Collaboration in Schools

This is a cross post from my own blog.

I have been doing quite a bit of reading and reflecting lately about collaboration in schools. There are many articles like this one that leave me scratching my head.

What does it mean to collaborate? To me, collaboration is when learners share and work together to achieve a common goal. This means that everyone who is involved in the collaboration takes an active role and understands their own role, as well as the roles of others. Collaboration is an important skill to teach our students. But do we truly understand what it means? Just because a group comes together to work on a project does not mean that they are going to collaborate. For example, what happens when groups of students or teachers have to work on a project together? They usually break the project into parts and delegate the parts to the group members. Before the project is due, the group meets again to put all the parts together. Is this collaboration? Sounds more like delegation to me. Not that there is anything wrong with learning to delegate. The other thing that happens in group work is one person does all the work and the other members have a free ride…definitely not collaboration. If true collaboration were to happen, each group member would be able to explain the whole project, not just the section that he/she worked on. Group members would be able to explain how all the parts are related and how they fit together.

How do we get our students to truly collaborate? We have to develop learning activities that will encourage them to collaborate and work together. We need to give them the necessary tools and technology.

Recently, I dealt with two students who submitted work for their online course which was very similar. When I talked to them about it, they told me that they had worked together…sharing ideas, researching, discussing together. When each of them wrote the assignment, their assignments were similar. Is this cheating? Or is this collaboration? If you look at the final products (the assignment), it is cheating. But if you consider the process, it is collaboration.

Collaboration is an important skill to teach our students. The best way for us to do this is to model good collaboration for them. When we work together as educators, are we collaborating in its true sense?

I will continue to think and learn about this topic. Your comments would be much appreciated.


11 comments for “Collaboration in Schools

  1. January 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    You have touched upon a critical issue for schools today as we are still moving from isolation to collaboration with regard to our teaching/leadership structures and efforts. There is so much that needs to be discussed, teased out, tried, and investigated. I like the way you differentiate delegation and collaboration–a very important distinction. What else do we need to think about? What are the categories involved in this discussion? What structures support optimal student-centered collaboration that results in top-notch learning design that embeds the use of the very best tools, materials, processes, and strategies. I hope you’ll write more about this, and I’m also interested in titles that really provide a strong lens on the topic. One title I’ve read is Intentional Interruption–a terrific book on the topic. Last week the #satchat pointed to another great book, but unfortunately I didn’t write down the title. Others? Thanks so much for your thoughtful discussion on a very important topic.

    • January 10, 2014 at 5:14 pm

      Hi Maureen,
      Thanks for the comment…you have given me even more to think about. You are right…there is certainly much that needs to be tried and investigated. To me, that’s what it’s all about. Trying something to see how the kids react and then tweaking as necessary. This is the fun part of teaching and learning. We just need to be at a point where we are not scared to take a risk. As school leaders, we need to support and encourage our teachers to take risks and try new things. Thanks for sharing the title of the book. I will try to get my hands on it. I do intend to research and write more about this topic. I love your question, “What structures support optimal student-centered collaboration that results in top-notch learning design that embeds the use of the very best tools, materials, processes, and strategies?” Wow, if I knew the answer to that question…
      Again…thanks for pushing my thinking even more.

  2. January 10, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    It seems to me that interdependence is the hallmark of co-labouring as opposed to merely co-operating (aka subdividing or delegating). 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. Cooperating is a minimum condition for peaceful (parallel?) co-existence but you have to collaborate to truly connect and to unleash the joyful synergy of community.

    • January 10, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Bruce. Very well stated and I could not agree more! I like what you say about collaboration being a true way to connect and unleash the synergy of a community.

  3. January 11, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Derek, When I read Godin’s post this morning, I realized that feedback is another important aspect of collaboration or “co-laboring” as Bruce suggests. Here’s the link: Thanks for your response too–you’ve hit upon a most important issue.

    • Maureen Devlin
      January 16, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Derek, I continue to think about your post. My students watched this classic Disney cartoon this week as we examined character. I think this cartoon sheds light on the discussion in some ways, fun ways:

      • January 16, 2014 at 8:14 pm

        Hi Maureen,
        Thank you for your comments and for pushing my thinking. I really like the Disney video…I remember watching it years ago. It does shed some light on the subject of collaboration. I, like you, have been doing tons of thinking, reading and discussing with colleagues about the topic. I was at a meeting this morning and someone shared the comment, “You can’t force collaboration.” So true!

  4. Shawan
    January 25, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Hi Maureen,
    You are right, I read a research about presenting collaboration models and the pros and cons about it. I’d like to share that with you. For instance “Team Teaching,” which shared instruction and planning, coordinated activities, trust, commitment and personality compatibility a must. Through that there are some pros such as utilize expertise of each teacher, fun, students benefit from different styles and interplay, plus joint planning. Also, there are some cons such as need planning time and conflicting styles can clash. For100% the key for twenty-first skill is “Collaboration!”


    • January 27, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Shawan. Team teaching is a truly powerful experience for students and for teachers. I had the privilege of team teaching Mathematics with a former colleague. We would collaborate and share leadership, both bringing our different strengths. Our students benefited from the different teaching styles and we were able to get around the room and help students more effectively. But, you are right, it is a challenge to find time to collaborate and plan.

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