Collaboration is a hot topic in many areas of education at the moment. My work in describing and explaining the key changes for teachers as they develop their Modern Learning Practice places this pretty high on the list. So too with the work I'm involved in my home city of Christchurch, as school leaders and the Ministry of Education seek to explore more collabortive forms of 'school' and 'schooling' as they rebuild after the earthquakes here.
in the video interview above, New York University professor and author, Clay Shirky, explains the disruptive impact of technology on how people live and work. While his comments apply much more broadly than the education space, the principle of collaboration being a disruptive influence apply.
What I get from this interview is the fact that we need to understand collaboration as an organic activty, not something we try to create policy and structures around, and expect to happen.
If we want promote true, engaged collaborative activity, we can do things that will create the environments that will encourage it (Clay's focus in much of his writing is on the way social media environments enable this to happen), and we can also incentivise collaborative behaviours (by re-examining the things that are 'measured' in our system – e.g. ERO criteria etc.), but little is likely to happen where we simply announce a mandate that we must all collaborate.
This applies within schools where principals and school leaders implement new forms of collaborative teams as ways of organising staff, as well as externally – for instance, the organisation of schools into clusters.
The second key lesson from Shirky is around the way in which collaborative groups can create success from failure. This isn't likely to be the case in 'enforced' or 'organised' collaborations where failure is often interpreted as a reason to stop collaborating. In a more organic collaboration, failure drives the group to find alternative solutions – ideas that may not have emerged otherwise.
Of course the critical thing to consider is that collaboration is the polar opposite of competition, and we currently work within a policy and resourcing environment that promotes, encourages and rewards competition in our schooling system. Until there's some serious work done to change those drivers, then collaboration is unlikely to have a lasting impact at a system level – however, it may be the thing that convinces those in decision making positions to do so!
So my call to action would be, as educators, become active in those collaborative environments where you can add your voice to the tide of informed opinion (note the adjective, there's plenty of ill-informed suff out there too) that can help establish the case for change and identify the areas where changes need to be made (in policy, resourcing etc.) It's an election year after all