Collaboration not Cloning – Lets take a learning road trip.

Let’s go on a road trip. We’re going to travel from my home in Okotoks, Alberta and travel to Seattle, Washington to catch a sunday afternoon Seahawks game. We’ve got 12 tickets to the game so we’ll have to take 3 vehicles for the road trip. Everyone agreed to take Friday and the following Monday off work for travel. We have reservations at hotels in Spokane on Friday night to celebrate one of the traveller’s birthday. We also have hotels booked in downtown Seattle for Saturday and Sunday nights.

This sounds like the making of a bad math problem, but it sets the stage for collaborative teamwork. What are the important aspects of this trip? Leave Friday, spend a night in Spokane, spend two nights in Seattle, watch a football game, and back to Okotoks for work on Tuesday. What’s not important? Everything else.

As we plan for the road trip our efforts need to be around ensuring that we are meeting our essential goals. We need to make sure hotels are booked, tickets are secured and we get to the appropriate destinations within the appropriate timelines. We need to be in contact with each other along the way to ensure that all three vehicles are on track to reach our determined goals and support each other in reaching our targets.

Apart from our primary goal, everything else is up for grabs. If vehicle A wants to hit the drive thru for lunch, vehicle B stops for a sit down lunch, and vehicle C just drives through, it doesn’t really matter.  One of the travellers may want to stop for a quick visit with an Aunt in Sandpoint, while another may need to stop in Cour d’Alene to pick up parts for his boat. These divergences need not interfere with achieving the overall goals.

However, what happens if everyone has to do exactly what everyone else does? A handful of attainable goals quickly turns into a laundry list of overwhelming tasks. If everyone stops during the drive to do something because one person stops, all of the little stops soon add up and next thing you know, the trip is behind schedule. It could cause the group to miss the birthday celebrations in Spokane, or worse yet, miss the kickoff to the Seahawks game on Sunday. Each vehicle on the road trip needs a certain degree of autonomy to make choices along the way, while still working with the other vehicles to ensure the primary goals are being met. Autonomy is essential to achieve the goals, and to ensure a quality experience.

So what does this have to do with education? Sometimes we mistake collaboration with cloning our practice. Collaboration needs to be a team working interdependently towards a common goal, not everyone doing the exact same thing to achieve the same result. Is there going to be common planning, common assessments, and even some common instruction? Yes, but we must allow individual teachers autonomy within their day to day practice. There must be constant communication between members of a collaborative team to ensure goals and targets are being reached, but there still needs to be freedom for individual professionals to perform to their potential.

Richard and Rebecca DuFour talk about “tight and loose” with collaborative teams. Within my school, these are the things that I want to be tight:

Common purpose: As a collaborative team and as a school, we need to be crystal clear on why we do what we do.

Common goals and targets: We need a finish line. Where do we want to be at the end of the month, semester, and year?

Common language: I am quickly discovering the importance of common language. If we are not on the same page about how we are talking about what we do, it is impossible to move forward as a team.

As far as the loose, everything else falls into this category. As leaders we need to trust the professionals in our schools, to do what needs to be done in their individual contexts (classrooms), to achieve the team’s goals and targets.  In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about the big three of motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. We absolutely need to give our teachers the ability to grow as professionals, but keep within our agreed upon purpose, goals, and language. If we can do this, hopefully we can all have a great road trip.

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