Collaborative Practice


In detailing the fifth of the structures that other professions have in place and teaching lacks, sustained collaborative practice, I am at a disadvantage.  It is the structure about which I know the least, so have the least to share.  It would be great to hear from STOYs who do have a deep working knowledge of collaborative practice, in other fields or in teaching.

Collaboration is a touchstone for the work day in many fields.  In the corporate sector that I recently left, teaming was a key approach for getting work done.  There was recognition that individuals each had specific skills, knowledge, and abilities that could contribute to the whole in terms of work.  Whenever a new project, product, or process was to start, a first step was identifying the team that would work together to accomplish it.

The physical workspace in the corporate – and institutional – world is even being reconfigured in order to make collaboration more effective.  Typically, in a large corporate space, a combination of private, or semi-private, offices is combined with ‘pods’ or cubicles.  Traditionally, the higher up you are, the closer you are to those private offices.  This is changing.

A friend at a large teacher preparation institution has shared that her group is doing away with private offices and moving to shared space – big, open spaces with movable whiteboards and other tools and furnishings that lend themselves to being easily reconfigured for teaming.  At ETS, as a new office building is being constructed, the cubicles are on the outer rim, with many more of them, and the few private offices remaining are on the inner ring. (no windows for officers J)

Thinking back to what we learned about flattening of corporate organizations, with greater value placed on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and leadership capacity throughout the staff, these physical changes are in keeping with that reorganization of structure.

Looking at what has been written about collaboration, there is a strong focus on several key areas:

  • The need of Generation Y staff to work in a collaborative environment
  • Greater emphasis on teaming digitally, across towns, states, countries in order to get the best possible skillsets focused on a project
  • The freedom from physical boundaries that social media has introduced to the workplace – communicating across physical space, immediately, is much easier
  • Reducing competition – asking co-workers to function as a team demands less focus on individual achievement and more on team success
  • Culture shift to one of trust – it’s difficult to successfully work towards a common goal if there is not a culture of trust, belief that all are working for the betterment of the whole
  • Collaboration is a leadership issue and relationships with others are key in its success

One of the articles on collaboration in a corporate world that I accessed started with the question, and I paraphrase, can you envision a workplace in which everyone worked independently, where there was no team effort, and in which individuals were viewed as keepers of knowledge? While industrial research on collaboration tells us that team work improves output, unfortunately, in too many instances, many of us can imagine this; many of our schools are structured this way.

Teaching has long been called the isolated profession, and there is actually research around this paradigm. In too many schools, individual teachers still work behind closed classroom doors, and school schedules are still driven by the bus schedule.  There is little time for collaboration or for team planning, projects, act ion research, or other group initiatives.

Fortunately, this is beginning to change, but not in all schools, and not in many of the schools that most need to improve.  Changing our current structure will require cultural and systems shifts.

The National Council on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) is currently conducting research into one model of collaboration that it is piloting with schools in Maryland and Oregon.  It will be important to follow this research project as it unfolds.  The professional learning communities approach is another promising model being implanted in a number of schools with success.  And, again, the Art Wise or Molly Lasagna vision of multiple teachers working together with a larger group of students, currently being implemented in a fashion by Public Impact in several schools, could be the ultimate collaborative model of teaching.

I was in a wonderful high school in Yarmouth, Maine last week as part of the digital teaching and learning study that we are undertaking with Digital Promise and Pearson.  In this school, the implementation of 1:1 laptops – every student has a laptop – has resulted in a level of collaboration that I have rarely seen in school.  Across grade levels, content areas, and age groups, faculty are collaborating with one another to find better ways to use laptops, stronger content for students to access, new ways of instructing with digital tools.  They are collaborating with students in new ways as well, with students viewed as partners in the learning process; teachers are open to being shown new things by their students.

The resulting culture and sense of community was striking, and extremely promising.  This was a staff working together to provide stronger services as a whole for students.

Ultimately, it is likely to take research that proves that restructuring school so that professionals can work collaboratively, as they are doing in Yarmouth, will increase student learning in order for collaborative models of practice in schools to truly catch on.

Some of the articles that I accessed in reading about collaboration in the workplace are:




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