Collaborations in Education

Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration. People scuttle from meeting to meeting to coordinate work and share ideas but far too little gets done . . . . This is a terrible way of working in the best of times: resources are wasted while better players pull away. It’s downright reckless in tough times, such as in a crisis, where the ability to pull together can make the difference between making it or not
— Fullan, 2011, p. 90

Time. It is our most precious and rarest resource. It is vastly sought after and rarely ever found. In education, this is redundant, but the truest form of redundancy. With 9 months and a multitude of dry standards to inspire kids with, saying that time is rare becomes an understatement. Not only is time with our kids strained, but time for educators to plan and collaborate for meaningful opportunities falls by the wayside. How does this affect the evolution of 21st century K-12 education?

Allow me to be anecdotal:

In the Summer of 2015, a friend and I decided to buy tickets to Europe. With only a backpack on our backs, we arrived in London and had 30 days to catch our plane home from Madrid. With multiple countries and even more cities in between us, only a few days per country (and even less per city) were what time allotted us. This forced us to choose between authentic opportunities, and though it was an incredible journey, only the surface was covered. We came back from that trip more worldly and cultured than we were before, and it sprang a new love of venturing around the world. However, what would have happened if we had time to dig deeper into each country? What would we have learned or become? What if we had more time and opportunities to connect with people who could have shown us experiences we did not know existed in Europe?

This is one big metaphor for teaching, if you didn't notice. Teachers only have 9 months to cover skills, transfer knowledge, inspire the souls of kids, assess the application of these skills, and provide opportunities for experiences, growth, and success at differentiated levels per child. With the world outside of education consistently evolving in expectations of skills, how can the education system, practices, content, etc. stay relevant? Furthermore, how can educators continue to work toward relevant expectations without more time?

Initiative Fatigue: Bleeding Out Resources

"Initiative fatigue" is an intriguing concept. Either educators are being given an abundance of practices and initiatives to implement without equally additional time and resources to be successful, or educators are unwilling to change their practices. Though the latter may not be entirely true, both are a part of the mix. They are the effect of a lack of support, guidance, and time. They are the effect of an abundance of unexplained, made meaningless, expectations. Each component affects another. It is systemic. What needs to be considered are the remnants left over from these effects. 

The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought people from far and wide together for one purpose: to capture hope and opportunity in the form of gold. These shimmers of hope and opportunity challenged people to take the risk of giving up their money, homes, and property to acquire this rare, valuable mineral. In the end, a new world was born, cultures were shook, gold became harder to find due to the abundance of mining, and an entire landscape was destroyed. Instead of utilizing the land and gold in strategic ways to continue to create opportunities without causing destruction and utter depletion, the exact opposite happened. This short trend bled out. 

This is seen in education with initiatives, programs, practices, and strategies. The phrase, "The pendulum swings" is well known amongst teachers. This is not entirely due to a reluctance of trying new things, but rather due to the idea that approaches in teaching tend to move back and forth instead of forward with innovation. This bleeds out the resource teachers need the most: time. 

Time cannot be made. It can only be found at the sacrifice of something else. Therefore, the more being asked of educators depletes the amount of time and energy they have left. What are the remnants left over from taking more and more of educator's time and energy? How do we create time for educators so we do not deplete the quality of our education system? What can be sacrificed in order to add the quality of education that is created by time and energy?

Does Time for Teacher Collaboration= Quality Teacher Collaboration?

Professional development is good. Relevant professional development is better. Quality is better than quantity, indeed. However, what happens when educators have a quantity of learners and not enough quality time? It is true that every year comes with a new group of clients to which educators have to differentiate their lessons to. One group that has potential to stay consistent, though, is the team of teachers they work with. Autonomy within an educator's practice and collaboration with their peers can be a positive thing.

There are many insightful cautions in Hansen’s treatment of collaboration, and though we should worry about ineffective and wasteful forms of collaboration, for our purposes we need to realize that social engagement in the service of something important is the sine qua non of effective organizations. So what does good collaboration look like?
— Fullan, 2011, pp. 90-91

If effectiveness considers social engagement and relationship building amongst a group, then trust must be given back to educators in the form of autonomy based on these elements of a collaborative culture:

1. Focus: Set a small number of core goals.
2. Form a guiding coalition.
3. Aim for collective capacity building.
4. Work on individual capacity building.
5. Reap the benefits of collaborative competition.
— Fullan,2011, p. 91

Collaboration at its Finest

If more time for autonomy is what is valued amongst educators, more often than not there is a purpose behind why. There is natural motivation to continually refine teaching practices. The resources needed (time and energy) are not always available. However, if they were, what would that look like? Accountability needs to stay persistent in order to continually evolve the education system and move it forward rather than back and forth. 

Holding educators to their best performances and abilities consistently should not only come from supervisors, but from fellow peers. Morale must be boosted, motivations must be noticed, and resources must be given. Schools should nurture a culture of learners through opportunities to network inside and outside of their district. Schools should be able to partner, taking an altruistic approach between each other as they face similar experiences. Administrators and educators would benefit from new perspectives. 

Theories are always easier than practices. However, having conversations regarding how teachers collaborate with one another and what opportunities they are given to do so in a meaningful way is key. 

Recommended Text


Danielson, C. (2015). Helping educators overcome 'initiative fatigue'. Retrieved from

Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

History. (2017). The gold rush of 1849. Retrieved from

Jenkins, L. (2012). Speaking out: Stop the pendulum. Principal. Retrieved from