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  • Collaboration

"One's learning capacity can only be limited by their own self doubt and not that of another". - Charles Hill, Sr.

The Six C's of Individual - Group Learning ImageThere is no greater time than now to use collaboration for learning purposes and receiving wraparound services. With the wide variety of hand held devices at our disposal to use, the most up-to-date software and scripting languages, collaboration is the ideal means to use to supplement student learning, support teacher instruction and address the wellbeing of students and their family. We can longer continue the traditional ways of learning and receiving help as we know it. Today's collaboration tools have been designed so students, educators, admins, tutors, mentors, etc. can use them on pretty much any hand held device or operating system and they possess more than enough computer power to run any application or script and are cost effective, so it make sense for collaboration to be a major part of the learning process now and a means for students and families to get wraparound services.

     We truly should be farther ahead in the use of the collaboration services and tools, but not for the slow pace it took public education to widely adopt them and the lack of money to finance them. This is what happens when your learning model has been in use from the earliest part of the last century and the distribution of monies to the schools has been unequal for far too long. Nevertheless, there is now a consensus throughout public education of the importance of using collaboration to improve student achievement and the well-being of students.

"Simply defined, collaboration takes place when members of an inclusive learning community work together as equals to assist students to succeed in the classroom." I would add to this quote, "and outside the classroom too."

Friend and Cook (1992, p. 6 - 28) listed the defining characteristics of successful collaboration as follows:

  1. Collaboration is voluntary;
  2. Collaboration requires parity among participants;
  3. Collaboration is based on mutual goals;
  4. Collaboration depends on shared responsibility for participation and decision making;
  5. Individuals who collaborate share their resources; and
  6. Individuals who collaborate share accountability for outcomes.

"Knowledge, perspectives and values must be shared by participants in order for collaboration to be successful, and for this to happen, participants must be willing to work together. Collaboration can be an expectation in an organization but individuals must participate voluntarily. They need to develop and share common goals for their work together and have sufficient knowledge to understand the ideas and suggestions of other participants. Team members must have compatible and interactive work styles. Their individual knowledge needs to be complementary and yet the team members need to have sufficiently different perspectives and experiences so as to make their contributions diverse."

Clear, simple definitions may inadvertently suggest that the concept itself is simple. Collaboration is anything but simplistic. At its heart collaboration means:

• Self-consciously forging constructive interpersonal relationships

• Working towards interdependence (giving and receiving help)

• Sharing information, expertise, observations and reflections

• Overcoming territoriality - "turfism has no place in the collaborative process (Tilton, 1996, p. 129)"

• Moving beyond what Piaget termed "egocentrism"

• Instilling a community-wide expectation of ongoing reflection and professional development

• Participating in co-planning and co-teaching

• Working to improve communication

• Developing a sense of belonging and membership in a learning community

• Creating a common vision/a shared purpose

• Moving from the idea of "work" to the concept of meaningful mission, what Hannah Arendt (1958) refers to as the vita activa


     In our minds, the remarkable motivating power of collaboration lies in the last three. Teachers come to share a common vision, one that is larger than themselves and their self-focused needs. They feel included and part of a community and their work takes on a new and greater meaning - they develop a sense of mission.



• Instruction becomes more accessible to all students because frequently, one teacher 
   will focus on content material while the other might focus on presentation and processing of material

• Direct whole class teaching and individualization can occur simultaneously

• More time is available to provide individual assistance to students as teachers pool strategic repertoires

• Greater and more varied ways to check for understanding

• Reduced referrals to special education (Wood, 1992)

• Increase of direct student-teacher contact time (Villa & Thousand, 1995)

• Access for all students to limited resources

• Potential for maximizing instructional outcomes (Wood, 1992)

• Potential for increasing teacher accountability (Wood, 1992)

• Opportunities for co-planning and co-teaching

• Opportunities for peer teaching and observation

• Opportunities for teachers to further develop a "sense of audience"

• Increased creativity in lesson planning (more ideas)

• Enlarged repertoire of instructional strategies

• Increased awareness of educational research and recent developments in learning theory

• Shared responsibility for celebrating success and analyzing failure

• Better understanding of different roles and areas of expertise

• Greater clarity and precision in communication

• Improved professional understanding of colleagues, greater openness, honesty and mutual

• Increased flexibility

• Improved organizational skill (including time management)

• Professional and personal growth through shared reflection and ongoing feedback

• Less teacher territoriality

• Less teacher isolation/alienation

• Greater professional satisfaction

• Improvements in staff morale (Villa & Thousand, 1995)


     It is not always easy to set up collaborative partnerships. Obstacles are plentiful. School systems are not always set up to encourage collaboration, community biases may need to be addressed, and resentment may exist when content-area teachers come to perceive collaboration as "extra work" and additional responsibilities (Teemant, Bernhardt & Rodriguez-Munoz, 1996).



