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close this bookTeacher Training: a Reference Manual (Peace Corps, 1986, 176 p.)
close this folderChapter 3 collaboration
close this folderCollaboration skills
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOrganization
View the documentCommunication
View the documentFeedback/ critiquing
View the documentWorking in groups
View the documentLeadership
View the documentNetworking


Collaboration does not just happen; it occurs as a result of much hard work, risk-taking, research, more hard work, and patience. Because of the many facets of collaboration, many skills must be learned in order to work successfully with others, especially in the areas of organization, communication, working in groups, feedback and leadership.


While the need for collaboration might be self-evident, the means by which it is achieved is not. An idea alone is not enough; to transform an idea into reality requires a coordinated effort which involves defining the objective, determining the availability of resources, formulating and monitoring a plan of action.

1. Define the objective. Identifying an area of need is easy; deciding what to do about it is more difficult. Say, for example, students at one level do not have workbooks to accompany in-class textbooks. The need might be thus stated: students need workbooks. The first question you should ask is: Is this truly a need? By checking with colleagues and students you can determine if others perceive this AS A need that deserves attention. If the need is felt by others you will be ready to decide what to do about it. A statement of the problem above implies a base objective: workbooks must be made available to students who need them. But what do you want to do about it? Write your own book? Establish A book-writing team? Request books and/or funds from the government? Each idea suggests another question: Why do you want to do it? If the reason is because you feel a need for the standardization of learning materials, then a standardized workbook must be obtained. If on the other hand, the reason is to help students understand their in-class textbook assignments, perhaps something other than a workbook might suffice, like special study sessions, supplementary lessons, or tutoring. In other words, it is important to provide a rationale as a type of "litmus test' for all possible alternatives before the objective is finally defined.

2. Determine what your resources are. The best litmus test in any collaborative effort will always be the opinions of other people. By asking involving colleagues in the process of defining problems and possible solutions, the chances of addressing a clearly felt need are greater; participation will also increase a hundred fold, as will the project's chance of success. Hence, instead of asking: How can I do this? the question should be recast: Who can help me do this? In order to be sure that ale potential collaborators have been considered, it is wise to brainstorm a list of potential resource people. The key here is to defer judgement; some names might not seem immediately relevant, but in the process of generating such lists, one name might suggest another, or the objective might change altogether. After generating a list of potential collaborators, it is time to determine who can do what. A merchant probably will not want to talk about the Weimar Republic, but he would probably wax eloquent on the subject of buying and selling produce --an excellent application of basic mathematics. It is also all too easy to assume that the local carpenter probably knows nothing about eastern religions. This may be true, but until he is asked, who knows? It is better to flatter someone by assuming they know a lot than to Lose the benefit of their expertise by assuming they know nothing. Once potential collaborators and duties have been determined, it is necessary to discover what material and financial resources are available. This is the beginning of the research stage, at which all relevant power structures and potential funding agents are identified and analyzed from the local to the national level. The overriding assumption should be that all persons, groups and official agencies have access to some material and financial resources, so it is important that all relevant parties be included in the research process: colleagues, school administrators, ministry officials, parents' groups, civic groups, subject committees, educational institutes, etc. (See the section on Comparing Educational Systems for more information on this approach.)

3. Develop a plan of action. Now that you have a list of human, material and financial resources, a plan of action must be devised to identify the whos, whats, whens, and wheres. This can be done most easily on a step-by-step basis. For example, Step 1 for the workbook project cited above might be "soliciting help": Over the next month (when), John and I (who) will ask 10 people from our school (where) if they are interested in co-authoring a workbook (what). While developing a plan of action, it is advisable to identify a key resource person who is knowledgeable in the field. This can help not only to keep the process moving forward, but also to avoid some of the difficulties that inevitably arise for sheer lack of experience. Finally, once a plan of action has been drafted, create a detailed timeline of activities. This will serve not only as a criterion against which you measure your progress, but also will help in additional planning (for example, when certain materials should arrive, when to arrange for meetings, etc.).

4. Monitor the implementation. The biggest enemy of successful collaboration is low morale. It is quite common to get discouraged when plans get scuttled, when people do not respond favorably, or when nothing seems to be working. If you keep lots of written notes, it is possible to take a break, then return to the task of assessing who is appropriate for what. Keeping written notes also provides a means by which you can build in an evaluation system. Using your plan of action as a reference, decide what criteria you will use to determine the success of your project. Should it be accomplished in a month? A year? Should it result in improved student responsiveness in class? In improved grades? Specific indicators should be established so your progress can be evaluated both during and after the project. If some criteria are not met, a decision must be made either to change the way in which the project is being pursued, or change the criteria. In other words, you might want to revise the project and/or the project criteria as needed. If original plans prove to be unrealistic, it is better to revise expectations than to become discouraged that all problems were not foreseeable or that the project turned out to be bigger or more difficult than planned.


