Collaboration amongst staff is the foundation and the prerequisite for any and all continuous improvement amongst educators and on behalf of students. The expectations placed upon schools and students are too great and the challenges too complex to continue to act autonomously and reject collective responsibilities – All staff for all students. It will take time; it’s worth it, so let’s dedicate ourselves to embedding authentic, systematic collaboration into our professional days and our professional practice.
Quality teaching is not an individual accomplishment; it is the result of a collaborative culture that empowers teachers to team up to improve student learning beyond what any of them can achieve alone.
Carroll, 2009, p. 13
Five observations about Collaboration follow:
- Countries in which the highest levels of learning occur, and in which the highest levels of professional practices exist (Stevenson & , Stigler, 1992; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999; Sahlberg, 2010), spend more time collaboratively with peers, even if that means less time talking to large groups of students (which some may refer to as “teaching.”)
Powerful, proven structures for improved results are at hand. It starts when groups of teachers meet regularly as a team to identify essential and valued student learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, and then share and create lessons and strategies to improve upon those levels.
Schmoker, 2004, p. 48
Collaborative learning organizations have a decades long history and research-base, a topic into which we delve more deeply in the next chapter. The powerful and positive influence of collaboration on an organization’s outcomes was first noted by W. Edwards Deming (Walton, 1986) Deming’s research, and the practical implications of his research, validated the impacts of collaborative systems of continuous improvement in the late 1940s, primarily in Japan. Peter Senge solidified and further popularized the inherently superior results achieved when collaborative teams serve together within a system that was organized on foundations of mutual support and action research in the late 1980s (Senge, 1990). Michael Fullan studied the positive examples of collaborative learning organizations within governmental entities in the early 1990s (Fullan, 1993) and Richard DuFour and colleagues completed this translation into schools in the late 1990s, presenting a practical and compelling case for the benefits to students and staff of professional learning communities (DuFour &Eaker, 1998). Collaboration is touted as of the four critical skills of the 21st century, along with communication, creativity, and critical thinking. While collaboration may be an essential skill for citizens and employees in the 21st century, the necessity of collective and coherent practices have been proven for well over half a century. We are increasingly committed to ensuring that our students possess the skills of collaboration; let’s ensure that as the adults who primarily shape and influence students, that we model collaborative practices. Collaboration amongst professional in schools has grown in popularity from decade to decade. In this book, we are redefining the concept and rededicating ourselves to its practice. Collaboration is not something with which we dabble if we are so inclined. It can assist, for example, in improving teacher practices, although as is the case with so many other benefits of professional collaboration, improving teacher practice is a means to the end. The end – the sole function of collaborative systems of support – is to ensure high levels of academic and behavioral outcomes for each and every student. We propose that professional learning communities be re-imagined and re-conceptualized as part of a more systematic approach to organizing schools and staffs on behalf of students.
Collaboration and the ability to engage in collaborative action are becoming increasingly important to the survival of the schools. Indeed, without the ability to collaborate with others, the prospect of truly improving schools is not likely.
Schlechty, 2005, p. 22
Within educational environments, collaborative teams can and should serve very practical roles.