When our team chose collaboration as the focus of our instructional practice, we knew our choice would be critical in the implementation of beginning of the year culture routines. First, our school is focused on project based learning, and we realize that the ability to collaborate effectively is vital for students to create authentic and challenging educational projects. Additionally, we know that collaborative skills are becoming increasingly important in the marketplace, and we hope that developing strong collaborative skills in school will better prepare our students for their future careers. Lastly, we know as educators that collaboration, while often exciting and engaging for students, can also be messy, unpredictable, and sometimes scary. We hoped that by focusing on collaboration as a team, we would gain clarity, confidence, and comfort with the collaborative process as it unfolds in our classrooms.
Read on for our seven steps for creating collaboration rich classrooms:
1. Set Expectations
For collaboration to work, group members must know what to expect. This includes not only setting expectations for student collaboration, but we soon realized that as colleagues, we needed to do the same for adult collaboration as well. Through discussions, attempts at creating a single blog post as a grade level team, and a myriad of other classroom successes and fails, we realized that setting clear expectations about a group vision as well as roles and responsibilities for group members prove essential to any efficient and well functioning collaborative team.
2. Know Thyself
Another layer of collaboration that is of utmost importance but is often overlooked is the social aspect of it all. Collaboration is all about working with other personalities in a functional way, and that involves not only understanding other personality types, but more importantly, knowing your own and how you can best engage with a motley crew of people. To this end, our fourth and fifth grade level crew set out to understand our own personalities and leadership styles by participating in a True Colors personality test. This test is an adaptation of the popular Myers-Briggs personality test and forces participants to do a self-evaluation by answering a variety of questions pertaining to preferences and ways to handle situations. Mrs. Edwards took it a step further and actually had her fifth graders figure out their own dominant personality types by doing this activity in the classroom. Mrs. Tyson and I led an activity that was similar were we had students self identify themselves as "extroverts" versus "introverts". They learned about the positive points of their personalities as well as opportunities for growth in group situations. For example, extroverts are encouraged to invite people into conversations and limit their impulses to talk to unendingly where introverts are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and participate.
3. Practice, Mess Up, Coach, and Practice Again
Since collaboration is so fluid, unpredictable, and dependent on the people and personalities in the group, it is important to allow much room for messing up and quickly learning from mistakes. Teachers are encouraged to roam around the room and coach students on appropriate body language, social cues, and responses to one another. While as colleagues, we must be open to communicating with each other and letting group members know what behaviors are benefitting and limiting group productivity.
4. Create Real Opportunities for Collaboration
In the real world, collaboration isn't a cute buzz word, but a way of life. Just as in business school, students must quickly learn the soft skills involved in group collaboration when
5. Allow Natural Group Accountability to Emerge
Jamie- I think my biggest take away was the importance of teaching students to discover their strengths and weaknesses in the area of collaboration. I thought it was very powerful to have the students discover what they can offer to a collaborative group through the "true colors" activity like Edwards used or the discussion Stephens had with her students about the difference between introverts and extroverts. The group dynamics changed in a positive way once the students understood themselves and each other. They began to value what each member could bring to the table and even learned how to communicate more effectively with their classmates. This is a skill that these students will use for the rest of their lives.
Link to her presentation on the colors.
Next Steps: 4th grade- continue collaboration and layer on critical response
5th grade- continue collaboration and layer on authentic participation
Teams are interested in taking a more self-directed route to grade level collaboration next quarter. Teachers would like to work with more tangible, classroom-specific topics vs. theoretical discussions.
“For collaboration to be effective when students come together they must communicate, share responsibilities, and depend on one another in order to achieve success.” - Jeannine Edwards
“Competition makes us faster, collaboration makes us better.” -David Bravos
“Alone we do so little, together we can do so much.” - Lucy Martinez said by Helen Keller
“Collaborating with Ms. Stephens and Ms. Moss has been an amazing experience this quarter. Our students have become more confident to share their thoughts and ideas.” -Jamie Tyson
“Everything we intend on ever doing will be greater when we consider the parts that make the whole. Establishing community and a culture of learning raises expectations and increases student understanding of how collaboration is essential to success.” -Ms. Moss
“Teachers are perfectly comfortable asking students for help navigating a website or figuring out a new piece of software. Once teachers have the confidence to say, ‘I don’t know’ and are willing to reveal themselves as learners, a new symbiotic classroom culture develops that is empowering and energizing to students and teachers alike.”
-Sherry Stephens taken from chapter 6, “Instructional Transformation” from Nov. 7th article