True Collaboration

Guest post by Stephanie Rothstein @StephRothEDU

The term is thrown around casually and I find myself biting my tongue. 

Oh yeah, my students collaborate

I love collaborating with you. 

But, are we really collaborating and what does it mean to be a true collaborator?

Here is what I often see called collaboration:

Students on a shared slide deck, a shared Jamboard, a shared document but they each have their own section they are responsible for. They are in a group doing work that I call Alone Together work. This is perfectly fine and is wonderful to be “sitting at a table” virtually or in person, but 

Alone Together is not Collaboration.

It is being together and that is important and perhaps in being together you can learn if you have misstepped, you can have people of which to ask questions, but again, this is not collaboration, it is clarification. 

To really collaborate a few things must happen to set a team up for success:

1. VALUE ALL All group members must be a valued part of the team and process. That means we cannot move forward without everyone.

2. BUILD ON STRENGTHS This means it cannot be one person doing everything or doing the things that are considered “of value” (and that in itself is problematic). Instead, approach asking what do I bring to this team, what do you bring to this team? What are areas of growth that I hope to learn from you or from this project? 

3. TEAM GOALS As a group what do you want to accomplish? What do you want to be most proud of at the end of the project?

4. NORMS Groups then decide on the norms for the team. I usually give them this list and let them use these and create their own. I like to have everyone rank their top 5 and then talk through their most important and why. What are their team’s top 5. 

  • persist
  • communicate clearly and precisely
  • manage impulsivity
  • gather data through all senses
  • listen with understanding
  • and empathy
  • create
  • imagine and innovate
  • think flexibly
  • respond with wonderment and awe
  • think about your thinking
  • take responsible risks
  • strive for accuracy
  • find humor
  • question and pose problems
  • think independently
  • apply past knowledge
  • to new situations
  • remain open to continuous
  • learning

5. PROJECT STEPS Develop project steps together. Make a SCRUM board and make sure that no step has one person doing a task alone, instead have project teams. This ensures partnership and actual work towards a collaborative environments. It will be important that these teams learn how to actually work together. 

6. GROW IDEAS When developing your idea, it should feel like a socratic seminar, each question or comment should build on the statement before. You can use the ‘Yes And’ technique to really propel ideas forward. Think of your ideas like a plant. In a real collaborative environment someone brings the seed, another the sun, another the soil, another the water.Teams need to learn how to work together and talk to one another. This is the hardest part. It involves real listening. 

7. KNOW WHEN TO LEAD AND WHEN NOT TO Teams often will need a lead but it should not be that one person is always leading. This is not a collaborative environment. Instead, every team should lead the section that is their strength including guiding those conversations. 

Next Steps

CHECKING IN AND GRADING FOR COLLABORATION Need a collaboration rubric? Check out the Proficient and Advanced Sections of this New Tech Network Collaboration Rubric to help you understand the skills associated with collaboration. It is a grading category in my pathway and a true area of focus for my students. Help students to use these rubrics to self evaluate and provide feedback to teammates. Make time to pause and help students understand ways to be better collaborators and improve during a project. 

If it isn’t clear by now, true collaboration takes time and intention. 

In the end, we are better for it but it involves the desire to want to be better and learn from other people. It is not about hearing yourself talk. 

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