The Role of Willingness in a Collaborative HIgh School Classroom

Collaboration is the ““willingness to grant authority to peers, courage to accept the authority granted to oneself by peers, and skill in the craft of interdependence.” ~ Kenneth Brufee

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a Criminal Minds fan-freak. I watch the series over and over, and it was only yesterday that I realized what it is that I really like about it. It’s not just that the team “gets the bad guy” (Un-sub for those in the know) that I find so satisfying—it’s also how they find the perpetrator(s).

The Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) from this show is the perfect collaborative team. 

They each have strengths and weaknesses, which they purposefully use towards resolving the crime. For example, Dr. Reid does his best work in geographical analysis, whereas Morgan and Prentiss are best at working the crime scene. The team members bounce everything off of each other, gathering and synthesizing new information, creating and revising the victimology or the “Profile” as they go.

What really stands out is how they present their thinking to each other. Often, their points are concepts that everyone on the team already knows, but are nonetheless verbally presented, and while I realize that the script-writers do this for the sake of the viewer (who most likely does NOT know the information), the result is a powerful exercise in willingness to grant and accept authority between team members. I want this for my students. But what do I need to do to be sure I'm modelling it? 

While we may be all set in accepting authority from our students, do we have the capacity for granting it to them? Can we-- or should we--perceive them as peers of a sort, at least to the extent of the unit or lesson being undertaken? How would that impact their learning and ability to authentically collaborate?

The concept of shared authority is an important one as it speaks directly to a perception of power or powerlessness. Teachers, by their role, find themselves in a relatively powerful role. However, in a truly collaborative environment, everyone has a voice, and in the act of voicing, they learn and become aware of others’ perceptions.

We can’t expect students to authentically collaborate until we ourselves can willingly do so with them. It really is the only way because we are the ones who (hopefully) have a grasp on what collaboration truly is.

We know that collaboration is different from cooperation. Collaboration does not demand consensus or even, necessarily, an accomplishment (Daniels & Walker, 2001).  It has less to do with the structure of the interaction and more to do with a philosophy of interaction (Pantiz, 1997). That’s where willingness falls into play. The willingness to be wrong or right without fear. The willingness to share without fear and hold one’s self up to the judgment of others.

That is what the BAU has. They work from their disagreements, demand reasoning from each other, and hold each other equally accountable. It requires so much more from a student to be collaborative than to be cooperative. It is an equality of being that compels them to be willing to understand themselves and each other.

Are we willing to do that? 

Brufee, K. A. (1999). Collaborative learning: Higher education, interdependence, and the authority of knowledge. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Daniels, S. E., & Walker, G. B. (2001).  The basics of collaborative learning.   Retrieved July 23, 2013 from http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/comm440-540/CL2pager.htm

Panitz, T. (1997, Winter). Collaborative versus cooperative learning: Comparing the two definitions helps us understand the nature of interactive learning. Cooperative Learning and College Teaching, 8(2),  1-15. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from http://pirun.ku.ac.th/~btun/pdf/coop_collab.pdf

Mindy and some of her former students wrote Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Creating the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers--a philosophy, method, and timely application of strategies that span the school year. A collaborative (!) effort from all over the globe, the dialogue between this teacher and her former students presents both the wholeness of teaching and a model of how to build rapport, engage high school students in their experience, and enrich learning at the secondary level of education.

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