As soon as it was taken up as a tentpole issue for the champions of “21st Century Skills,” collaborative effort was destined to wiggle its way into the goals of any school’s annual planning for at least the first two decades of the 21st century. By 2030, we’re likely to be championing “22nd Century Skills.” For now, though, let us focus on the century at hand.
In the rush to adopt a practice of collaboration, many schools have set decrees and adopted protocols to ensure collaboration in actions if not in spirit. Lest a school’s culture – its leaders, its teachers, its students – has decided to own the effort of collaboration, practice by decree is sure to be mired in “almost implimentation.”
The schools we need allow for a school zone speed limit to taking up a practice of collaboration.
For schools having difficulties initiating collaborative approaches, the danger lies not in doing something new or different, but in doing something much more quickly than is comfortable to those responsible for the work.
While we are firm believers in learning the work by doing the work, this does not mean doing all the work at once and expecting it is all done well.
A school zone speed limit adoption method takes on all the practical implications of asking drivers to slow down when traveling through a school zone. Moving at full speed in these areas will mean they are not likely to fully appreciate where they are doing, and they will be much more liable to interfere or endanger the travels of others who are attempting to move through the same space.
The same principles apply to full-speed adoption of collaboration. Asking people to jump in to a practice of collaboration with full integration of lesson planning, peer observation, brainstorming, curriculum planning, etc. makes it entirely unlikely this newly adopted approach will not notice the small but significant details important to improving collaborative practices.
They will go through the motions of collaborating, as the drive will likely still stop at a stop sign, speed zone or not. They will not, take or have the time to reflect on what happens when they change this or that element of their practice.
A school speed zone approach to adopting a new practice and adapting a system to this practice’s inclusion might include the following steps:
- At the top of each school-wide meeting, asking all teachers to share with those around them a single sentence explaining something they are working on with their students.
- Asking for a group of teachers to volunteer to sit in on at least one of their peers’ classes during a week and to welcome others to do the same in their own classes.
- The creation of a common physical or online space where teachers are asked to share questions and ideas relevant to what they are teaching or planning to teach with immediate means for others to offer answers and suggestions.
- The allocation of 5 minutes at the beginning of every faculty meeting for teachers to stand and share those things they saw that they identified as good in a peer’s classrooms since the previous meeting.
The list could continue forever. Indeed, as a learning organization feels more and more comfortable with collaborative practice and begin to speed up, the list is likely to lengthen exponentially. It should do.
Slowing down, focusing on a few key elements of practice will allow those being asked for mindfulnes to see and reflect on the shifting of the organization. They will have the ability to refine these new efforts and the practice will evolve.
We can surely get somewhere as quickly as possible. To do so often means sacrificing safety and ignoring our surroundings. It’s possible, but rarely worth it.