Collaboration is not created by the arrangement of the desks.

When Doug Reeves made this statement at a Literacy Leadership Symposium I attended recently, I pictured one particular classroom in my mind. One where the desks are arranged in rows, yet I often walk in to find students with heads together in spots around the room, learning together.

Doug said that having classrooms arranged with desks in pods does not necessarily mean that collaboration is happening. Just like having desks arranged in rows does not necessarily mean that collaboration is not happening.

So, how do we create a culture of collaboration in a classroom? In a school?

Collaboration happens when

two or more people share ideas with each other and

build on their ideas and learning

based on what they hear from one another.

The little ideas they started with begin to grow

as they add to each other’s learning,

and before they know it,

their ideas are completely transformed

into something greater than they ever imagined.

Fake collaboration exists. It happens when we push desks together and call it collaboration. It happens when we change the name of our staff meeting to “Staff Collaboration Time” yet the leader still does all of the talking. It happens when one person dominates the conversation and others are not able to share ideas. It happens when we hand kids a worksheet and tell them they can work on it with a partner and call that collaboration.

Yet, real collaboration is alive and well in many schools and many classrooms.

What does it take to really collaborate?

  • Relationships, so there is trust and vulnerability
  • Valuing everyone’s ideas
  • Time together
  • The ability to NOT crawl up on the table with your idea
  • Transparency about the values and biases you bring to the group
  • An action plan for the next steps

Creating the conditions for collaboration takes modeling from the classroom or school leader and it takes a commitment from all group members. It is pretty easy to convince others that we are better together, but it does take some work to define how collaboration really happens. And then, once we create a culture of collaboration, we must constantly improve our work together because if we aren’t improving, we are declining.

Heads together excitedly sharing thoughts and ideas with an end result that surpasses expectations.

That is collaboration.

Want to see Quincy Elementary teachers collaboration in full creative force? Watch THIS

Image source HERE

Author’s note: Attending Adaptive Schools training has helped me reflect on my skills as a group member and as a group leader. Dr. Brandi-Lyn Mendham brought Adaptive Schools into our district and having this training together has set the stage for collaboration like we have never experienced before. To learn more, visit  http://www.thinkingcollaborative.com/seminars/adaptive-schools-seminars/

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