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Collaborative Cultures

Updated January 11, 2022
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Collaborative Cultures essay

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Introduction

Effective change leaders cannot lead on their own. Whether at work, school, church, athletic team, friendship, or marriage, building collaborative cultures has always been a critical element of a thriving environment. A collaborative culture allows people to have their perspectives expanded upon by everyone else (Senge, 2010). When we think of effective leaders, we often think of someone who brought a group of individuals together to work collaboratively towards a vision. Building a collaborative culture requires strong leadership, communication, trust, and shared purpose. Fullan (2011) mentions “humans are wired to connect” and it is an essential role of the leader to put people in positions to connect and collaborate.

However, developing a collaborative culture is not easy. Connecting with others and building relationships of trust and mutuality with people who had little of either will be monumental in collaborating across boundaries (Senge, 2010). Fullan (2011) discusses developing a relationship first if you want to challenge people to change. Leaders must slow down and build relationships before building projects (Mortensen & Relin, 2009). Before leading, listening and learning must occur. Often with change comes disagreement, leaders must develop impressive empathy to reach those individuals opposing change (Fullan, 2011). When relationships are formed, connections are made, and people feel valued, change can occur with anyone, anywhere. It is pivotal to take the time to establish relationships to lay the foundation for the overall collaborative culture of an organization. A positive culture must be developed and maintained for lasting change to occur.

Collaboration Definitions

Senge (2010) talks about one person or one small group imposing their vision on others which prevents collaborating across boundaries. Deepened relationships lead to more in-depth, real conversations and the capacity to work collaboratively through challenging times. Senge states, “I think the powerful learning is that we have to allow time for people to really enter into each other’s lives, to walk in each other’s shoes a little bit, and to allow their hearts as well as their minds to open” (p.91). Building capacity to collaborate is hard work. It takes time, and a high level of commitment or previous bad habits will take over (Senge, 2010). Senge (2010) has found that building collaborative capacity rests on convening, listening, and nurturing shared commitment.

Fullan (2011) focuses on collaborative competition being the “yin and the yang” of successful change (p.90). He states collaboration is essential for success, and collaborative competition enters naturally if the proper conditions are in place: important goal, resolute leadership, empathy, ready-fire-aim, learning from the best in each other, and transparent data (Fullan, 2011). With these conditions in place, people push each to try and outdo one another. To effectively lead change, Fullan (2011) discusses appreciating collaboration and competition when it is “woven into the same phenomenon” (p. 97). Collaboration and competition are needed for ongoing success.

Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky (2009) discuss potential barriers to effective collaboration. They use the metaphor of a vegetable stew when describing collaboration.

“To make a good vegetable stew, you have to cook the ingredients just enough that they give up some of their original color and taste; otherwise, you’d have a pot of crunchy vegetables, not stew. But if you cook the vegetables too much, each of you them will lose so much of its distinctive qualities that you will end up with a pot of undifferentiated mush” (p.94).

When collaborating, stakeholders must be willing to share and learn from one another. There are times during collaboration when one must give something up, but it is essential that individuals do not lose their identity and perspective during the collaborative process. The individual aspects brought into a positive collaborative culture are what make a collaborative culture useful. According to Heifetz et al. (2009), loyalties must be acknowledged, and a positive collaborative culture established to avoid accusations of individuals sacrificing their distinctiveness in the interest of the collaborative whole.

Hallinger and Heck (2010) focus on longitudinal data supporting the view that collaborative leadership positively impacts growth in student learning indirectly through building the academic capacity in schools. “Collaborative leadership and school academic capacity are related to changes in student learning” (Hallinger & Heck, 2010, p. 658). The ability to employ longitudinal data to model collaborative relationships as they change over time is a necessary condition in empirical studies of school improvement.

Importance of Collaboration in the 21st Century

The ability to foster a collaborative culture has become increasingly essential for student, career, and life success. The goal of a collaborative culture is for people to be “collectively engaged in work that is also meaningful to them” (Fullan, 2011, p. 94). When a collaborative culture is established, it allows the opportunity to function with a purpose, sets high expectations, internal pressure and support are naturally applied to improve together continuously (Fullan, 2011).