1. Ask the teachers in your school: "If you could do anything to improve educational standards at your school, what would it be? What efforts have been made in the past to make this happen? Who would know?"

2. Make a list of five colleagues, five administrators, and five community members who might be able to and/or interested in working for the improvement mentioned in activity #1.


The process of communication is twofold: sending and receiving information. In particular, verbal communication involves talking and listening. When talking, care must be taken to:

° Be as clear and concise as possible.
° Refrain from being offensive.
° Consider the listener's position.
° Be aware of assumptions made in statements.
° Refrain from talking too much.

Active engagement in listening is called active listening for which three considerations are paramount: comprehension, acceptance and processing. In order to listen actively, you must:

° Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal messages.
° Concentrate on what the other person is saying, not on what you want to say next.
° To the best of your ability, refrain from judgement.
° Try to empathize with both verbal and body language.
° Ask questions to show interest or for clarification.
° Paraphrase and/or summarize.

Feedback/ critiquing

The processing aspect of listening can be redefined as feedback and is such an important skill that it warrants special consideration here. Briefly, feedback is a communication to a person (or group) which gives that person information about how he/she affects others. In order to be effective and fair, feedback must be objective, well-timed and validated. To that end, feedback must be:

° Descriptive rather than evaluative. By describing one's own reaction, it leaves the individual free to use it or to use it as he/she sees fit. By avoiding evaluative language, it reduces the need for the individual to react defensively.

° Specific rather than general. To be told that one is "dominating" will probably not be as useful as to be told that "just now when we were deciding the issue you did not listen to what others said and I felt forced to accept your arguments or face attack from you."

° Take into account the needs of both the receiver and giver of feedback. Feedback can be destructive when it serves only our own needs and fails to consider the needs of the person on the receiving end.

° Directed toward behavior which the receiver can do something about. Frustration is only increased when a person is reminded of some shortcoming over which he/she has no control.

° Solicited rather than imposed. Feedback is most useful when the receiver himself has formulated the kind of question which those observing him/her can answer.

° Well-timed. In general, feedback is most useful at the earliest opportunity after the given behavior, depending on the person's readiness to hear it, support available from others, etc.

° Checked to insure clear communication. One way of doing this is to have the receiver try to rephrase the feedback he/she has received to see if it corresponds to what the sender had in mind.

Just as feedback skills can facilitate constructive interpersonal communication, so can critiquing skills foster constructive evaluation of A lesson. In addition to the feedback skills mentioned above, a good critiquer should:

° Let the person being critiqued give a self-critique first. More often than not, he/she will already know their areas of strength and weakness. By letting him/her self-critique first, egos go unbruised and much of your job is already done.

° Start with something positive. It is much easier and more encouraging to build on a strength than to eliminate a weakness. Starting with something positive also decreases the tendency toward defensiveness.

° Keep negative critiques (or criticism) to a minimum . Most people can handle one or two critiques; any more than that is not only discouraging but difficult to act on. Change comes slowly.

° Accompany each criticism with one or two suggestions for improvement. If the critiquer can find blame but cannot recommend something better, the person being critiqued is unfairly faced with two difficult tasks: abandoning an old technique and creating a better one.

° Each criticism should be accompanied by at least one example. It is not very helpful if the critiquer says, "At one point, your visual aid was inappropriate" if he/she cannot remember what it was.

° If possible, end on a positive note. The person being critiqued will make the greatest progress if he/she believes it is possible. It is therefore important not to demoralize, but to encourage.


1. What do you see as the biggest difference between giving feedback and critiquing?

2. What do you feel are your greatest areas of strength in giving feedback and critiquing? Your greatest areas of weakness ?

Working in groups

To prepare for working in groups, a large part of a successful collaboration strategy, the teacher should understand the basic principles of group dynamics and the various functions group members perform. When working in groups, it is important to maintain a baler between process and task functions.

Process functions include:

° ENCOURAGING: being friendly, warm, responsive to others, praising others and their ideas, agreeing with the accepting the contributions of others.

° MEDIATING: harmonizing, conciliating differences in points of view, making compromises.

