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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Collaboration - What is it? - Part I

This is the time of year I always focus on the level of collaboration present in the groups of teachers I have worked with throughout the year.  I am holding final sessions and know from experience the change we have initiated will only become embedded in their teaching, schools, districts if they can truly collaborate together on the implementation we have begun. 
This year it is particularly poignant for me because I have been visiting classrooms where teachers are meshing technology and literacy and my observations keep taking me back to collaboration.    Collaborative reasoning is key to the intelligent use of technology and I keep wondering - How can teachers instruct students in collaboration if they themselves do not understand it? SO... I am writing to clarify my thinking  and hopefully assist you in thinking about how it works for you and your school.

In my opinion, collaboration is one of the most overused and misunderstood pieces of educational jargon today.  In my role as an educational consultant, I often "sit outside of the circle" and watch the human dynamics of meetings dealing with implementations in schools - alternately teacher based and student based.  What I have come to understand about Maine schools is this:  many schools equate collaboration with consensus and see the purpose of collaboration as decision making about issues in their schools.   

If this is the case -  unfortunately, for whatever reason - the issue often becomes political, effectively blocking the process of collaboration. 

" Collaboration," according to The Handbook for SMART School Teams by Anne Conzemius and Jan O'Neil,  "for its own sake is not enough.  Collaboration is a process we use to achieve shared goalsHaving people share their knowledge, expertise and experience gives us a better understanding of the challenges we face.  The end result of collaboration is both a better solution, program or idea, and a greater commitment and capacity to implementing that solution, program or idea...  When people come together around a common purpose, each contributing his or her unique perspective and skills, and ultimately achieve a mutually defined goal, there is an infusion of energy into the school that is unmatched by an single initiative or program."

According to this definition, collaboration is a creative, problem solving process involving invested individuals.  Productive collaboration transpires only when the following elements are in place on the team:
  1. Approaching the process with an open mind - no presupposed individual agendas
  2. Willingness to work towards a new solution as a group
  3. Respecting each person's expertise
  4. Focusing on shared goals 
From this perspective, collaboration is the precursor of consensus.  

Consensus becomes just one way to agree on the solution created by collaboration.  

This sounds too simple, yet it is the core of the change process and until we can understand and embrace it, our schools will be stalled, locked in power struggles between the yeahs and nays of change - rather than committing to effective problem solving.

What does meta-cognition have to do with it?  Each of us needs to reflect on our thinking and purpose regarding collaboration. 

Here is a framework for our thinking. 
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1 comment:

mallen said...

Your description of collaboration as a way to share knowledge and experience in a "creative problem solving process involving invested individuals" is great!

Creative brings in looking at many possible, and potentially unique solutions.

Invested individuals points out the need to invlove those who are influenced by and charged with improving the process being evaluated.

The purpose of the collaboration needs to be
well understood, and believed in by those responsible for potential changes.

Having a collaborative team on the same page for analysis, finding potential solutions, and implementing the solutions provides a strong possibility for success. Implementing in an effective way, with a consistent monitoring and guiding of the group for progress should help most improvement efforts succeed.