Collaboration in Our Schools and Beyond
I have been thinking recently that if I had to choose the number one 21st Century Skill that schools should focus on, I would most likely land on “collaboration.” Looking at the world and the substantial areas of conflict throughout the political landscape and even to our national governments’ inability to accomplish much, there is clear lack of ability to collaborate. The word “no” is most definitely not a conversation starter. Collaboration requires being able to take an issue and to see it from a variety of perspectives; suspending personal beliefs and perspectives and seeing what others of differing views might see. It also requires the ability to listen deeply; to focus on the process before trying to reach an outcome.
Healthy schools, like MPS who value a progressive approach work hard to foster an environment where skills of collaboration are both taught and modeled by teachers. It is important that teachers work collaboratively with colleagues so that students can see this in practice. Looking at an issue from outside of one’s comfort zone is hard. Not seeing multiple perspectives limits outcomes to solutions and robs us of capitalizing on everyone’s full potential.
In my former school, the eighth graders each had to write two papers on a controversial issue and defend both sides of those issues. They had to give oral presentations on both sides of the issues without the benefit of the class knowing which side they preferred. The obvious positive outcome was the ability for students to slow down and consider opposite opinions; multiple perspectives. Often students would remark that they had never considered an opinion different from their own.
In schools, we strive to foster collaboration by focusing on four specific opportunities:
- Work in teams to conduct inquiry and create a rubric of multiple perspectives. Teachers observe students as they work in teams and guide them to explain their positions, note where they agree and likewise note where they disagree.
- Students are given opportunity to give each other feedback and ask clarifying questions to better understand particular positions. Teachers meet with teams to debrief on the process – how was the process of collaboration. Where were there stumbling blocks and how might, going forward they be alleviated.
- Students share with each other ideas and knowledge they have gained as a result of listening to differing opinions. Often students can create a rubric that can easily show areas of agreement and areas where there is still disagreement.
- Work with adult mentors to see where they need to get more information or help to move toward a solution.
As our students move from elementary school to high school, University and beyond their ability to work with a variety of people will dictate that the skill of collaboration be essential. If we look at some great examples of collaboration – the founding of our country immediately comes to mind; the forming of the United Nations is another example. In each instance, the final outcome was based on a willingness to see different points of view, listen and make concessions for the overall positive outcome.
“If people work together in an open way with porous boundaries – that is, if they listen to each other and really talk to each other – then they are bound to trade ideas that are mutual to each other and be influenced by each other. That mutual influence and open system of working creates collaboration. -Richard Thomas