Be it school or business, collaboration is the essence of any good organisation. It might take some organisational change to go from an individual-centered, self-promoting cut throat organisation, to one that values collaboration between individuals and group success, but it can be done if staff are prepared for the inevitable confusion and conflict that comes from such change (Fullan, 1999, p. 34).
The benefits that come from this change to a collaborative community far outweighs this confusion and conflict, and even asks its members to embraces this confusion and conflict as a source of motivation, passion, and opinion diversity (Fullan, 1999).
Senge (2007) describes 5 basic disciplines that will distinguish a “learning organisation” from a traditional authoritative one. These disciplines that must work in harmony include:
- Personal mastery – becoming committed to one’s own lifelong learning and continually clarifying and deepening one’s own personal vision. “An organisation’s commitment to and capacity for learning can be no greater than that of its own members” (p.7)
- Mental models – “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action” (p.8). Another way to say this would be judgements and prejudice we hold on people, topics or ideas.
- Building shared vision – shared visions of the future that are born from genuine commitment rather than compliance will always make a better team and make better team players
- Team learning – teams that are learning together will produce extraordinary results and is a chance for individual members to grow more rapidly than they would have working alone. Dialogue here is the key and “unless teams can learn, the organisation cannot learn” (p.10).
- Systems thinking – which keeps all 5 disciplines together and “keeps them from being separate gimmicks or the latest organisation change fads” (p. 11). It is a conceptual framework to help us to see patterns more clearly and how to change them effectively.
This is all great for the business organisation, but how about schools in specific?
Cibulka, Coursey, Nakayama, Price, & Stewart (2003) took the challenge to relate learning organisations to schools and what they would look like. They bring up the point that teacher professional development should mimic the learning of our students and comprise of “long-term inquiry processes with a collective focus on school goals and student learning, including collaboration, change processes, and school culture” (p.3). Teachers cannot succeed in educational reform unless they are willing to become collaborative professionals (p.4).
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself now. I have not yet written a definition of what collaboration is and for this we turn to Montiel-Overall (2005). After sighting the many definitions of and transformation of the word collaboration she settled on her own definition of collaboration between teachers and teacher-librarians:
“Collaboration is a trusting, working relationship between two or more equal participants involved in shared thinking, shared planning, and shared creation of innovation integrated instruction. Through a shard vision and shared objectives, student learning opportunities are created that integrate subject content and library curriculum by co-planning, co-implementing, and co-evaluating students’ progress throughout the instructional process in order to improve student learning in all areas of instruction.” (p.32) (original italics)
What a wonderful thing this collaboration idea is! Fullan, Senge and Montiel-Overall have all discuss the wonderful things that come from collaboration, collaborative organisations, and collaborative people.
But then I read Todd’s (2008) paper documenting findings from a research study into the collaborative practices of a teacher librarian and classroom teacher. Overwhelmingly, the evidence Todd presents shows how teacher-librarians rarely had student learning outcomes as an objective or goal for the collaboration, and held library status and personal confidence as 1. the primary motivator for partaking in the collaboration, 2. the primary changes observed, and 3. what the collaboration enabled them to do as an educator. Do such a large number of teacher librarians (Todd’s study was with 170 collaborative teams) hold themselves and their library above the students and broader educational goals? Todd found this same impression from the findings stating, “in the data, school librarians rarely mentioned students’ learning of curriculum content, nor seems to be able to articulate how the development of information literacy competencies could actually help students learn curriculum content” (p. 26).
Obviously to the teacher librarians in this study there is no ‘i’ in teamwork but there certainly is a ‘me’.
What do I take away from this topic and the readings on it? Collaboration is difficult but worth the while. Collaboration takes time, but the time will come with many benefits for yourself, your partner, and more importantly the students. Collaboration takes effort but there are so many juicy benefits that come from it if you put the effort in. And finally, collaboration is the future of education and learning and the sooner we embrace it the sooner we can all get used to it and good at it!
Cibulka, J., Coursey, S., Nakayama, M., Price, J., & Stewart, S (2003). Schools as Learning Organisations: A review of the literature. National College for School Leadership, UK.
Fullan, M. (1999). Deep meaning of inside collaboration. In Change forces: the sequel (pp. 31-41). London: Falmer Press.
Montiel-Overall, P. (2005). A Theoretical Understanding of Teacher and Librarian Collaboration (TLC). School Libraries Worldwide, 11(2). 24-47.
Senge, P. M. (2007). “Give me a lever long enough … and single-handed I can move the world”. In Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (2nd ed.) (pp. 3-15). San Francisco, California: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Todd, R. J. (2008). The dynamics of classroom teacher and teacher librarian instructional collaborations. Scan, 27(2), 10-28.