching, learning, and leading.

Our new book Smarter Teacher Leadership: Neuroscience and the Power of Purposeful Collaboration suggests these strategies for developing a metacognitive mindset to continually improve your professional practice:

1. Develop your clear intent in teaching and professional collaboration and keep those goals at the center of planning and implementation.

2. Continually monitor student progress, the effectiveness of your instructional techniques, and the outcomes of your efforts to collaborate with, mentor, and coach colleagues.

3. Engage in productive evaluations of your professional practice and in seeking input and feedback from colleagues.

4. Learn from your own classroom experiences and through collaborations with teams of educators in your school and district.

When administrators provide opportunities for teachers to work together to improve their teaching practice and reflect on what works and what doesn’t in the classroom, they become more effective educators, both individually and collectively. That is why we advocate for purposeful collaboration, in which teachers focus their clear intent on continuously improving teaching and learning by marshaling their shared expertise.

In the Foreword to Smarter Teacher Leadership, the University of Southern California’s award- winning cognitive neuroscientist, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, discusses a number of reasons why it is so important that teachers have ample opportunities to work purposefully together. These include the fact that the work of teaching is emotionally challenging, intensive, and ever-changing. Furthermore, that the stress of teaching is a cause for many teachers to burn out and even leave the profession creating high turn-over rates in many districts. In her words “By the very neurobiological nature of our minds, human beings are inclined toward collaborative and cultural approaches to work and learning. Arguably, the evolutionary legacy of our intelligent brain is our social mind; our skills and knowledge are collectively constructed and socially situated.”

In our experience, we have found that when teachers collaborate to create and implement more effective lessons, see a positive impact on student learning and share these results with colleagues, motivation soars.

To view more on metacognitive learning, visit the Scholastic interview: Teaching Students To Drive Their Brains Through Metacognitive Learning

Marcus Conyers is a doctoral researcher at the University of Westminster and founder of the Center for Innovative Education and Prevention. [www.ciep.org] Dr. Donna Wilson, president of BrainSMART, Inc., is an author and psychologist who conducts professional development internationally for teachers, administrators, and policymakers. She frequently writes about metacognition and teacher leadership in her blog [https://donnawilsonphd.blogspot.com/]; contact Donna directly at Donna@brainsmart.org. Their two most recent books are Smarter Teacher Leadership: Neuroscience and the Power of Purposeful Collaboration, published with Teachers College Press, and Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains: Metacognitive Strategies, Activities, and Lesson Ideas, published with ASCD.

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