Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Complexities of Collaboration.

Collaborate - to work with another person or group in order to achieve a common goal.

If you ask educators the meaning of collaboration, I’m sure you will receive various definitions. Collaboration is a multifaceted and complex word that incorporates different connotations. In my experience, assigning time to collaborate does not guarantee that collaboration is going to take place. It may encourage collaboration but does confirm it will occur effectively. While we may agree on the formal definition of collaboration, the bigger question is. ‘How do we collaborate?’ Or more importantly, ‘How do we learn to collaborate?’

Through my experiences and after questioning other educators, I have determined that your ability to collaborate effectively is influenced by many factors-
  • Previous experience
  • Growth mindset
  • School context
  • Time
  • Personality
  • Insecurity
  • Perceived value of collaboration
  • Understanding of collaboration-what it is and isn’t.
  • Appreciation of others
  • Learning philosophy
  • Balanced Contribution
  • Belief in a common goal
  • Autonomy or Interdependence- Seeing yourself as ‘we’ not just ‘me'
Scheduling collaboration into the timetable is ineffective if one team member does not value or know how to collaborate. When I was at school, collaboration was known as cheating except on those rare occasions when you were placed in a group for an activity. Then everyone wanted to be with that certain student because she was ‘smart’ and always completed most of the task. You always did well if you were in that group.

So I’ve wondered where did I learn how to collaborate?  If I had to guess, it began when I was an external student at university. I was isolated by distance but my mindset was close in proximately with many others in my group. This group had a common goal which was to become effective and employable educators. We weren't interested in competing for the best grades but what I found is by collaborating with like-minded peers, we tended to receive very satisfying results. I was pleasantly surprised when I receive an award for my contributions to the online community for supporting others.

When you work in environments where colleagues are not competitive in nature, support and trust is established very early. Do not underestimate the value of working with colleagues who are always supportive and complimentary. I believe this is vital and the foundation of effective collaboration. And let’s be honest, the relationship between educators is longer lasting than that between teacher and student. Students move on but teachers work year in and year out together... ideally collaboratively. I've worked in a school where we had no scheduled collaborative time but we all shared and learnt from each other. We shared over lunch, after hours, on the phone, and on our holidays. This was my #PLN and our collaborative skills (like Twitter) were not scheduled.

So once a collaborator, always a collaborator- Right? I have to say wrong! With every new team you work with, you may have different personalities, philosophies, work ethics, sense of humour, not to mention experience. Every person is different and with this difference comes new beginnings. True collaboration takes time and if it takes time, then we must provide opportunities and training to truly learn ‘how’ to collaborate with each other. Effective collaboration is not a short-term project!

Some may say that collaboration begins within the individual but unless all in your team believes and values collaboration, you may find yourself a little frustrated. It takes at least two to collaborate and you are only as good as your team. Teachers may be more hesitant to collaborate if there is a competitive environment. I’m sure you’ve experience both situations-when you hit it off and compliment each other, collaboration is alive and thriving. Then you may have experienced working with those who prefer to work on their own; don’t want to share their ideas and believe they need to be recognised as the ‘best’ teacher with the best results.

Recently asked to help out with a project, I sent my ideas with this tag- 'Please feel free to edit or change!' I prefer to collaborate as I have learnt that I improve significantly when others are involved. When I blog, I ask my trusted friends to critique or comment because I feel safe to fail. I prefer to work collaboratively than independently and now question if I’m losing my confidence to work independently.

Teachers are put together and asked to ‘collaborate’. Then usually after three or more years, that group is dissolved and educators and asked again to collaborate within a new team. 

If true collaborations is not scheduled but lived, I leave you with these questions-
  • Have they ever experienced being a part of a great team?
  • Are they feeling secure in their teaching context?
  • Have they worked with others that they highly respect?
  • Are they teachers who reflect on their practice regularly?
  • Do they observe data as evidence to evaluate their teaching?
  • Do they value others’ opinions and are humble in their actions?
  • Is the common goal or outcome to be completed interdependently?
  • Do they believe that you can become a more effective teacher or learner because of a team?
  • Is collaboration thought of as simply breaking up and allocating tasks to complete the project?
~ True collaboration incorporates many complexities and connotations ~

And the questions continue...