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...


  1. Hi Andrea,

    A great post!

    Collaboration is the process which allows to work together, learn together and sometimes fail together. It is a process and a skill that we need to develop for all learners, both students and teachers.

    If we are to authentically prepare students for the world which awaits them, then we must pursue effective collaboration with all the time effort and energy we can. Teachers need to model this and schools/systems need to make it a priority and provide time for teachers to be reflective practitioners by collaboratively working in teams.

    Let's do away with some of the 'busy' work and reclaim some time to develop and strengthen the skill of collaboration, the skill which will best serve students into the future.

    Thanks for this reflective piece.


    1. Thanks for your comments Greg. Appreciate you.

  2. Andrea
    I understand why you received an award at uni for supporting people online :)

    You know, understand and live collaboration. There are many people who are thankful for this!


    1. So pleased you are part of my professional learning network Phillip.

  3. Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for putting another thought provoking post out there!
    I feel the urge to "blog back", but I'm not there yet, so I'll try to capture a few of my random thoughts here:

    Collaboration is often confused with "collegiality" (another misunderstood term) and at worst becomes "contrived conviviality". (I may be quoting someone there but can't remember who!)

    Sharing v collaborating - a lot of the sharing that happens within and between schools/departments/teachers can be simply exchanging resources or brief outlines of approaches. Whilst this is valuable, I think that true collaboration involves discussion of the thinking behind and implementation of what is shared. It may also then lead to a co-constructed new "product".

    Some of that big list of factors might be "managed" with the effective use of protocols. Learning how to use protocols and then seeing the enabling impact they can have can be very compelling and change prior views of collaboration.

    Other factors are more personality based. Mindset, inclination, insecurity, appreciation and philosophy are much tougher to overcome. But maybe we shouldn’t be looking to “overcome” them.

    Your reflective questions are very useful for us all.

    I hope this is helpful.

    1. It is people like you Chris who make me reflect and question my teaching practice and beliefs. Thank you!

  4. Hey Andrea, just catching up with this now... I think you hit the nail on the head with "Collaboration is not a short term project". Teachers are so time poor, that to take the time to build an effective team seems almost luxurious. There is also the closed classroom mindset - some teachers are the rulers of their domain - they have their schtick and stick to it. Collaboration is for them a rude interruption. The BEST collaboration I had was when we were all willing to be vulnerable, and I think there's something in that - just wish I knew what! A great post, and definitely food for thought.

  5. Hi Andrea, thanks for sharing this blog post on collaboration. Such a tricky concept and even more slippery to put into practice. However, what I've come to know is that it can, should and is a yucky experience at times. In the IBPYP one of the essential learner profile attributes is being 'Cooperative'. Such a farce this is, as cooperation to me implies that everyone needs to get along, agree, and be happy.

    However, true 'Collaboration' has nothing to do with happiness, joy, holding hands, agreeing, and giving each other a collective 'well done' pat on the back. True collaboration makes us feel uncomfortable and raises tensions.

    You mention in your post that scheduling in 'collaboration' time in the timetable is ineffective if one team member doesn't value or know how to collaborate. I have to completely disagree here....because we don't need everyone on board and with us when collaboration time is implemented in a timetable. The very nature of collaboration itself authentically reveals itself when there is major disagreement and when there is 'no buy in'. At this point, everyone around the table has to agree to dig deep and TRULY listen to each others' perspectives. Major disagreements will take place, opinions thrown around from multiple viewpoints, and potentially (healthy) arguments dropped down. But in the end, perhaps all parties can agree to shift their stance and find a common ground to springboard discussion forward.

    Although having colleagues understand us is critically important, we don't always want people to agree with everything we do or be afraid to voice their uncertainties about our work. In my opinion, you nailed it when you wrote:

    "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."

    I couldn't agree more with the above statement.

    When I've blogged over the years, I have had no input from friends and colleagues unless I asked. Feedback is critical, but what I've learned is that feeling safe to take risk (as you say in this post) is vitally important, but we cannot resort to our friends and trusted colleagues alone to evaluate our work. We need to extend ourselves and go well beyond our comfort zone to seek feedback, from a critical unbiased eye. We have to feel safe to fail amongst harsh and unknown audiences to get the critical perspective we need to evaluate our own work and truly reflect on our impact.

    Thanks for sharing my #SatChatOc colleague!!! See this weekend!