Updated: Sep 16, 2020
One of my greatest strengths is that I love to collaborate. There isn’t a time when I don’t think it’s valuable to include other voices in my instructional practices. I seek people out who I know have different expertise, and I value learning when people have expertise that I don’t feel I possess. My greatest moments in teaching have stemmed from a fantastic conversation with my colleagues or my students.
I was recently told that I would not be the instructor for my student leadership program. As you can imagine, losing something that I am so passionate about cost me a great deal of distress initially. It felt like a personal attack, and there was a lot of shame. It turned out that the reason for losing this teaching assignment was not the reason I was telling myself. The person given the assignment was actually a student leader back before I was part of the program. I realized I had two choices: feel that bitterness, or be vulnerable.
How does this connect to collaboration? If I collaborate with this new teacher, and they do it better than me, will I be seen as insignificant and ineffective? Who is asking that question? Just one person, me.
I’m choosing to work with this new teacher. I am going to share my knowledge, I’m going to support her and everything that she does, and I will also learn from her. True collaboration takes risk, and it takes vulnerability. If she does things “better” than me, it’s because of our collaboration, not in spite of me. I collaborate in order to bring people together, working with one another to make great changes, and to build a better product, while improving everyone’s knowledge base.
No one is an expert in everything, and we develop our expertise through listening and growing.
I’m reminded of an analogy that one of my educational instructors gave me early in my educational practices: when you’re working with somebody else your “brain bubble” expands, when you work in isolation your “brain bubble” is just not as big. If you can visualize two people sitting apart from each other with their brain bubbles above their heads, and then moving them closer so that their brain bubbles connect - that is what I visualize when I think of collaboration.
(joint idea thought bubble - free stock photo)
When I collaborate I am stronger, the person I am working with is stronger, and together we do great things. This is a really important practice for you to instruct with your student leaders.
DEFINING the differences between group work and collaboration.
In group work, everybody takes a piece of the puzzle and works on their own pieces, and sometimes the puzzle requires one partner to complete more than their fair share of the final product. This may be why our students grumble when it comes down to group work. What if we shift to focusing on collaboration? Is there a greater potential for our brain bubbles to grow when we shift to collaboration?
I’m not sure about you, but when my brain bubble grows, there is no greater satisfaction.
To be truly collaborative, one must encompass a variety of skills. It is definitely a buzzword in education, and while we are all trying it on a surficial level, collaboration requires vulnerability, openness and trust. In education these can be rarities. We are spending so much time putting out the fire that is closest to us, that we miss the opportunities just beyond the fire, like the group of colleagues or classmates, standing on the other side with hoses ready to help you put out the fire.
I define collaboration as taking risk, being vulnerable and open in order to be creative and do something great with others. Demonstrate for your students what that looks like, and talk to them about the differences between that and group work. It’s more like playing on a team - collaboration is crucial to volleyball, for example - you can only play the ball once before a teammate must take a turn, and there are only three touches to get it over to the opponents. If you do more work in this case you could cost your team a point, although if you collaborate and work with each other, your team may be unstoppable.
If this post speaks to you, I encourage you to try framing student work as collaboration and not group work, and share this post with someone else. If you think the ideas I am sharing could be useful in a training session for you or your school - please contact me today for a discovery conversation to see if we are a good fit. I really want to spread the world with strong, confident leaders. I can work with teachers, students or your own children, there is really nothing we can’t try.