Collaboration: n. 1. The act of working together; united labor.
2.The act of willingly cooperating with an enemy
Okay, so I’m not talking about strategies of war, though sometimes the life of an educator may feel like a battle. Many schools I’ve worked with have a late start day, an early release day, or common planning time scheduled for their teachers each week. The purpose is intended for teachers to meet in grade levels/departments, by school, or on occasion by district to collaborate on various educational topics. As long as these times stay true to their purpose and don’t become “housekeeping” sessions, I believe some of the best professional development available happens in these small, in-house settings. One morning at a K-2 collaboration, a second-grade, and a kindergarten teacher shared what they had learned at a recent workshop on using technology in the writing curriculum. This brought up the topic of Twitter, blogs, and Skype. I shared how I use Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs to collaborate with and learn from educators around the world. Collaboration is literally at my fingertips! I recently read (in a blog, of course) about a school system where teachers log into Skype every morning and use that to communicate with one another more often (and quicker) than by email. How often do you collaborate with other educators to grow your knowledge base, challenge your mindset, or just reenergize your mission?
Research has shown that people learn better when they talk about what they are learning. That brings me to this big question, how often are you allowing your students to collaborate? On a daily basis? Using Twitter, blogs, video conferencing tools, learning management systems? Good old-fashioned face-to-face communication? Sometimes, collaboration needs to be structured and facilitated, but often the best learning occurs during organic conversations while students are collaborating on individual or group projects. If students aren’t accustomed to regular collaboration (for the purpose of deeper learning) then the teacher will need to lead some conversations around group norms and effective communication. They may even need to make some strategic partnerships or grouping in order to get the right students together to foster the healthiest collaboration. Rebecca Alber recognizes the importance of scaffolding the art of collaboration and says, “When it comes to creating a highly collaborative classroom, teachers need to frequently model listening, paraphrasing, artful questioning, and negotiating”. When students are ready, however, teachers simply need to provide the space and time and then get out of the way.
Using back channels, twitter chats and discussion boards open up collaborative learning for students who might be too shy to speak up in class. Just as adults can use these platforms to collaborate, so can the students in and out of the classroom walls. While this may require a bit of additional teaching, most students can quickly pick up the ins and outs of digital collaboration, often leading to ongoing, richer conversation because it’s not confined to the time frame of a class period.
These “soft skills” are becoming more and more necessary for success after high school. In 8 Tips For Collaborative Leadership, Carol Kinsey Goman says, “Collaboration is not a “nice to have” organizational philosophy. It is an essential ingredient for organizational survival and success.” While it’s not assessed on a standardized test, it’s a skill we need to nurture in every student.
The bottom line is, if collaboration is important for educators, then it’s important for students.