Layering Teams: Establishing Collaborative Planning

In a previous blog, Scaffolding our Collaborative Response: Purposeful Layering of Team Meetings, we shared the idea of purposefully articulating and layering collaborative team structures to ensure the needs of all students are met. Drilling a bit deeper into the processes of each team will provide a reflection of what is consistent within each layer and what differs for each team. This blog will focus on the specific considerations for Collaborative Planning.

Collaborative Planning

The Collaborative Planning Team is essentially established to promote and foster teacher collaboration, focused universal practices for all students. Obviously, this is not a novel structure for schools, as teacher collaboration, particularly through the establishment of professional learning communities, has been part of the educational landscape for decades. The intent of collaborative planning is to ensure teachers have embedded time to enhance and expand their teaching practices to address the needs of all learners.

The membership of this team resides primarily with teachers although it is highly recommended that an annual process is established for administration to join the teams on a pre-determined basis throughout the year to provide support and direction (see below in Team Planning Guides). Collaborative planning teams meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly depending on how a school is able to navigate embedded time for teachers at a grade level, subject area or by department. As the purpose of this team is to explore and enhance classroom instruction at Tier 1, teachers are grouped according to common instruction.

The collaborative planning team is the foundational structure for ensuring common practices across classrooms. A clear definition of who, how and when this team is convened should be documented and readily available to all school team members. Here’s an example of how Blueberry School in the Parkland School division describes their layers of teams, including examples of students to be discussed at each layer. Other samples of layered team meeting overviews can be accessed here.

Collaborative planning teams are guided by establishing a focus and the creation of a team goal or inquiry question. Without the structures to guide their learning, collaborative planning time can sometimes become unfocused and without purpose which typically leads to teachers opting out to use the time to individually plan or to attend to their individual classroom needs.

Ideally, collaborative planning teams align their area of focus to established school and/or district goals. This alignment allows schools to evidence their growth on specific areas of development through the work of the collaborative planning teams. We typically see schools focusing their efforts on literacy, numeracy, engagement, wellness and other overarching target areas.

When an area of focus is established, the collaborative planning teams begin with an examination of their data to explore strengths, challenges and possible areas to target that require new learning or enhancement. This Data Review and Team Goal template provides guidance in establishing SMART goals to guide the team. This Data Review and Inquiry Question template provides guidance when teams formulate their goals around an inquiry question. Both methods focus on creating a goal derived from their data to guide their learning in collaborative planning teams.

Once the team time is established and the goals have been created, teams will convene according to their schedule and develop priorities related to their goal or inquiry question. A simple planning tool can support their ongoing work by documenting actions including timelines and responsibilities.

When considering the implementation of collaborative planning teams, team planning guides can be used to provide a one-stop resource that documents their goals, team norms, current reality as well as notes on the progress made. The planning guides also serve to create a process of regular support from school leaders to document progress as well as provide an opportunity to share their learning with other teams across the school. The following team planning guides function on action research to encourage reflection and progress as well as next steps: Action Research Team Planning Guide template (Goal), Action Research Team Planning Guide template (Inquiry Question)

We have developed a template to guide your reflections on your collaborative planning teams to maximize the effectiveness of your team meetings.

If you have developed resources related to this concept, we would love to see them! Email questions(at) or lorna.hewson(at) if you have something you wish to share.

Author: Lorna Hewson