° RELIEVING TENSION: draining off negative feeling by jesting or throwing oil on troubled waters, diverting attention from unpleasant to pleasant matters.

° FOLLOWING: going along with the group, somewhat passively accepting the ideas of others, serving as an audience during group discussion, being a good listener.

° STANDARD SETTING: expressing standards for the group to use in choosing its subject matter or procedures, rules of conduct, ethical values.

° GATE KEEPING: trying to make it possible for another member to make a contribution by saying, "We haven't heard from Karamo yet," or suggesting limited talking time for everyone so that all will have a chance to be heard.

Task functions include:

° INITIATING: suggesting new ideas or a changed way of looking at the group problem or goal, proposing new activities.

° INFORMATION SEEKING: asking for relevant facts or authoritative information.

° INFORMATION GIVING: providing relevant facts or authoritative information or relating personal experience pertinently to the group task.

° OPINION GIVING: stating a pertinent belief or opinion about something the group is considering.

° CLARIFYING: probing for meaning and understanding, restating something the group is considering.

° ELABORATING: building on a previous comment, enlarging on it, giving examples.

° COORDINATING: Showing or clarifying the relationships among various ideas, trying to pull ideas and suggestions together.

° ORIENTING: defining the progress of the discussion in terms of the group's goals, raising questions about the direction the discussion is taking.

° TESTING: checking with the group to see if it is ready to make a decision or to take some action.

° SUMMARIZING: reviewing the content of the past discussion.

These functions are not needed equally at all times by a group. Indeed, if a given function is performed inappropriately, it may interfere with the group's operation -- as when some jester relieves group tension just when the tension is about to result in some real action. But often, when a group is not getting along as it should, a diagnosis of the problem will probably indicate that nobody is performing one of the functions listed above that is needed at that moment to move the group ahead.


1. When you work in groups, do you find yourself playing one role more than any other? Which one(s)?

2. How does your role affect the dynamics of the group?

3. Do you ever wish you could stop playing a particular role or start playing another one? How can you make this happen?


Just as group dynamics are the results of process and task functions, so too are authority and leadership. The balancing of concern for task, or production, and concern for people may help to distinguish the authority figure or leader from other members of the group, but in reality these are simply another dimension of group membership.

The leader performs process and task functions like other members of a group. The biggest difference between leader and group member tends to be one of vision and the ability to keep the group on task in order to reach this vision. The role of "leader" often emerges from within the group and is characterized by the following functions:

° Managing anxiety and tension
° Managing the creative process
° Challenging the group
° Keeping the group on task
° Leading the group towards a particular vision

In other words, a good leader influences a group, but does not wield authoritarian power: the more a leader can encourage equal participation, the better 8 leader he/she is.

An authority figure is often imposed from without or established by consensus from within. The functions most often associated with this role are:

° Establishing lines of authority
° Keeping communications open
° Managing time and space
° "Protecting" the group

It is the task of the skillful collaborator to recognize the distinctions between these two roles and the times, within group development, that these roles are most crucial. In the earlier stages of group development, members tend to depend on authority figures quite heavily. It may be possible, after a time, to apportion the tasks associated with the authority figure to other members of the group and step back into the more guiding role of the leader. As group members feel more comfortable with their roles and the tasks at hand, they will become less dependent on any single individual (e.g. the leader) and more able to work democratically. Thus, the collaborator may need to accept the responsibility for authority or leadership in the early stages of group development, but the ultimate goal of any collaborative venture should be to share more and more of the responsibility and decision-making power with other group members.


Think of a time when you worked in a group, was there a noticeable leader? List the things that you think made him or her a good leader.


Through collaboration, interpersonal relationships can evolve into a working group which can, in turn, collaborate with other groups. This process, often called networking, is at once an ideal and essential outcome of collaboration.

The metaphor of the net is apt. By itself, a strand of twine can do little more than bind, attach, or draw. In interlocking connection with 176 other strands of twine, however, it becomes capable of catching and holding things which might otherwise slip by.

By themselves, people can do little more than survive, put in an honest day's work, and dream. It is only when we "connect" with others that we are able to combine our physical and creative energies into more productive and worthwhile endeavors. The greatest legacy a development worker can leave is a network of interdependent groups of host country nationals actively engaged in the ongoing process of educational development. By collaborating with others, we can catch more fish than we ever dreamed possible -- enough, perhaps, to eat for a lifetime. Ambitious? Certainly. Yet, in the end, it is a worthwhile goal.