The Collaboration Contemplation


We are hearing so much about collaboration. We hear about all of the benefits, why we should do it, how it improves our practice and student achievement.  I have had wonderful success with amazing collaborations through inquiries, projects, conferences, leadership opportunities, and with students, parents an amazing colleagues! In this way, it has solved problems I have been facing in my practice and meeting my needs as a practitioner. But it has not always been this way. What happens when new collaborations cause problems, and don’t solve them? What are the ingredients and strategies that make it a success and improve the learning experience?

As educators, we collaborate each day by engaging in activities that can include calling parents, attending meetings, emailing, teaching with students, conferencing, coaching, using technology and social media, working with other teachers, and engaging in school and board-wide collaborative inquiries.

But when is collaboration not productive? Teachers are SO busy, and there is no question that collaboration is an important part of the job. But when does it stop solving our problems, and create new ones?

It is well known that a lot of other work must happen on a Teacher’s own time. All of the other work, ie., marking, report cards, ‘decorating & design of classroom’, planning the bulk of our lessons.

If the collaboration opportunity takes too much time, or if there are too many collaboration opportunities, or imposed collaboration activities, employees are forced to collaborate in ways that are not productive, then this adds to stress, frustration and more disengagement.

What conditions are conducive to collaboration flourishing, and what conditions are not?

 What are the reasons that we collaborate?

  • To build knowledge and skills
  • Build relationships for even better collaboration
  • To solve problems/issues that we are facing in our practice

Categories of collaboration activities: Those that are:

  1. a) necessary to help you solve the problems you face in your practice,
  2. b) something that you want because you are interested,
  3. c) just nice to have or
  4. d) imposed, or mandatory ie, school plan, principal etc.

Different norms and strategies will need to be in place depending upon whether the collaboration falls under a,b,d, or d.

I figure, that if  we can identify the ones that are necessary to improve our own practice, set good norms, organizational strategies, we can enhance our practice and be more energized and become a better practitioner.

How do we prioritize strategies for identifying the most pressing needs you have, ie., raising literacy scores, classroom management, classroom design, integrating numeracy? How do we keep up with increasing demands, or set limits?

We don’t have infinite resources for all of the collaboration that happens. We know that collaboration works, but how can we learn the difference between what is best for our situation and what is not – what will just tax us more? How can we ensure that our leaders are honouring this as well?

How do we handle taxing collaboration that does not help the needs we have in our classroom? What if we are made to teach a different grade, or collaborate with another teacher that we have difficulty with?

What is the fine line between engagement and disengagement in our collaborations?


Teacher-Librarians as Collaboration Leaders

The Teacher-Librarian can burn out with all of the collaboration opportunities, and needs. Likewise, can contribute to burn out from others if not buffering against other pressing learning needs.

TL’s are leaders who are not just responsible for creating and managing collaboration activities, but also managing the demands for collaboration to help other educators save their personal resources. In this sense, the is TL the catalyst for collaboration activities, but also the buffer against too many demands.

When and how will collaboration be the most valuable?

How do we harness it for your own needs to solve. Not just because there is another initiative to take on – but because it helps us solve the problems/issues/needs/wants that we have for our own classroom?

Final Thoughts:

More often than not, our systems are still set up to reward individuals, even though we are promoting collaboration. What are the ultimate implications of this? Further, what happens when we don’t see the fruits of our labours in a collaboration? What happens when we are forced to collaborate to ‘fix’ a serious situation? When responsibility of a leader gets downloaded to another teacher? What are the student learning implications?

Further, many of the collaborations happen from a lot of the same people. For instance, teachers who take on too many collaborative projects and initiatives that improve student learning, but then don’t get the recognition they need. Does collaboration in and of itself create more demands on those that demonstrate themselves to be capable and high efficiency collaborators. Does diverse work go unnoticed if taking on too much from different departments.

What about teachers who detest the thought of ‘collaboration?’ How can we help them find a reason, or recognize how to harness a collaborative relationship to meet a real need they have – not an imposed need? How can we build them up and help them feel valued for the contributions they do make.


‘Growth mindsets without boundaries can be detrimental to our well-being as educators and student achievement!’


We know that collaboration is essential, we know that sometimes it works very well, and other times it  can be detrimental. Professional autonomy is essential to deciding what helps and what doesn’t.

I am a very big fan of collaboration and have been fortunate enough to have experienced great gains from the collaborative process through amazing projects, inquiries and leadership opportunities. This truly fuels my passion for learning and teaching! But I have also felt the drain of being forced into collaborations that serve others needs. I believe that there is a lot we can learn and harness to make education and learning even better!

What are your thoughts on Collaboration? 


Deborah McCallum



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