Collaboration, Cooperation and Competition

At times, education can become quite competitive as students undertake class tests, external and standardised testing or, as they vie for positions at university. Competition can lead to individuals taking a very insular approach to their learning as they worry whether they help the give others will benefit them at their own expense. For some, this competition can be fruitful and spur them on to work harder and learn more, but for many others this can have a detrimental effect on their learning.

Recently, I was introduced to the term “Ubuntu” – an African term that has been defined simply as ‘human kindness’. However, it has a much deeper and richer definition that encompasses connection, community and mutual caring for all. Its meaning is possibly best captured by the phrase “I am; because of who we all are”. At its heart is the concept that together, as community, we can be better than if we work on our own.

When applied to education and learning “I am; because of who we all are” is probably best understood as:

Cooperation more than competition; and, collaboration more than cooperation.

When competition is present, it has the tendency to put the learner at the centre of the story. It can shape our world view that what I learn is of most importance. Cooperation, however, requires us to work together to make the task easier by splitting it in to parts for each person to complete and then piece it all together at the end. In cooperative learning, there can still be a sense that ‘my’ mark depends on how well ‘you’ complete your part. Collaboration is different to both of these as its focus is on individuals working and learning together and moving on only when everyone understands. It requires learners to shift the focus from themselves to others.

It’s not always easy to achieve but is something that we should be encouraging our students to embrace by providing opportunities to work together, and to see it as a way of serving one another. In essence it’s the denying of self to serve others in their learning. That’s not to say that our own learning won’t be as effective, or important, but that we will be looking for opportunities to serve others by using our skills and talents, often deepening our understanding as we clarify and consolidate what we know in order to help others develop their understanding.

Over the last couple of years, together with a number of other teachers, I’ve spent some time learning about Project Based Learning (PBL) and planning units of learning to implement in their classrooms. Project Based Learning uses an authentic overarching question to drive the learning and give it purpose. One of the key concepts of PBL is that it provides opportunities for students to work collaboratively to investigate and solve problems and grow their understanding of the topic as they consider a response to the topic’s driving question. At times, as we practice these new methods they may possibly seem messy and disjointed but the hope is that we can provide a learning environment that embraces the “I am; only because of who we are”.

Former US President Bill Clinton, in a speech to global leaders of business and heats of states in 2006 is credited with saying, “the world is too small, our wisdom too limited, our time too short, to waste any more of it in winning fleeting victories at other people’s expense. We now have to find a way to triumph together.” While it was spoken in the context of world politics, it can be applied just as clearly to education.

Avid Readers or Not?

It’s an interesting task to think through what would you like your children to be like when they are adults. I know there are a few things I don’t want my children to be like yet what I would like them to become can become quite a long list. Earlier this week, while meeting with teachers in a professional learning group, we were discussing a list of attributes that groups of parents had identified as what they’d like their children to be like as adults. The list, from the book ‘Creating Cultures of Thinking’ included attributes such as curious, engaged, able to persevere, empathetic, willing to take risks and try new things, able to problem solve, helpful, passionate about something, a listener, open-minded and so on.

As a group we evaluated the list by thinking what we, as teachers in a Christian school, would like our students to be like and whether there were any attributes we would like to add. As a collective we thought we would add gentle, loving, trustworthy, servant hearted (or service minded), to act with integrity, a disciple who loves the Lord, and to possess Biblical Wisdom. Collectively we identified ‘go getter’ as one which we would like to remove and possibly replace it with ‘shows initiative’. One of our group though wanted to challenge the notion that our children should become ‘avid readers’, however, following some rigorous debate being an avid reader remained on the list (English teachers can be quite persuasive!). We did decide that we don’t need to be digesting classic novels at every opportunity but that we should be reading something regularly, be it newspapers, blogs, novels, textbooks or even ‘how to’ websites.

Some children are easy to motivate to read but for others it can be a real battle. However, there are a number of things that we can do to encourage our children to read:

  1. Read to your children regularly from a young age and continue as they get in to the late Primary years (or even beyond). Reading aloud to your child can help improve the fluency of their own reading, helps expand their vocabulary and improve their comprehension.
  2. Be a positive role model. As well as reading to your child, it’s also important that your children see you reading and that you are reading for pleasure as well as by necessity. Boys particularly will benefit greatly from seeing their fathers regularly.
  3. Provide opportunities and resources for your children to read. Provide age appropriate books or resources that will engage them. Much to my mother’s displeasure I still have a box of Rugby League Week magazines in a cupboard at her house that she faithfully bought for me each week because she knew that I’d read them cover to cover. It will most likely be something different for your child but having something they want to read is a good start.
  4. Don’t discourage them from reading the same book over and over again. While it gets boring for us to read the same story over and over again, there’s obviously something about the book that brings them back again and again. Having “Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see?” stuck in your head day after day might not be great for you as the parent but is probably have a positive effect on your child.