It is essential that individuals feel empowered to perform at their highest level. Empowering an individual is a crucial role in leading in the 21st century. Empowerment creates a collaborative culture which promotes shared decision making. By developing relationships and establishing trust, collaborative cultures are primed to flourish through empowerment and shared decision making

Fullan (2001) states, “in today’s complex society, there has not been enough emphasis on skills development in concept formulation and communications, so it has become increasingly important for leaders to mobilize the collective capacity to challenge difficult circumstances” (p. 136). The need to control impedes efforts to build authentic teaching and learning communities within school districts. Instead of emphasizing control or maintaining power over others, all stakeholders assume responsibility for the success of the co-created vision or goal. (Padilla, 2009). “When this happens, innovation begets innovation, and genuine learning communities develop that are capable of realizing what may have seemed impossible before” (Senge, 2010, p. 76).

Research Findings and Conclusions

Waldren and McClesky (2010) studied many schools in the United States that continue to have teachers working in isolation and protecting their individual views. The limited success of these school improvement efforts led researchers to examine how change could be accomplished in schools to improve teaching practices and increase student achievement. A key finding relates to the critical role of collaboration in the school change process (Waldron and McClesky, 2010). If collaborative professional development is to be implemented successfully in a school, teachers must be willing to open their classroom doors and listen and learn from others. Support must also be provided to encourage the collaboration. This change begins with connecting and developing relationships with others.

According to Waldren and McCkesky (2010), when part of a school change initiative, research has revealed that a collaborative culture or community leads to higher levels of trust and respect among colleagues, improved professional satisfaction, improved instructional practices, and most importantly better outcomes for all students, from a school change maintained over time. To change school culture and create a more inclusive school, educators must question their beliefs about teaching and learning for students who struggle to learn and engage in a collaborative change process that results in new values, beliefs, norms, and preferred behaviors (Fullan, 2007).

Gruenert (2005) looked at combining student achievement and school culture instead of placing them at separate ends of the scale. “Rather than looking at student achievement and school culture on opposite ends of a scale, school leaders need to define the two as complementary, reciprocal, and convergent in nature” (Gruenert, 2005, p. 50). Gruenert (2005) found student achievement from a holistic standpoint, can be increased through understanding the culture of the school, staff members, and students, and making decisions to improve the culture to share a clear and defined mission and vision, implement regular collaboration between stakeholders and understand the connection between the school culture and the achievement. “Culture is defined by the guiding beliefs, assumptions, and expectations that are evident in the way a school operates” (Gruenert, 2005, p. 44).

Weiner and Higgins (2016) explored the relationship between professional teacher culture and student learning culture. “Student emotional engagement can be understood as student relatedness or connectedness to teachers and peer, including whether and to what degree students feel that teachers are supportive, responsive and caring” (Weiner & Higgins, 2016, p. 28). A collaborative culture can extend beyond just the teachers and can include the students as well to create a positive change. When teachers and students establish a positive culture of mutual trust, then overall student engagement is improved. “This research clearly illustrates that a school’s professional culture can positively impact teacher behavior to support change and student achievement” (Weiner & Higgins, 2016, p. 27).

Cranston (2016) focused on the importance of opening the door to learning. He found when groups of teachers can come together to share best practices and strategies, overall methods will improve, and students will benefit. “Professional learning has moved to the school, and the classroom and teachers are encouraged to share their work and their students’ work” (Cranston, 2016, p. 32). By providing professional development opportunities within the school, led by and for teachers, the culture for collaboration is established, and thus educators can take an active role in their learning, and this can then transfer to the students in a positive and meaningful way.

Application: My Leadership Approach

I have found in all situations I have encountered that establishing relationships is the key. Fullan (2011) discusses developing a relationship first if you want to challenge people to change. Leaders must slow down and build relationships before building projects (Mortensen & Relin, 2009). Before leading, listening and learning must occur. Often with change comes disagreement, leaders must develop impressive empathy to reach those individuals opposing change (Fullan, 2011). By forming relationships and making connections, people feel valued and change can occur with anyone, anywhere. It is pivotal to take the time to establish relationships to lay the foundation for the overall culture of an organization. A positive collaborative culture must be developed and maintained for lasting change to occur.

