The Prevalence of Collaboration Among American Teachers

National Findings from the American Teacher Panel

by William R. Johnston, Tiffany Tsai

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Research Questions

  1. What are national-level estimates of teachers' collaboration opportunities?
  2. To what extent do teachers receive helpful feedback through collaboration activities?

Teacher collaboration is an important component of long-term career development for educators across the United States. For example, collaborative activities (such as peer observation and co-planning meetings) can provide opportunities for teachers to engage in informal mentoring with more-experienced and more-effective colleagues, experiment with new instructional approaches, and co-construct understandings of policies and practices — which, in turn, can shape their teaching practice. However, many factors impede support of teacher collaboration. These include norms of teacher autonomy, isolation, and limited instructional support from principals. These factors might be particularly salient in high-poverty schools, which have been found to have lower levels of capacity to support professional learning among teachers. However, little is known about teacher collaboration across multiple settings in the United States, and differences based on poverty rates have not been examined with nationally representative data. Based on data from a survey of a nationally representative sample of K–12 teachers in the United States that was conducted in the fall of 2016, this report explores the prevalence of teacher collaboration in schools across the United States and assesses the extent to which teacher collaboration varies in schools with different levels of students in poverty. Analysis focuses on teachers' reports of three particular aspects of teacher collaboration: the prevalence of opportunities, the frequency of collaboration activities, and the usefulness of collaboration experiences. The findings might inform policy and practice related to teacher collaboration opportunities at the school, district, state, and national levels.

Key Findings

National Trends in Teacher Collaboration

  • Only 31 percent of teachers reported that they have sufficient time to collaborate with other teachers.
  • Teachers who reported having greater opportunities and time for collaboration consistently reported higher levels of collaboration activity, regardless of the type of collaboration in question.
  • Peer observation was the least common form of peer collaboration, with 44 percent of teachers reporting that they never observed another teacher's classroom to get ideas for instruction or to offer feedback in a typical month.
  • Only 4 percent of teachers indicated that they never met with other teachers at their school to discuss instructional practice, with 43 percent indicating that they do so weekly or more often.
  • School poverty did not have a statistically significant relationship with teachers' reports of collaboration opportunities or the frequency of activities.
  • The association between the frequency of collaborative feedback and its perceived helpfulness is most salient for teachers in low-poverty schools; there is no apparent link between frequency and perceived helpfulness among teachers in high-poverty schools.


  • State and local educational agencies, along with school leaders, should work on providing more opportunities for greater collaboration among peers.
  • Increase the time available for teachers to participate in collaborative activities, such as peer observation and common planning time; provide protocols to guide collaboration; and provide scaffolding for meaningful follow-through on an ongoing basis.
  • A focus on developing stronger, evidence-based collaboration practices and support structures might be particularly fruitful for teachers in high-poverty schools. This will require buy-in from principals, who should see their support for teacher collaboration as a part of their role as instructional leaders.
  • It will be important for scholars and policymakers to explore the obstacles that hinder teacher collaboration and the practices that are seen to be particularly effective at improving teacher capacity.

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The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Health and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For this document, different permissions for re-use apply. Please refer to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation section on our permissions page.

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