Do we actually, really, collaborate? Or do we just love the buzz word?

I attended an Edge Works workshop last weekend that was fabulous and I’d like to share something that came out of it for me. This is something I have been gently mulling over for a while but something one of the participants (sorry, I forgotten his name…) said resonated with me. This clever chappie talked about the difference between communication, consultation and collaboration.


“The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.” – Wikipedia.

I guess communication would be taking something someone knows and sticking it in someone else’s head.


“The action or process of formally consulting or discussing.” – Wikipedia.

Hmm… I thought the rule with definitions was that you couldn’t use the word its self in the definition? So in this scenario, there is more than one party involved in some sort of dialogue, but one is more powerful than the other. Perhaps this is what we do in schools when we want ‘everyone to get on board.’


“Working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals.” – Wikipedia.

Now this must be one of the most over used words in education at the moment! I’d like to unpack it further. I have come to think that we use the term ‘collaborate’ when we do anything together, which I suppose is pretty accurate usage but I think we can break it up.

Division of labor – Say we are planning a school trip… we will organise it together, but I will organise transport, you will organise activities etc. Not a silly use of time, right?

Team work and lower level collaboration/cooperation  – I think this is lots of the collaboration we do as teachers. We might plan lessons together, discuss things in staff meeting together, help each other organise assembly, share ideas and practical solutions etc…

High level collaboration – I think this is what we tend to do less of. To me this means:

  • Making sense of ideas together
  • Thinking together to create new meaning and new understandings
  • Pushing everyone’s thinking and practice forward…

This is backed up by a great little blog post about building collegiality in schools, by Robert Evans. Have a look here.

How many discussions in our schools are genuinely collegial? How deeply are we collaborating?


2 thoughts on “Do we actually, really, collaborate? Or do we just love the buzz word?

  1. This is a great question! I agree it is one of those words that is used so broadly it risks being diluted to some pale echo of itself. This post is prompting me to think more closely about exactly what collaboration consists of. I think I might start with the 21stC learning skills and see if that helps. Cheers 😉

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