When I ask faculty, “What does collaboration look like to you?” I receive a variety of answers from giving documents to a colleague to brainstorming. These responses demonstrate to me an appreciation of collaboration skills, but they do not reveal a consistent agreement of what those skills look like. We say we value collaboration, yet what is our shared understanding of the word, and do we consistently practice it? With the goal of collectively creating meaningful learning experiences for our students, last year I concluded we needed a school-wide definition of the word collaboration.
Last October, I enrolled in a One Schoolhouse and Folio Collaborative class, “Creating a Culture of Collaboration.” For one of the assignments, I created an action plan to establish a school-wide definition of collaboration with behavioral norms. In the spirit of collaboration, I brought my idea to our department chairs. The chairs eagerly affirmed such work would continue to help them build effective teams. To inspire thought in an initial activity, I posted one of the class handouts, a list of behavioral norms from Elena Aguilar’s, The Art of Coaching Teams in our Collaboration Space on OneNote. In small groups, I asked chairs to identify five behaviors that spoke to them as a school-wide definition of collaboration. Each group marked their choices in the Collaboration Space so all of us could see the behaviors each group chose.
At our next meeting, I used a Folio Collaboration exercise requiring chairs to work individually. Each chair took a few minutes to review Aguilar’s list and defined what good collaboration looked like to them. Each chair shared their list and the reasoning behind their choices with a partner. Together, they identified three behaviors they both shared about effective collaboration and any area of disagreement. Next, each pair created a new list defining what good collaboration looks like. Each pair merged with another pair to form a quad and repeated the process until all the pairs merged into the entire group. We ended up condensing our list to six behaviors. In two additional meetings, we wordsmithed to make each behavior as concise as possible. Our process was efficient, and the result is well-organized and succinct: our six behaviors that define collaboration consist of only 53 words! The professional behaviors that define collaboration will be posted in our Faculty Policies and Procedures and shared with faculty during August in-service.
Chairs can now use the shared school-wide definition of collaboration as a foundation to define behaviors and norms for their own departments. Additionally, each grade level team can also use the definition to establish meeting norms. Chairs and I even shared this work during the hiring process with candidates this spring. We asked candidates what effective collaboration looks like to them and how they collaborate with a team.
With a shared definition of collaboration, we can now say not only do we value collaboration, but we can consistently demonstrate it. We have a faculty with a variety of superpowers they bring to their teams. No matter what interpersonal dynamics shift, no matter what crisis we encounter, our professional behaviors for Ursuline Collaboration now serve as a roadmap to collaborate in a way that keeps our students in clear focus, maintains effective teams, and helps us move beyond obstacles.
Here are the professional behaviors that we identified for our school. Professional Behaviors for Ursuline Collaboration:
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)