I think we can agree that collaboration is a skill our children will use in their future jobs. Innovation is often sparked as we collaborate with people who see things differently. Learning to work with people who think differently is important to overall success as an adult.
Many schools and teachers value their collaboration time, but is this time being used to learn to effectively collaborate? Creating a safe environment is crucial for successful collaboration. If the teacher mandates the collaboration groups, how does the teacher make sure that every student feels valued and safe? Think back to your collaboration time in school. Did you speak up, or were you ridiculed for your ideas? Did you always see things the same way as your peers? Did you challenge your peers? What was the outcome? Was there a leader in your group who made the plan and then assigned group members to specific tasks?
Creating an environment in which students feel safe and open to collaboration needs to be purposeful. Making our students feel safe is key. If students do not feel safe, they go into protect mode. The front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is designed to shut down when the amygdala senses fear. The prefrontal cortex is what enables us to empathize, be intuitive and helps with higher-level social skills. If the prefrontal cortex is shut down, no innovation or collaboration is going to take place.
Helping students value each other and the strengths each brings to the group is the first step in creating a safe environment in which collaboration can take place. Starting collaboration time by asking the group to define strengths they see in themselves and in others helps to stimulate the prefrontal cortex which governs social decisions. It allows the student brain to think, “Hey these people are my friends, and together we have a lot to offer.” Starting collaboration time by telling each other that they understand their thought processes may be different, but that is OK, encourages empathy. Empathy leads to a change in behavior. This change in behavior can help your students respond positively to new thoughts and ideas. It helps them see a connection between how someone else thinks and acts. These are critical pieces in collaboration, at school and in their future employment.
Next time your child is in a collaboration group, ask your child what they contributed. Ask how it was run. Ask how your child felt. It isn’t enough to provide time for collaboration, we need to provide our students the safe environment for collaboration. This requires forethought and purposeful action on the part of the teacher or leader involved. Creating an environment to collaborate requires that our children first feel valued and safe.
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