Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Of course we believe collaboration is a good idea – right?

For the last two decades, education journals have been publishing studies that extol the virtues of professional collaboration. In fact, creating a collaborative culture has been identified by some educational researchers as the most important factor in successful school renewal.

Research is clear that, for teachers, working collaboratively:

· inspires the desire to renew professional practices,
· increases instructional competence and confidence,
· makes complex professional tasks more manageable,
· promotes coherence and consistency in instructional practices

Together, teachers have more energy, skills, resources and ideas than an individual teacher and their synergy leads to higher quality planning and instruction.

Thus it is not surprising that we are all familiar with Professional Learning Communities, inquiry teams, PGN’s, teacher learning groups and many other structures designed to promote collaboration. Also, countless sub-days are provided and many detailed facilitation plans are developed so that teachers can work together. These are prevalent in our schools because we want to realize the benefits of collaboration in our division.

However effective these structures and expenditures are, I do wonder if collaboration - an idea with such wide acceptance - requires so many extra efforts and supports. If collaborating is such a good idea, it seems to me that planning and teaching together would occur naturally as a part of our day-to-day work. Does it?

Do we plan instruction together on a regular basis? Is team-teaching common in our schools? Do we develop common assessments with colleagues? Do we invite other teachers into our classrooms as an extra set of eyes and ears to provide feedback on something we can’t take note of while we are teaching? Are our actions evidence of our belief in and commitment to collaboration?

If the answer is yes, let’s share examples of teachers collaborating and the benefits of their work together – to reinforce this as a core element of our professional culture. If the answer is no, let’s find out how to grow a collaborative culture in our division.

Based on what I have read and experienced, I know that time and courage are required for meaningful collaboration. Collaborative planning and instruction take more time and deprivatizing our practice is a professional risk that may be uncomfortable.

To realize the benefits of collaboration we can overcome those two factors:
· Do we already have time built into our work lives that we could use for collaboration?
· Do we have trusted colleagues with whom we can establish a more collaborative professional relationship?

To enhance the quality of our instruction and our students’ learning, we can find the time and the courage required to collaborate.

We believe that collaboration is a good idea – right?

More: Read an “old school” DuFour perspective on collaboration.


  1. I have worked collaboratively more this year than any other year in my career, and I must say, the growth I have experienced this year has been extremely rewarding. I rarely plan anything without have extra eyes on it, and those eyes alway bring something that hadn`t occured to me.

  2. I was out talking with a teacher yesterday who noted how frustrated he feels trying to collaborate with peers. When they meet as a common department throughout the division, teachers share what they have done. The teacher I spoke to was frustrated because the group did not know how talk to each other or provide feedback. They just sat in silence or said "good."

    I think you raise many good questions about the supports we need to collaborate well. So many of them came up in the discussion we had yesterday. I am not sure how we can to do it, but we need learn to comment. Think AFL.

  3. Not only do we often come to the group not knowing how to provide feedback to strangers or colleagues without damaging relationships, there is a bit of a cultural mindset that if you don't like what the group decides, you can walk away from the table and disregard what was decided.

    I think being able to give and receive authentic feedback will (and does) come out of a group who knows all members value the work that is being done. Even one person who is silently saying to themselves "this doesn't apply to me" or has the attitude of "no matter what, I'm doing what I want" has the potential to shut down the rest of the group as they devalue the work & the process.

    This makes establishing this new culture difficult, as we wish to involve more people in our collaboration we are more and more likely to involve these potentially toxic group members. I find it difficult to continually have to remind myself that people change when they are ready, because they see the relevance and need and to not let them get in the way of the work or the process.

    I think I need to add patience to Dave's list of time and courage.

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  5. Thank you for the addition of patience - I agree that creating authentic collaborative learning communities takes time. I guess that is true for everything complex, worthwhile and meaningful.

    I believe that trusting professional relationships are developed incrementally, with small risks of vulnerability and bits of polite honesty leading to ever more significant sharing (eventually in each others' classrooms). This is why reserving time for periodic meetings is important, even if initially the conversations are awkward.

    What also strikes me from your comment is that readiness for collaboration varies. While one educator may be open to sharing with colleagues, another may feel the need to keep their practice and thoughts private.

    That makes me question the practice of mandating collaborative team work. By deciding that colleagues will work together and arbitrarily deciding who will be in each group, we make collaborating less comfortable, less authentic. It seems that this would increase the time it takes for teams to develop trust and meaningful collaborative relationships - perhaps even preventing real team work from ever happening.

    Thanks for helping me to deepen my thinking