Collaboration – Helping Smart People Get Smarter
A lot of my work involves facilitating groups as they develop curricular units of study, assessments, and RTI processes. I am often reminded of how rarely schools and districts structure time for educators to get together and do this type of planning unless it is for this type of professional development activity. As a result many are missing out on one of the most powerful strategies they could be utilizing. The true power of a school team and its’ very success is realized when we hold every individual accountable for their expertise. Every person on a staff has a piece of the answer; every person is a part of the whole.
I have come to appreciate how difficult the process of working together truly is. It gets magnified when the people assigned to a team don’t work together in their daily lives but have volunteered to be part of a district team creating curricular units of study. I’ve recognized a pattern that emerges almost without fail when these groups begin their quality work. Oftentimes we begin with a two-day session where highly qualified educators come together to do some planning. The groups always start out being very congenial and engaging in positive support. It’s evident that this is the awkward, surface nicety that we tend to display as the feeling out process is in full swing. All ideas are embraced as good and productive and there is little, if any, dissent. I’ve recognized this as a warning sign. The first day tends to conclude with more of the same congeniality but it appears to be a little more forced.
Day two begins with a new energy and more congeniality until the mid-point of the morning. The room tends to get quieter and the conversations tend to become a bit more stilted and forced. There is a palpable tension in the room and the silent thought bubbles in many heads speak of frustration and concern that the others at the table “just don’t get it”. Tense moments manifest as frequent movement around the room, more requests for me to arbitrate challenges, and lots of doubt whether this work will move forward. It’s in this moment that facilitators need to push the groups together and help them/let them work through the challenges. Giving voice to the hard edges of the conversation moves the group from congeniality to collegiality, and from that the brilliance flows. It truly is a beautiful thing to behold as the teams really gel and take off from that moment. They move from looking for brick walls (the reason we can’t do something) to building bridges (to success for all students).