Collaboration – It All Starts With Mindset

This is the first part of a series of blog posts where I will focus on collaboration.  We will start with the proper mindset to begin and then we will look at the tools and techniques we can use to improve the collaboration that takes place in, and out of, our classrooms.


Collaboration, besides being one of the 4Cs of 21st century learning, is not always something we focus on in the classroom.  We often times will assign group projects or assignments and assume that students know how to collaborate, and then punish them if they do not by deducting points. We, as teachers, also fail sometimes to collaborate effectively ourselves, instead staying locked up in our own classrooms and keeping others away.  Neither of these are conducive to student, and teacher, learning.  


If we want our students to be able to collaborate effectively, something that will help them be successful beyond school, then we need to make sure we are effectively modeling collaboration in our own work with others.  As I keep saying, we can’t expect it if we don’t teach it.  We also can’t expect it if we don’t model it.  And remember, just telling students how to collaborate will not lead to effective collaboration, never has and never will.  We need to model effective collaboration and create authentic learning experiences where they can collaborate on a common goal, while we provide feedback and assistance throughout the learning process.


When I am talking about collaboration, there are three kinds of collaboration that I am talking about.

  • Student – Student collaboration
  • Student – Teacher collaboration
  • Teacher – Teacher collaboration


All of these areas are very important because we need to be modeling effective collaboration (Teacher-Teacher) in order for students to be able to learn how to collaborate (Student-Student).  While students are collaborating, we need to be able to provide feedback and assistance (Student-Teacher) in order to ensure that they are learning throughout the process.


In order for any of these collaborations to be successful, we have to ensure we have the proper mindset.  A fixed mindset will derail any collaboration work as those with a fixed mindset tend to think they set and won’t be open to being vulnerable and open with others.  A growth mindset is needed for true collaboration to happen as we must always be learning and we need to be open to others being more knowledgeable than us, no matter how much experience they have.  I have seen so many teachers who are worried about having others view their work that they avoid working with others.  They become self-conscious and scared of any shortcomings they have, not thinking they can use the help of others to grow in those areas.  In order for collaboration to be successful, we have to remember that we are all learners and we can call grow and improve.  


Mindsets also affect the work we do with students and the work that the students themselves do.  By having a growth mindset, we can focus on how all students can improve.  Those with a fixed mindset tend to look at students who are struggling as either lazy or too far gone to help.  They may also look at those students who are excelling as knowing how to do everything, not focusing on how we all can learn and grow. Having a growth mindset means that we can look at the feedback and assistance we give to students in a way that is focused on how they can improve, not just where they are at.  If our feedback is geared towards the mindset of growth, then the students will be able to see this and they themselves should continue to grow.  If the feedback we give to students consists of only grades and final scores, they will view their learning as a one and done situation, where grades tell them what they are and not how they can improve.  An F is not a motivator to learn and will not help a struggling learner to know how to improve.
I would highly suggest reading Mindsets by Carol Dweck as a way to start ensuring you are in a growth mindset.  Working through the idea of mindsets with others will help begin the collaboration process that can help us all improve.  Teaching well is too difficult of a job to do alone, we can be so much better through collaborating with others and we need to make sure our students are prepared to enter a world where they will be expected to collaborate with others who may be a very long distance away from them.

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