Collaboration, What Does It Mean To You?

Collaboration is the buzz word in my building and district right now.  On the surface it sounds like a great idea.  However, there is what I will refer to later as the dark side of collaboration.  First, let’s talk about what it means to me.  As you read, think about what it means to you.

Collaborate with people you can learn from.  Pharrell

To me, collaboration is working with and learning from others.  It’s where teachers come together to learn more about their craft, find solutions to help students, and work together to improve their school.  Collaboration is not restricted to co-teaching, your grade level team, building, or district.  Just this weekend I collaborated with a second grade teacher in my building to help with a math project she was working on. I will not be teaching this with her, rather I offered her ideas and feedback.  I’ve also collaborated with teachers on the internet through Twitter chats.

Team-A group of people with complimentary skills required to do complete a task, job, or project.–Businessdictionary.com

Collaboration works best for me when I work with people who have the same vision.  To be creative I need to be surrounded by other creative people.  These are not people who work exactly the same way as I do, or have the same strengths, they compliment me.

I really do appreciate people who stimulate my creativity and make me think on a deeper level.–Quote found on Pinterest

However, there is a dark side to collaboration.  Or at least, I see an unintended dark side.  That dark side is forced collaboration.  While we can’t all pick the teams we work on, and sometimes that is indeed a good thing, I don’t feel collaboration means that all teachers on the team are teaching the content in the exact same way.  If that happens to work for all individuals involved, then by all means go for it.  Collaboration on grade level teams to me is making sure we have a plan for the year, and then quarter by quarter. All of us would be teaching the same standards, and I’m even willing to use the same assessment. We share ideas and approaches with each other as the units are planned, but teacher creativity and the needs of the students in that classroom should always trump the need to do everything the same way.  We teach our students to be individuals and out-of-the box thinkers, but often teachers are asked or told to be the opposite.

Forced collaboration also hides teachers who quite frankly are just skating by.  If we’re all being honest here, we’ve probably worked with the teacher who really is just putting in their time, doesn’t or doesn’t care to try anything new, and is just a negative Nelly or Nelson. Yet, they are too happy to let you do all the work and then expect to copy it all.  Or, you have the teacher who you have a philosophical difference with, or who doesn’t require as much out of students as you do, but since they are more forceful, it looks like you aren’t the team player.  This isn’t fair to the team or to the students.  Please don’t flame me.  We’re being honest here and those teachers do exist.

I have been very fortunate to collaborate with many amazing teachers and administrators.  I have a school improvement specialist and principal that I am able to routinely bounce ideas off of.  There are teachers who I collaborate regularly with who are not in my grade level, and I appreciate their input so much.  I have an amazing group of teachers on Twitter that have helped me with technology, projects, and a new way of approaching things.  I co-teach with an incredibly knowledgeable and creative math teacher.  Finally, I have a grade level team to whom I can collaborate with, yet we all respect each other’s differences, interests, time constraints, and comfort levels. I’m sure how I view collaboration will continue to evolve as I evolve as an educator.  An excellent resource is www.teachingchannel.org where you can view videos and blogs to learn more about collaboration.

So, what can be done so that collaboration benefits our students and yes, the teachers?  Begin by building teams that want to be together, if possible.  Building needs and hiring practices will always take precedence, but think about it.  What if, over time, grade level teams were created where the teachers wanted to be together, shared the same vision for their grade level and even school, were not clones of one another, but complemented one another, trusted one another, and held the same level of standards for students?  I believe the results would be nothing short of amazing.  Students would benefit from high levels of accountability and highly engaging units of study.  They would see, modeled in teacher collaboration, what we are asking them to do in cooperative groups.  Collaboration should always have what’s best for our students at the forefront, but teacher growth needs to be taken into account as well.  Happy teachers lead to happy students.

I’ll leave you with a few questions and a quote.  What does collaboration look like in your building?  What does collaboration mean to you?

collaborate by Krissy.Venosdale, via Flickr

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