Monday, September 6, 2010

Building a Community of Inquirers

For our Team Leaders meeting on Monday we have been given the article to read: So they can fly ... building a community of inquirers by Linda Gibson-Langford and Di Laycock.  This article addresses the difference between collaboration, cooperation and connection and introduces a new term to me coblaboration.  We were asked to come up with thoughts, questions and analogies for discussion at our next meeting.

Collaboration is seen as a "deeper concept than the more superficial enactment of working together in cooperative partnerships".  The article quotes from Thomas Friedman who says:  "we are going ... to a world where value is created ... by who we connect and collaborate with".  The article looks deeper at the two words connect and collaborate and points out that you can connect to things without collaborating, but you cannot collaborate with connecting.  Many teachers talk about Web 2.0 helping them to collaborate, whereas in fact they really refering to connecting, sometimes superficially.  The authors point out that "unless we can learn the lessons of collaboration and get them right, it doesn't matter what technology can offer us."

So what is true collaboration?  It is the shared discovery or a shared understanding that leads to a shared creation and this in turn leads to innovative thinking and change.  Shared creation is an interesting concept in these days of copyright as the common knowledge and creation can be owned by everyone.  Collaboration involves transforming the knowledge that is inside each person into explicit knowledge that can be documented.  This success of this relies on the relationships between the collaborators - as each person wants to share their knowledge yet at the same time they want to protect their ideas.

Oftentimes instead of collaboration among our colleagues we simply have coblaboration - a chaotic pattern of conversations, over-talking, giving information, repeating the obvious, groupthink or even conversations with no action or new ideas being generated.  Or as someone once said to me, two monologues don't make a dialogue.  What is needed for teachers to move on from this point is planned structures and processes that are dedicated to facilitating the shared creation that is the hallmark of true collaboration.  Teachers need to feel safe, and must feel that their contributions are valued.

Our schools often lack a collaborative culture, which has been defined by Leonard-Barton as "knowledge reservoirs where the flow of ideas is constantly replenished with streams of new ideas" leading to a continuous process of school renewal.  In order to become more collaborative schools need to analyse the processes of collaboration - without this there is simply a transfer of knowledge instead of a creation of knowledge and instead of collaboration you are left with cooperation and collegiality.  True collaboration involves community dialogue and works against groupthink and hierarchical decision making.  It also leads to teachers leaving aside self-promotion and moving towards promotion of the whole school community as a knowledge-oriented culture.

If we accept that true learning is an outcome of collaboration, then placing more emphasis on the social nature of learning and fostering a spirit of inquiry within a school will lead to a greater chance of fostering innovative thinking.  We talk a lot about our students becoming life-long learners - teachers must embrace this too.  School leaders need to focus on promoting socially shared learning, supporting teachers emotionally and intellectually, encouraging teachers to work interdependently and creating a safe environment where ideas can be expressed and where teachers feel their contributions are valued.

3 thoughts about the article:
It's important to move towards true collaboration, not just get stuck on connection, cooperation or coblaboration.
Collaboration involves shared creation and the transformation (as opposed to the transfer) of knowledge.
Collaboration only happens in a safe environment where teachers feel valued.

2 questions:
How can we replace knowledge silos with a school-wide knowledge reservoir?
How can we create safe and creative environments where teachers truly feel their contributions are valued?

Positive - 12 years ago I was involved in a European-wide Butterfly Sight project, studying butterflies from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.  This project lasted in total for 6 years, with the last 3 years focusing on sharing our pedagogy.  This was the most collaborative project I have ever been involved in and 6 years after the project has finished I am still in contact with the teachers who participated.  We definitely created knowledge and transformed our individual knowledge.  We definitely felt valued.
Negative - I am involved in developing curriculum on the role of ICT in the PYP.  While my personal feeling is that everything the committee creates together can be used by the IB, some schools have a different perspective - that everything created by the employees of the school is owned by the school.  My personal feelings are that this attitude works against building a collaborative culture.

Photo Credit:  Peonza by Roberto Corralo


  1. Really great look about the true difference between collaboration, cooperation, and connection. So often we use the word collaboration to describe all 3. True collaboration is where deeper learning and thinking occurs.

    I completely agree with your negative. When schools think they have to "own" anything created by the employees, they work against a collaborative culture. They also work against creative, innovative employees. I am much less likely to create something if I don't retain ownership over it for my own uses.

  2. Hi Maggie. How wonderful to see that our article provided a useful springboard for your discussion. I loved reading your thoughts about collaboration and I think you've answered your own question as to how we might facilitate genuine collaboration in our schools. You mention your experience of teacher research and I think this is definitely one way that teachers can build knowledge together and reduce those silos. Linda and I continue to be involved in a research community for teachers and it is just wonderful to see the members of this community so passionate and enthused about the opportunity to learn with, and from, their colleagues. As for your comment that schools stifle collaboration through protectionist strategies, I couldn't agree more. Good luck with your work on the ICT curriculum.

  3. This post has helped me to reflect on the nature of my professional interactions; are they simply cooperative, making connections or are they actually transforming and creating new understandings? I love the phrase "coblaboration"! I think we often get stuck at the coblaboration phase because we shy away from tensions that push ourselves or our colleagues out of our comfort zones. I think that for collaboration to happen there must be a culture of trust and a comfortableness with (or at least acceptance of ) tensions. This morning I was listening to a TED talk by Raghava KK. ( ) He talks about the connection between multiple perspectives, empathy and creativity. Hs talk struck a chord with me as I read your post.