Collaboration – ‘I am because we are’

Collaboration – ‘I am because we are’

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Throughout 10 weeks of research, the collaborative nature of teaching has been evident in many of the schools. At the heart of being collaborative is the belief that we are better together than we are on our own. In South Africa there is a saying: Ubuntu or ‘I am because we are’ – the idea that humans cannot exist in isolation, we cannot be without each other, but rather depend on connection, community and – I would add – collaboration.

Teachers at Whitney Street starting the school day in Blenheim, New Zealand

Practically speaking, collaborative schools have been shown to be participatory; they welcome contribution, dialogue, group work, sharing, teamwork, etc. Staff are encouraged to bring ideas, thoughts and knowledge, with the understanding that – as a result of sharing – a better, richer, fuller education can be provided for every child. They rights of children are valued and practiced.

  • In the infant toddler centres (0 to 3 year olds) and pre-schools (3 to 6 year olds) at Reggio Emilia, teachers work in pairs in one class, and then as part of a wider staff team to reflect, think and design projects. Teachers are referred to as ‘participants’ in the learning process – they grow and are being formed together, as they participate and encounter the different points of view, of adults and children
  • At the Blue School in Lower Manhattan, New York, children (from 2 to 13 years of age) are taught by teachers who work collaboratively in pairs with a class. The school’s leadership model collaboration by investing in teachers through facilitating joint reflection and planning meetings.
  • The Children’s Zone in Harlem has developed a ‘pipeline of best practice’ with programs that operate from birth right the way through to college; their leaders acknowledge that for this to be possible, a culture needs to be cultivated that is rooted in passion, accountability, leadership and teamwork.
  • The Oasis Academy, with 49 schools across the UK for children ranging from 3 to 16 year olds, value collaboration; they say ‘we’ are stronger together means sharing knowledge, mutual respect, forgiveness, believing the best in and for the other – all of which develop understanding and tolerance.
  • At the Malachim Preschool in Israel’s capital Tel Aviv-Yafo, three teachers work together with a class of children – they plan together, share the same space and have responsibility for the class.
  • Classrooms for 5 to 13 year olds at Richmond View School in Blenheim, New Zealand, are physically connected; an approach which encourages teachers to work in small teams for certain activities. Adults work as team within the classrooms; a class might have 4 adults – a teacher, two teaching aids and a parent helper, working together to facilitate math teaching and activities for varying abilities.
  • In the ‘Modern Learning Environments’ at Whitney Street – once again in in Blenheim, New Zealand – three teachers plan and work together to facilitate class teaching and small group work
  • At Grovetown School a ‘Modern Learning Environment’ for 5 to 11 year olds in New Zealand, two teachers share a space working with the five and six year olds, playing to one anothers strengths and working together to seek solutions to any challenging situations that might arise at any given time.
  • The staff team at Awhi Whanau Early Childhood Centre, a bi-lingual Maori school for children aged 6 months to five years in Auckland, on New Zealand’s North Island, work together as a team, sharing responsibility for the inside and outdoor spaces and constructing knowledge with the children.
  • Home-like environments have been intentionally created for children from 3 months to 5 years at the Mia Mia Child and Family Centre at the Institute for Childhood at the Macquarie University in Sydney. The staff work in teams of at least three people, providing high quality care and education.

The World Economic Forum (2017) recognises that children need to develop skills in co-operation and collaboration. If we are ever going to support South African children to develop these skills, then as adults we need to want to work with each other, we need to really value collaboration and to model how to do this well.

Collaboration works best when teachers value and respect the other, when people are not competing for power or status. Teachers within a collaborative context need to want to listen to each other, to be flexible and embrace change. We have seen that in order to create the kind of environment that encourages collaboration requires leaders who are intentional. There needs to be a shared understanding of the philosophy for teaching and learning with clear expectations in terms of how people will be required to work in teams.

Providing structures that support teachers that seek to work together, gives staff the opportunity to share what is working, as well as think / work through any challenges they face. Staff need to want to be part of a journey of creating a collaborative environment, being willing to try new things and work as a team towards the goal.

The overwhelming majority of schools visited during this research value the rights that every child has to inclusive and equitable quality education; one way we have witnessed schools achieving this is through teachers working collaboratively. By working together, valuing perspectives and ideas, finding joint solutions to problems it is our belief that we can provide a better education for the children in our care.