• Existing organizational hierarchy (learning to collaborate as equals)

• Lack of planning/reflecting time

• Scheduling/time-tabling problems

• Absence of training/inservice in the skills of collaboration

• Personality conflicts

• Differences in teaching styles

• Territoriality

• Absence of administrative support

• Communication problems

• Resistance to change

• Loss of classroom autonomy

• Teacher discomfort in developing a "sense of adult audience" (experiencing colleague
observation - perhaps for the first time)

• Fear of criticism and/or judgment by colleagues

• Fear of the unknown: "What, exactly, does collaboration look like?"

     Despite these obstacles, teachers who have entered into collaborative relationships with colleagues very rarely wish to return to their previous isolated autonomy. They see that both inclusion and collaboration "offer tremendous opportunities for growth for all students and the adults who work with them (Tilton, 1996, p. 134)."

     The two most commonly cited challenges to collaborative planning, teaching and reflection are the lack of sufficient time and scheduling difficulties. While these obstacles to collaboration may on occasion be used to mask personality conflicts or a school climate lacking in trust, there is no question that sufficient time is a vital resource for teachers and it is "not auxiliary to teaching responsibility . . . it is absolutely central to such responsibilities and essential to making schools succeed (Raywid, 1993, p. 34)."

"For most of us, time permeates and controls our lives through schedules, appointments, seasons and life's rites of passage. Generally, we're in a rut when it comes to our use of time. Our days, weeks, and months are programmed, and we flow through them happily or sadly, relaxed or, all too often, stressed out. Usually, we become conscious of how we use our time when we want or need to make major adjustments to our lifestyles or workstyles."  Adelman, & Walking-Eagle, 1997, p. 107

     And yet, many (perhaps most) schools suffer from a shortage of time. Not surprisingly, the most energetic schools with the most dynamic programs suffer the more acute time famines, leaving precious little opportunity for the "relaxed alertness" that Caine and Caine (1991; 1997) describe as the optimal state for reflection and learning. Sometimes schools become so busy and so task-oriented that personal relationships are abandoned and the day to day workplace becomes emotionally barren.

     There are some very powerful, specific behaviors that promote and nurture collaboration. Here we turn to the groundbreaking work of Bob Garmston and Bruce Wellman in developing the concept of the Adaptive School (1997). They identify seven norms of collaborative work. These are behaviors that, when carefully employed, will create opportunities for groups to experience relaxed alertness (Caine & Caine, 1991; 1997), the state in which we experience low threat and high challenge at the same time. Research shows clearly that threat and fatigue inhibit brain functioning, whereas challenge accompanied by safety (but not comfort) and belief in one's abilities leads to peak performance (Caine & Caine, 1997; Jensen, 1998). Relaxed alertness is vital for the trusting reflection of meaningful collaboration.


• Identify staff who need to collaborate and re-design the master timetable to include those regular meting time

• Build team meetings (child study, grade level, etc.) into the master timetable

• Hire a "permanent substitute" to periodically cover for teachers who need to attend meetings during the school day

• Schedule specialist elementary school lessons (French, music, PE, etc.) during the same periods so that class teachers have one or two periods each day to collaborate

• Schedule a regular program of assemblies during which specific teaching teams can be released for collaborative planning

• Institute a "late start" program in which every other Wednesday school for students begins 90 minutes later. Teachers then use the 90 minutes for collaborative planning and reflection

• Increase the school day for students by 10 - 15 minutes. The additional student contact time could then allow for regular (monthly?) early dismissal of students and corresponding time for teachers to meet

• Set aside some faculty meeting time for small group meetings

• Use a portion of professional development days for collaborative meetings

• Lengthen the school year for staff but not for students"


Source: Powell, William. "Count Me In - Developing Inclusive International Schools: Chapter 5: Collaboration." US Department of State - Diplomacy in Action. N.p., 2004. Web. 6 Jan. 2016.

Motivation: Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. -Ralph Waldo Emerson