I experienced an overwhelming response to my posts (here and here and here) about collaboration in schools. From my thinking and from the comments of others, I have come up with the following list of essential ingredients for collaboration in schools. When I say this, I am referring to collaboration of all learners (staff and students). I tried to write the following items so that they could be applied to students and staff.
1. Adults as the lead learners – It is so important for adults to model good collaboration. As educators, we all must understand what it means to collaborate and how collaboration is different from group work and delegation. We must model good collaboration for our students and our fellow colleagues. Administrators must model the collaboration process for their staff. If you want your teachers to collaborate, you must show them how.
2. Shared vision – when a group is collaborating, each member must understand where the project is going and they must also understand how the piece that they are working on fits into the project, as a whole. Each member of the group should be able to speak about the project and each of its parts…even though they may not have worked directly on a certain part.
3. Trust – each member of the group must trust that their fellow group members will take an active role and will produce their best work. Members must also trust in their own abilities as contributing members of a team.
4. Time – effective collaboration takes time. If we want our students to collaborate, we must first teach them how and then give them time. As teachers, we need to spend time together, debriefing and discussing. This doesn’t mean that we have to have meeting after meeting, just for the sake of a meeting. It is important to meet when there are things that need to be discussed and tweaked. I used to team team with a colleague and we spent many hours planning and discussing. By doing this, we felt that we gave our students the best mathematical experience ever.
5. Flexibility – collaborating is more than just cooperating. We can’t just divide up the work and set everybody free.
When you work in an interdependent way you have to listen, accommodate and adapt to others’ but when you merely cooperate all you have to do is avoid overlap while you continue to work independently on your portion of the task. (Bruce Beairsto)
Reacting to the feedback from others is essential. This may even involve tweaking the direction of the project. The feedback that I received on my original posts definitely had an effect on this post and presented some things that I had not thought of.
6. Roles – each group member must understand their role and feel that their contribution is valuable to the project. Roles should be assigned according to people’s strengths and willingness. Group members must understand how their role fits into the entire project. In a true collaboration, I would be not only to describe my own role but also the roles of others. Recently, we collaborated at my school to host a 50 year anniversary of our school. We all knew what our own jobs were and we knew what other people were doing, as well.
7. Commitment – Each member of a group must be committed to the project and be prepared to see it through to the end. Commitment is different than consensus.
8. Shared Leadership – Just like geese flying in formation, there are times when you need to lead and times when you need to follow the lead of others. This goes back to the “trust” ingredient above.
9. Willingness to fail – Take a risk. Try something. If it doesn’t work, pick up the pieces…debrief…and start again. Making mistakes is how we learn.
Did I miss anything?
True collaboration is a very important skill and it is something that I believe that we need to teach to our students…both directly and by example. We need to develop learning activities which will force kids to collaborate. Why? Any time that I have been involved in a collaboration effort, the learning has been more powerful. Also, it is great to work as a team. You can’t be good at everything, but you can certainly draw on the strengths of others.