Saturday, September 10, 2011

Educational Collaboration

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
- Henry Ford

Collaboration. Not cooperation, and certainly not coercion. Collaboration is what we long for on every level--within the classroom, from teacher to teacher, with the administration, and from the all-maligned government.

Often, coercion is the rule: THUS SAITH I, says the teacher-on-high, and the unruly students disobey. Or perhaps we shall call the students "bored" or "disengaged," which certainly more charitable and maybe more near to the truth. "We can't be measured; we rule the school; we'll break your ruler in metric bits." A CENTIMETER, says the teacher-on-high, as her broken ruler is laid by. But the unruly/vexed/bored/tired students, in practicing unruly-ness, learn unruly-ness. And thus our nation is ruled: immeasurable, we're measured by foot-long stick-in-the-muds who coerce in the workplace, in the communities, in our governmental rules.

Cooperation sometimes occurs. Interactions are sometimes synchronized in some way... teachers do sometimes, principles do something, parents do something, and so do the students. The students, more often then others, do not match expected outcomes: they are creative, or at least "original in their destructivity." The "thing" they summon is not always the "something" expected. But they live in an unanticipated world, crafting an unanticipate-able future. Cooperation--mere synchronicity--isn't enough. N* Sync is totally bye bye bye, while Mindless Behavior (a mentee's favorite band) is singing about the future -- hopefully, mindless behavior isn't our future.

But collaboration... that's the rub. Pixar models it for us: they have their own corporate university to train new and existing animators, BUT everyone who works for Pixar is invited to attend. That's right--janitors, marketing managers, chefs (think Ratatouille), EVERYONE. They interact together, collaborating by connecting disparate ideas in new and innovative ways, drawing on knowledge pools ranging from a mechanic to an artist to an advertising exec. And thusly their films are fabulous.

What if our schools were the same way? What if we worked across the curriculum to incorporate internet-saavy math with English assignments--so that students designed their own assignments for themselves and for next year's class? What if students actually felt involved in and responsible for their learning--and were rulers instead of unruly? Alan November talks about the difficulty in making this transition from ruler to faciliator for teachers, and from isolated standards of measurement to cross-cultural/disciplinary/anything for the administrators.

But let's be serious here: the kids are already doing it, pilfering information from here and there to make their own truth. Let's collaborate with them to find a truer truth, and to avoid a future of mindless behavior.


  1. I like how you outlined the differences in coercion, cooperation and collaboration. Pixar is a great example, and the end product is tangible in their movies.

    I think that the Internet, especially in its current incarnation as Web 2.0, provides the perfect groundwork for classroom collaboration. If anything, we are preparing our students for a world that operates more and more as an informational community than an authority. I think you hit upon a good teaching strategy here.

  2. Teachers as collaborators , and students as self-instructors, all within a well-reasoned, thoughtfully guided program that brings all learning together into a coherent whole. What a novel concept. Personally, I love the idea. But just like Ken Robinson points out, doesn't the shift to something like that require nothing short of a Revolution on the grandest scale? How do we do such a thing?

  3. I love that line, "let's collaborate to find a truer truth." Yes! Thank you for the example of Pixar. I did not know they ran their company the way they do. As Nathan asks, though, how does the Revolution happen? Any thoughts? I do see flashes of revolution here and there, but I recently said that until we Americans are completely unable to move or eat, we will continue to do things the way they are done. What do you think?

  4. I must agree that you have hit the nail on the head - collaboration is the start of a new educational revolution