Working in teams has been the “norm” in education for some time and how teams collaborate is essential to their success. Teaching teams how to work/collaborate is essential to create and sustain high functioning collaborative groups. Adaptive Schools by Garmston and Wellman structure how groups can “develop our collective identity and capacity as collaborators, inquirers, and leaders.” “Collaborators are people with different resources working together as equals to produce a meaningful outcome” (p.16, Learning Guide).
High functioning groups have a clear identity of who they are and how they collaborate, have a flexible mindset to expand the groups capacity, inquire into the ideas of each other, and continue to be adaptive instead of adapted. Organizations need to support teams to facilitate successful collaboration by providing meeting structures, norms, working agreements, and clarity around dialogue and discussion. Sustaining this type of environment will support group efficacy and interdependence and ultimately lead to maximizing student engagement and achievement.
Garmston and Zimmerman highlight in their book, Lemons to Lemonade, the importance of teams agreeing how they will work together and they call these working agreements. “When agreements are well established, the group understands that, once set these agreements are not negotiable . . . to shift more responsibility to the group” (p. 53). Westside Community Schools has used the Working Agreements structure and merged them with the 7 Norms of Collaboration from Adaptive Schools to support collaborative ownership and collegiality. They are:
- Demonstrate Mutual Respect:Be hard on ideas and soft on people. Presume positive intentions. Make your reasoning explicit, reveal your assumptions, state conclusions, and explain how you came to those conclusions.
- Employ Skillful Listening (Inquiry/Advocacy):Seek first to understand, (Pause, Paraphrase, Pose a Question) and then to be understood.
- Develop Sufficient Consensus:Work to understand all views, dialogue and create a free flow of ideas. All participants contribute resources, opinions, feelings, and ideas before sharing in the final decision.
- Be Present: Pay attention to self and others. Eliminate personal distractions and participate (power down/put away). When group members seem disengaged, check in with them by asking what they are thinking or feeling.
Creating structures for successful teaming is a vital component of a high functioning group. Successful teams have created clarity around decision making, process, agenda items, next steps, group member role definition, note taking, and adhering to working agreements and norms (I believe norms and working agreements are different). It is important to remember that creating the structure will support collaboration and does not define it.
PLC’s are a group that comes to mind when referring collaborative structure. Professional Learning Communities (PLC) have been a driving force to support the culture for collaborative teaming to maximize student engagement and achievement by asking four essential questions about student data. A high functioning PLC team will have established clarity around decision making, process, agenda items, next steps, group member role definition, note taking, and adhering to working agreements and norms in addition to having a PLC meeting template. The PLC structure alone is not enough to maximize results.
Maximizing student engagement and achievement can only happen when systems are clear about their what their collaborative practices are, how they will collaborate, and why they will collaborate. It is our responsibility to create a culture of collaboration and design optimal learning environments to support teachers in our learning organizations.
“A learning organization discovers how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels…where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” Peter Senge
Dufor, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2006). Learning by doing: a handbook for building professional learning communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2016). The adaptive school: a sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Garmston, R. J., & Zimmerman, D. P. (2013). Lemons to lemonade: resolving problems in meetings, workshops, and PLCs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a Sage Company.
Senge, Peter M. (1990, revised 2006) The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization New York: Doubleday