For parents of younger or older kids, have you ever heard your child say, "I hate working in groups. I wish the teacher would just let us work on our own!"? In working on earning a doctorate in education in a cohort of 25 people, those words may have been said once or eighteen times. Why? Mostly, I think the soundbyte comes when someone feels like it is too much trouble to work in a group and the member believes the task could be more easily accomplished on their own. Sometimes, I believe that the frustration arises, however, from the belief that my way is the best way and other cooks are going to spoil the proverbial broth. In my first year of teaching, one of my favorite lessons I did with my students who had specific emotional disorders was a puzzle they had to put together (each student got two pieces and their two pieces did not fit together) by working with two or three other people in their group. Without cooperating, the task could not be accomplished. Even my elementary students could see the value in taking turns or putting their piece out in the center instead of grabbing another person's piece. The entire act of giving and being vulnerable versus taking and demanding made sense in this simple exercise. I like to believe that some of them still remember that "lesson", but perhaps that is wishful thinking.
This weekend, I had the bi-annual honor of working with colleagues on incredibly important education topics. While there was some time for hearing someone talk about a particular issue, the bulk of our time was spent in work groups, aimed at solving difficult tasks and real-world educational concerns. The experiences made me think about the expectations we often have in our schools of our students who work in groups. In fact, we feel those expectations are so important, we adults work with collaborative norms (in my terms, expectations of how we are going to play in the sandbox with others) :)
What are those for you and your own work with groups? What is important to remember when working with other people, even if it is working with a family group on painting a room in the house or writing a lesson plan with your 3rd grade team?
I feel pretty strongly about a few but I would sure love to hear your favorites, as well:
*Pause before commenting
*Press the hold button on your own agenda
*Be willing to honestly hear other people's views
One of the things that I love most when working with others is when I (or one of my fellow thinkers like Lynn Sawyer) can honestly say, "I came in thinking X, but after hearing what you have to say (Y), I can feel soapbox beginning to shift and shake." Isn't that what learning is all about, after all? I have often thought, "If I am so busy standing firm on being 'right' and getting you to hear my 'rightness', I may miss something you have to say that might be just as right, or even 'righter'." (best not to grammatically censor that last sentence). But, honestly, if all I want to do is hold my opinion up as the correct one, or have everyone see me as being right, then I may miss out on a unique opportunity to be a learner, and learning happens to be one of my favorite things to do!
I found a really great article on Collaborative Learning from Cornell University that gives some really great thoughts and ideas about collaboration that we can likely use with young learners, adult learners, and work groups.
Just for today, perhaps we can consider how we play in the sandbox with others, and consider tackling a behavior change that might impact our own learning and the learning of others.