George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Team Building and Collaboration: A Necessary Combination

September 26, 2006

Team building and collaboration are two of the most important components of an effective school. These are critical steps for any school working toward improvement.I have seen big initiatives, large grants, and schoolwide efforts that haven't achieved the results that were hoped for, and in some cases, the reason can be tied directly to a lack of buy-in and schoolwide collaboration.

On the other hand, I have seen some large-scale projects, as well as very small ones, in which collaboration was a key component, and when the key players actively built in a structure for collaboration, as opposed to just hoping or assuming it would happen, the project ran more smoothly.

I suggest that in most cases the reason school faculties, and district central offices, aren't collaborating is because a truly unified front has not been developed and acted on. Our general mode of operation is to do things the way we've always done them. For example, a science department, with its own budget, applies for a grant to provide professional development for science teachers. Mostly out of sheer habit, the only people involved in the grant planning, writing, and development are those in the immediate reach of the science department. Of course, this isn't an intentional effort to exclude others; it's a mind-set, a part of a culture in which we're pushed for time and overly busy.

Making a concerted effort to include others in all aspects of brainstorming, project planning, and writing, developing, and implementing projects, however, can only add to the chances of success and will yield a collaborative mind-set that continues beyond the life of a project. However, I don't think that's going to happen by wishing. It must be an agreed-on procedural issue from the bottom up and from the top down. Once we get into practice of thinking collaboratively, and concretely and procedurally working to make it happen, we change old habits.

When I work with schools and districts on team building, I have a specific chart I use for a reflection activity. I also encourage schools to print large poster-size copies of it, and I suggest to principals and school district leaders that they go so far as to mandate that all faculty actively use this kind of document. Once this becomes part of the general mind-set for planning, it encourages collaboration across the board and begins to render itself unnecessary.

What concrete efforts do you make to encourage collaboration beyond the superficial?

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