The Half-Truths of Collaboration in Education

In a healthy collaborative situation, I know I can create better work and deliver a higher quality product to teachers and students. This might be the reason that my favorite part of the writing process is going through edits, feedback, and revision. If a person I trust can read through a piece with fresh eyes and perspectives, I am eager to consider their ideas, concerns, and even the most minor wordsmithing. Notice, however, that I prefaced that last statement with the caveat that it must be a person a trust.

Taking the time to build a relationship of trust must occur before healthy honest collaboration that challenges all individuals and improves the collective results. Without building that trust, we are left with "half-truths" about collaboration.

In Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work, Dufour, Dufour, and Eaker explore these half-truths.

1. "First, educators often substitute congeniality for collaboration (Barth, 2006; Segiovanni, 2005). If the members of a group get along with one another or perhaps read and discuss the same book, they are satisfied they are a collaborative team. They are not–just as good friends or the members of Oprah's Book Club ar not collaborative teams." (p. 182)

Classmates and colleagues who have similar personalities or interests might end up becoming friends. We might be able to laugh together about happenings in our classrooms and we might even share exciting or discouraging moments with one another. Perhaps we gather at a local establishment on Thursday or Friday afternoons to talk about topics outside of education. All of this is helping to build trust, but it does not mean we are collaborating.

2. "The second half-truth asserts that 'collaboration is good.' But there is nothing inherently 'good' about collaboration (Fullan, 2007; Little, 1990). It represents a means to an end rather than an end itself. Collaboration can serve to perpetuate the status quo rather than improve it, to reinforce the negative aspects of the culture rather than subject them to collective inquiry." (p. 183)

A quick conversation by the copy machine about a difficult student is a great way to relieve stress, but it isn't collaboration. A laugh over lunch about one of those moments in class that should go into your "someday" comedic book about the real life of a classroom teacher is fun, but it isn't collaboration. Again, these conversations help establish trust and build relationships with colleagues. They are the building blocks for potential future collaboration. But they, alone, do not constitute collaboration.

To me, collaboration means that all parties are willing to give, receive, and respond to both critical and positive feedback. It isn't about being best friends, although everyone should be positive and professional. It isn't about coming together to vent about standards or students. It means all parties are committed to using their dedicated collaborative time to improving themselves, helping their colleagues, and improving their students' results.

Barth, R. (2006). Improving relationships within the schoolhouse. Education Leadership, 63(6), 8-13.
Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
Little, J. (1990). The persistence of privacy: Autonomy and initiative in teachers' professional relations. Teachers College Record, 91(4), 509-536.
Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the heartbeat: Leading and learning together in schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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