As I reflect on collaborative cultures and the research findings, I am encouraged in how I can apply this to the online learning program in my district. Up until this year, the school district offered their online courses through a third-party provider. The teacher of the online course was also provided through the third-party. In combination with a high financial external cost and the lack of rigor, accountability, and ownership for the online courses, it was decided to undergo a complete overhaul of the online program. The new goal of the online program was to invest internally with our high school teachers to create and facilitate online courses. However, this means there is a large group of teachers about to embark on something unfamiliar to them. If a positive, collaborate culture is not established with the online learning teachers, there will not be successful, lasting change.

As I mentioned in the introduction paragraph, when we think of effective leaders, we often think of someone who brought a group of individuals together to work collaboratively towards a vision. Building a collaborative culture requires strong leadership, communication, trust, and shared purpose. When working with online teachers, I must continue to develop relationships and connect with each of them. Through the connections, I can empathize and have compassion for everyone through their time of loss. The relationships will help me in establishing trust with each online teacher. As the relationships develop, it is essential I provide them with the “why” and a shared purpose of the online learning program.

Once all individuals understand the shared goal, we can collaborate towards that purpose. I have been focusing on being a keeper and communicator of the vision. When providing updates to the various stakeholders, I break down my update into three sections: where we are going, where we are, and what we still need to do. For effective change, I must pride myself on keeping the vision in front of the people to remind them where we are going. Communication is much more critical during implementation than before implementation (Fullan, 2011). By developing trust, frequent communication, and a shared purpose, a collaborative culture can be established to allow for a successful online learning environment for the students.

Summary

Leaders cannot succeed individually. Building a collaborative culture is a crucial element in a thriving environment. A collaborative culture allows people to have their perspectives expanded upon by everyone else (Senge, 2010). The most effective leaders have brought a group of individuals together to work collaboratively towards a vision. Building a collaborative culture requires strong leadership, communication, trust, and shared purpose. Fullan (2010) mentions “humans are wired to connect” and it is an essential role of the leader to put people in positions to connect and collaborate. Building a collaborative environment takes time and a high level of commitment, but the results are significant. “When this happens, innovation begets innovation, and genuine learning communities develop that are capable of realizing what may have seemed impossible before” (Senge, 2010, p. 76).

References

  1. Cranston, L. (2016). An open door to learning. Journal of Staff Development, 37(3), 32-37. Retrieved from: https://learningforward.org/publications/jsd/jsd-blog/jsd/2016/07/05/jsd-june-2016-fundamentals
  2. Hallinger, P., & Heck, R. H. (2010). Leadership for learning: Does collaborative leadership make a difference in school improvement? Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 38(6), 654–678.
  3. Heifetz, R., Linsky, M. & Grashow, A. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  4. Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  5. Fullan, M. (2007b). The new meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press.
  6. Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  7. Gruenert, S. (2005). Correlations of collaborative school culture on student achievement. National Association of Secondary School Principals, 89 (645), 43-55. Retrieved from http://ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/ login?url=https://search-proquestcom.ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/docview/216015928?
  8. Mortenson, G., & Relin, D. (2009). Three cups of tea. New York: Penguin Books.
  9. Padilla F. (2009). Collaborative education leadership in times of educational renewal: what every new teacher should know. Planning and Changing, 40 (3,4), 207-223.
  10. Senge, P, Smith, B., Kruschwitz, N., Laur, J. & Schley, S. (2010). The necessary revolution. New York, NY: Crown Business.
  11. Waldron, N., & McClesky, J. (2010). Establishing a collaborative school culture through comprehensive school reform. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 20 (1), 58-74.
  12. Weiner, J. M. & Higgins, M. C. (2016). Where the two shall meet: Exploring the relationship between teacher professional culture and student learning culture. Journal of Educational Change, 18, 21-48. Doi: 10.1007/s10833-016-9292-6
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