What is Collaboration (part 1)

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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.

Making It Happen: “When Change Has Legs”

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The problem with new initiatives is that nobody wants another thing to do.  Everyone is full-up, drowning in a plate that is over-full.  Still, continuous improvement seems necessary.  Change , naturally, falls out of the need to get better at what we do.  Better means smarter; more focused and full of intent.  Embedding new frameworks and specific practices into our schools can be tricky.  Failure rates can be high and sustaining efforts over time requires keen leadership.

In a previous entry, I stated

For lasting change, we must build upon the good things that are already happening within the school ecology.

In an article written for Educational Leadership (“SPECIAL TOPIC: When Change Has Legs”), David Perkins and Jim Reese elaborate on four key factors that  help determine whether change efforts will be sustained over time.

“we might think of change as traveling on four legs: frameworks, leaders, community, and institutionalization.”

 

Framework

  • teachers are more likely to warm to frameworks they can adapt to their personal styles and circumstances
  • teachers can often work effectively with two or three frameworks simultaneously, as long as the frameworks are not contradictory

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • stiff, rigid frameworks with little room for individualization
  • juggling more than a few frameworks that don’t “fit” together well

What seems to work

  • allowing for individual implementation of the framework with frequent feedback from colleagues
  • choosing just a few roomy frameworks that fit well together.

 

Leaders

  • Initiatives need a political visionary (often the principal) who advocates for the initiative relentlessly,   making it a priority, defending it against critics, explaining it to parents, appearing for key events, and allocating resources
  • They also need a practical visionary (often teachers) who is given the time and resources to manages the program on the ground, organizing faculty groups and events and conducting some training and coaching.

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • simply being “friendly” toward an initiative is not leading the initiative
  • administrators cannot easily play the dual role of political and practical visionary

What seems to work

  • Leadership with a slow but constant presence
  • The initiative is not a bulky mandate, but instead becomes more about “who we are”

 

Community

  • widespread change efforts include a complex set of interactions
  • varying degrees of acceptance are to be expected and planned for by all
  • a collegial culture is crucial; transparency essential

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • a strong in-group and out-group can form if leaders are not careful about initial work
  • the polarization can grow, making success increasingly unlikely

What seems to work

  •  make information widely available to staff, community and other school leaders
  • recruit teachers with experience in new initiative to share stories; remain inclusive

 

Institutionalization

  • sustaining over time is difficult as the context changes
  • initiatives need to be written into the school’s “dna”

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • practical and/or political visionaries leave
  • change was not planned for; momentum subsides

What seems to work

  • plan for teaching new staff
  • create a framework for sharing practices; place events on calendar

It is not enough to simply adopt a new initiative with integrity.  Instead, we must be intentional about HOW we put legs on the framework.  Our choices will determine the degree to which new practices emerge; change in practice becomes systemic.

Perkins and Reese add:

” The main point is that teachers like talking about teaching. So with a shared language and a shared approach there is loads of room for talking. It brings teachers out of their classrooms, their grades and their departments, and creates a more collaborative school environment.”

Perkins, David N. and Reese, James D.   “Special Topic:  When Change Has Legs“. Educational Leadership.  71 ( 8),     2014.  42-47. Print. Electronic.