Collaboration and the Community of Leaders

By Charles S. Serns

A school administration is faced with a swirl of expectations that run the gamut of leadership and managerial responsibilities. The ever growing complexity of educating young people can almost numb a person to the task of fostering a superb teaching and learning environment. Couple the demands of the role with the rush to restructure and reinvent the school environment and one can easily see that a site administrator would only appear foolish if the opportunity to collaborate was not utilized to its fullest extent. Gone are the days of the principal as the sole source of authority on instruction, curriculum, staff development, and school governance. Staring us squarely in the face is the redefinition of professional growth, empowerment, and decision making through the use of collegiality and collaboration.

The goal of any improvement process in the schools should be improved through student learning. All other aspects of a school should support that goal. As a site leader, the principal must make sure that intent of the school is clear to all. The leader must give meaning to the mutually agreed upon vision. The leader must trust the collective wisdom of the teachers. It takes collaboration to have these things happen. The leader must be willing to collaborate to have collaboration happen. This requires a role redefinition for many principals. It will also require an understanding and commitment to collaboration beyond rhetoric. The bounty of collaborative efforts can truly be wonderful.

Clearly we are living in a world that demands mutual dependence. We see this in environmental issues, business affairs, politcal decisions and personal growth. In education the emphasis on cooperative learning, mentorship, apprenticeship, peer tutoring, family plans, RE: Learning, learning styles, equity issues, and improved understanding of developmentally appropriate instruction demand the skill of working together for a common goal. This emphasis provides the perfect medium for collaboration.


Collaboration has a synergistic power. We are smarter together than we are apart. The power of collaboration can be seen in self renewal, staff development, shared inquiry, community building, and practical application of theory. All of these are crucial. The elements comprise an array of leadership needs that would be impossible for a site administrator to deal with effectively alone all educational practitioners must take part in the process.

Self renewal is a tremendous benefit of collaboration. It has the potential to rekindle the zest and joy that can be so easily bruised in the veteran teacher. Self renewal can energize the beginning teacher by easing the isolation and loneliness of teaching and by increasing best practices. The renewal process allows the university professor to examine effective teaching techniques of the practitioner as well as to observe content development in the schools. The renewal of self is like opening a door both allows one to see more clearly the inner self and it allows one to see the context of endeavor in new ways. It helps to develop and articulate a personal philosophical stance and gain clarity of vision and purpose. All of these actions empower the participants.

The staff development aspect of collaboration has untold value for the professional growth of teachers. The most powerful aspect is that teachers and professors do indeed become learners. The power of working together to seek common understanding allows teachers to better their craft and professors to refine their practice. The collaborative model recognizes and celebrates each person s expertise. Teachers, working with other teachers, truly do have the answers to improve instruction.

Shared inquiry in a collaborative setting allows for a dialogue focused on learning as a continuous process. The most proficient teachers know that their work is never quite done... in fact more questions arise than do answers. Shared inquiry is a means to frame both the questions and the answers in ways that make sense for both students and teachers. Shared inquiry is the process that personalizes the curriculum development process and adds dimension to content. Shared inquiry allows the professor to reconceptualize the core of his or her expertise so that all learners may have access to the importance of the knowledge. If all parties come to the process with an open mind and the willingness to learn, the result can have tremendous power to shape insight and discourse.

Collaboration has broken down the lines of difference between learning institutions. This has allowed for the building of a community which focuses on effective instruction and effective transmission of knowledge. The building of community is so important. Collaboration, and all of the social implications that go along with it, allows people to develop a process to capitalize on expertise, solve problems, create and celebrate understandings, explore possibilities and share what is known. A teacher or a professor going through this process is part of a bigger whole which is supportive and resource rich.

Collaboration as Integration

There is continued dissonance between the theoretical insights often associated with the university and the reality of the classroom. The two worlds often do not understand each other but, at the same time, have a dependence upon one another. Teachers typically are not in an environment in which the organization values reflection. Professors often don t know the rigors of facing up to 160 students daily. Teachers are expected to change and do more, yet have little opportunity to internalize the change and do things with more wisdom. Professors have the wealth of their research and extensive knowledge yet seldom have the opportunity to utilize these resources with other educators in actual learning settings beyond the university. Collaboration gives opportunity to bring harmony to theory and practice. This harmony addresses the instructor s desire to continuously improve and the theoretician s desire to apply research. This meld of approaches results in both parties having an increased appreciation of each other s expertise, situation and commitment to learning.

Collaboration is a means to connect the spectrum of educational endeavor. The roles of teacher and professor develop into the role of learner. In essence, it allows for continuous learning and for continued professional growth. Collaboration also sets up a sense of continued obligation between the teaching community and the teaching profession. This obligation is manifested in both the desire to improve student outcomes and the desire to expand the application of content. The obligation actually empowers the teacher with an expanded knowledge base and improved instructional capacity. The obligation also develops the professor s sense of the interconnected nature of knowledge which is the conceptual goal of the university.

An important aspect of collaboration is a support group that is established as a result of the process. The group serves as an extended network which can stay in touch. The common experience, shared vocabulary and personal connection links people together. The group becomes a resource for analysis, refinement for technique and quick feedback. This group also takes on new leadership roles because of its unique ability to construct meaning and develop instructional methodology. These new leadership roles support the site administrator by expanding the use of constant instructional improvement and professional development.

The Present Task

Some site administrators and professors may see pitfalls in collaboration. The pitfalls are actually illusions used by those who are afraid to give up control or power. There are those who do not know how or do not care to work together. Collaboration requires a redefinition and redistribution of leadership. The leader must become a acilitator of the process rather than the director. The leader must establish an environment where inquiry replaces prescription. The leader must be honest and admit that it is impossible to know how to address all the complex issues of a contemporary school setting. The leader must develop a collegial, rather than a disenfranchised, environment. Finally, the leader must realize working together is process oriented. It is the process that enables learners to internalize and apply concepts. Collaboration builds a community of learners which, in turn, develops an even larger community of learners including students with their enhanced understanding of the world.

Back to Table of Contents of the Fall 1993 Issue of On Common Ground

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