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At the PYP course I took last week, I heard much about the need to develop collaborative teams of teachers. As the PYP coordinator I facilitate planning meetings between teachers. The question I am grappling with this week is how can I ensure they are collaborative? And what is a collaborative meeting and why does it matter anyway?

I meet with teachers in small and large teams, to plan our units of inquiry, to reflect on classroom successes and to acknowledge weaknesses in past units. I know our meetings need to be collaborative as they are usually about creation. The creation of new teaching ideas, units and plans. Yet for many the concept of shared, timetabled meeting times is new.

Firstly I read that a collaborative meeting will be one which is not about agreement but about creation. From this I am realising that it is no use to anyone if during a planning meeting we all sit around agreeing with each other. As it is only through listening to each other and recognising our differences of opinions, that we will truly create something new. We are not there just to cooperate. We need to grapple with dissent. This is hard for teachers. We are accomplished and experienced, masters of our classroom practice. Many of us are used to being the ‘hero’. Working incredibly hard to do the best for the students we teach, in our room. Sharing ones ideas with other teachers only to have them disagreed with, can be not only confronting but dispiriting too. I realise I need to tred carefully. I must listen, watch and care about the degree of openness. I must recognise their individual professionalism while also seeing if ideas are being lost or impeded.

Secondly collaboration is not about communication. We are not meeting to exchange ideas but to create new ones. We are meeting to share a process and create a shared product. My meetings have a purpose to them. So this purpose needs to be clearly defined with shared protocols and clear goals.

Thirdly there are different forms of collaboration.
Comfortable collaboration, will see teachers sharing classroom anecdotes. Structured collaboration, will see small teams working on curriculum tasks. Critical collaboration, will see teachers questioning each other’s assumptions about learning in order to explore and improve our practice.

There is much I still need to read and understand about collaboration. Do you work in school based teams? Are your meetings truly collaborative? Are they comfortable, structured or critical?

If you are interested in learning more I recommend checking out the work of Richard DuFour.

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  1. Here at the University of South Alabama in my class EDM310, we are required to work in groups often. Collaboration being a buzz word these days, we make plenty attempts to be collaborative. I suppose we would fall under the Structured Collaboration heading if we can be considered “truly collaborative”. It is far too often that one or two of our team is doing most of the heavy lifting. Perhaps this is due to personality traits of a pack mentality, Alpha and Omega, or it could be based on the more productive members desire to have a good grade being the driving force while a lazy attitude of the other members allows what will get them by.
    Without having an expansive knowledge of the finer points of “collaboration”, I’m afraid I just can’t say. But I enjoyed reading your reflections on your PYP course and how that will effect your approach in daily life.
    I hope it helps and improves the education system. Good luck.