The 21st Century world. It’s a place where instant communication and unparalleled levels of information can be beckoned by a single key stroke. It has changed EVERYTHING. Now, the world of work demands advanced levels of communication and collaboration from its workforce— except for one.
Education. It’s the one industry that hasn’t changed to adapt to the collaborative world of today.
"How can teachers teach something that they don't do and why as reasonable adults would we expect them to?"
The White Elephant in the Room:
In the education arena, the majority of the workforce has garnered most of its experiences in the educational field. This means that their college and professional experiences have been shaped by the old model of learning and work— isolation. Take the average business student for example. In a business program, college students are forced to do most assignments as a group. This parallels the world of work where collaboration is not a novelty but the daily reality. Now let’s take the average education student. This student has found success by understanding how to play the academic game early. This student tests well, has created individual study habits that are successful, and habitually earns good grades. However, in most parts of the education student’s college experience, individual assignments are the status quo and group projects are the exception. Very rarely does the education student have to develop the social and leadership skills necessary to work efficiently in a group and deliver a strong final product within time constraints. Fast forward to post graduation work. The business student is now practicing the social and leadership skills of collaborative productivity on a daily basis as she works with people in other departments daily to achieve a specific goal. The education student, contrarily, works in isolation as a teacher. He plans his lessons, teaches his courses, writes his anecdote notes communicates with families, evaluates and writes feedback for every student, analyzes standardized test data, creates anchor charts, composes newsletters, all behind the four walls of his classroom— in isolation. Weekly, the teacher attends a 45 minute meeting with other teachers, a time designated for collaboration, but the few minutes given to share practices and analyze student work, don’t give justice to the enormity of the job. And is this even collaboration?
Let’s define collaboration. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, collaborate means to “work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something”. It comes from the Late Latin word “collaboratus”, which is a past participle of “collaborare" that means “to labor together”. So even from the definition, the term necessitates the action of working (laboring) together in order to create something or achieve a desired result. But in the education field, what are teachers actually creating together? Is there a finished product that comes from continuously laboring together? Do teachers build units and lessons together? Do teachers share responsibility for the academic outcomes of students in classes that they do not teach? In other words, how do teachers work together under circumstances of shared pressure and accountability to achieve a desired result?
Also, do teachers even want to collaborate? Are they willing to truly work together? Do they have the skills to work with other personalities in order to achieve a desired result? Or are teachers too used to running the show in their own classrooms and unprepared to work cooperatively with other adults? Do teachers even see the value in collaborating? Do they even understand it? I think in many cases, the answer is no. If most teachers haven’t been required to work collaboratively in their teacher preparation programs or in their actual profession, then how would they know how to collaborate? When would they have developed the soft skills involved in managing opposite personalities, negotiating conflict, or combining ideas? When would they have had the opportunity to develop the thick skin that comes from not having the group use a suggestion or having a heated debate with a team member over an idea? When would teachers have the opportunity to learn about themselves as a group contributor and assess the strengths and weaknesses of their own personality in regards to working with other people in a group? And in terms of efficiency, have teachers had the opportunity to experience the lifted workload that comes from Group Think, a phrase used to define the process of faster and superior ideas and productivity results that comes from combining the best efforts of multiple people in a group?
If what we know about teaching collaboration in the classroom informs us that the act of collaborating does not come naturally and requires carefully scaffolded instruction, then why would we expect myriads of professionals to have acquired collaborative skills in the absence of the circumstances that teach or require the use of it? More directly, how do we expect teachers to even know how to collaborate if we know they haven’t been taught or required to do so?
How do we expect teachers to instruct students on collaboration if teachers themselves do not know how to collaborate or understand the value that comes from it? How can teachers teach something that they don't do and why as reasonable adults would we expect them to?
In regards to motivation to incorporate collaboration in the classroom, of course many teachers are hesitant to try it. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s new to them and many haven’t internalized the true value of collaboration.
If we truly want to prepare students for a world of collaboration and work in the 21st century, then we have to equip the training force, educators, with the knowledge of collaboration and embed it into the way that we work. In teacher preparation programs, the design of the courses should include mainly group projects like in many other fields. In the typical school, professional development sessions should be lead on how to collaborate and sessions should include administering personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs or the True Colors test so that teachers understand themselves as well as other people better and work more efficiently with their colleagues. These types of tests are routinely given in business educational programs and in corporate training meetings.
The conversation over teacher collaboration fueled the fourth and fifth grade team’s journey of implementing collaboration in the classroom. Read our next post that narrates our honest experiences with internalizing collaboration for ourselves and embedding it into our classroom instruction throughout first quarter. Also, comment below with your thoughts to all of this. We seek to continue this conversation as we learn and grow together as teachers. Hmm…“learn and grow together as teachers”? Maybe we’re cut out for this collaboration thing after all.