Monday, October 22, 2012

There may be no "I" in "team," but there is a "me"

I've been thinking about team dynamics as of late. At this moment, it's playoff season for Major League Baseball, and there is all kinds of focus on teamwork.  This week also marks the end of our first quarter, and I'm reflecting on what that whole team thing means in education.

cc photo courtesy of Keith Allison
Teaching is a lonely gig, and no matter how often we "team" with each other, most of us just end up doing our own thing.  It comes down to "me" in the end.  We may contribute pieces and parts to our PLC (cooperative approach), but that doesn't always equate to learning together (collaborative approach).  That isn't bad per se, but I don't know if it prepares us to truly model and lead students in collaboration.  And it definitely makes the concept of teaming together foreign.  Here's something to think about:  the Common Core, 21st Century Skills as defined by P21, and the CDE's effectiveness rubrics for both teachers and principals stress collaboration, not cooperation.

So, what's the difference?

Is it "me" working with others or is it "we" learning together?  It's admittedly muddy, and the two are often used interchangeably, but one (cooperative) focuses on individual contributions to a group project or guiding question while the other one (collaborative) focuses on learning & constructing together, regardless of role.  With cooperative learning, there is a definite "me" in the team.  In collaborative learning, there is only the "we."

Cooperative learning is much easier to quantify, so that may lend itself to our comfort level as teachers (easier to assess, give feedback, establish accountability, etc.).  So why does "collaborate" appear instead of "cooperate" in state, national, and international standards for teaching & learning?  Could it be that collaborating yields a deeper understanding  than cooperating?  Does the social nature of learning mean that learning alongside some else is more powerful than simply contributing your part or role?  Perhaps it means that the challenges we will likely face on a global scale will require learning together more than it will require individual contributions to a "team" effort.

As leaders and educators,  we need to think about how we work with each other as we, in turn, work with students.  The two approaches have their place, but are we cognizant of how they are different?  Are we focused on the "me" or embracing the "we"?