What is Collaboration (part 1)



As I wrote earlier , I had the very fortunate luck of attending  a mini-session at the Project Zero Summer Institute 2013:   “Effective Professional Learning Communities:  Supporting Learning in Staff Rooms and Classrooms” by Daniel Wilson.  The session aimed at identifying the key features of learning communities while discussing the common roadblocks that impede progress.

Group work and collaboration can be chaotic, frustrating and laborious.  Done well, it produces better products that are more responsive to group needs than those created by a lone cowboy.

True collaboration is not simply

  • communicating your plans without care for others
  • coordinating parts in an additive fashion that is not fluent
  • cooperating in a passive fashion without discussion and agreement on the big ideas
Daniel Wilson:    Effective Professional Learning Communities:  Supporting Learning in and Staff Rooms and Classrooms  Project Zero Summer Institute 2013,   Harvard Graduate School of Education

Daniel Wilson:
Effective Professional Learning Communities:
Supporting Learning in and Staff Rooms and Classrooms
Project Zero Summer Institute 2013, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Ideally, collaboration is the highly developed and dynamic process whereby more than one person comes together to create something truly unique and creative.  This process is democratic; with everyone’s voice heard.  The parts are reciprocally interdependent and the outcome a melodic blend that fits together well. Individuals design together, as equals, for the greater good.

This is true for all groups.


What Is Your Special Purpose


Like Navin R. Johnson, in The Jerk:   everyone has a special purpose.  Knowing and monitoring the “why” of your work will increase the chances that you hit your target.  If you stand for something, you are less likely to “fall for anything”.  How you spend your time matters (as Navin will attest).

I had the pleasure of reading Annie Murphy Paul’s blog last week.  This particular entry was essentially about knowing your purpose.  AMP  uses the concept of “templates” to harness this:   there are  commonly occurring patterns in your work.  You need to find them; use them to  define your purpose.

‘Think for a moment about what “pattern recognition” means in your own job. For me, it means being able to recognize an interesting insight hidden within often-dense academic papers, and being able to fit that insight into the structure of things I know about learning, as well as into the structure of a blog post or a magazine article.

When I worked at Psychology Today magazine many years ago, and had to churn out dozens of news items for every issue, I actually made a list of common story-telling structures: “So you thought X was the case? Well, new research shows that actually Y is true.” “New research shows that that old bit of wisdom, X, is more true than we realized.” “Here’s something you’ve never considered: X.”

This long digression brings me back to the question I posed above: What are some “templates” or commonly occurring patterns in your own work, and how can you more precisely define and refine them? I’

And so, during knitting and morning walks with my Pug, I tried to articulate this:   What ARE my templates ?

Recurring themes in my work:

  1. Become a better coach:  Teachers and principals are overtaxed , undervalued and treading water.  How can I  be more effective in helping them deal with their most pressing issues around student engagement/school culture?  
  2. Become a better teacher:  Old school professional learning no longer works.  How can I meet the needs of the learners who count on me to support their unique needs around  thinking and learning ?  All professional learning must embrace  adult learning in the age of technology; it must meet them where they are and help them to the next place.
  3. Become a better peer:  Working collaboratively means we need to understand one another; support strengths and weaknesses; celebrate the diversity therein.
  4. Focus on what matters: I must go back to the goals of my work; identify what matters and  let the rest fade into the abyss. Less is more.


  • Kids want to be engaged; teachers want to engage.  Coaching and teaching must be innovative and reflective of the unique needs of the learners.
  • The world needs all kinds of people to “tick”.  Take time to understand people who speak a different ” language” .
  • Locate what is “core” work.  Be sure THAT never takes a back seat to other things.

My purpose:  Coaching, teaching, collaborating around student engagement and school culture/climate.  I will explore my  templates around each of these areas.  Next up:  Articulating my templates around coaching.