Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cooperation VS Collaboration
The terms cooperation and collaboration are not often or easily distinguishable, but doing so and understanding the difference can be very beneficial in the classroom and among co-workers. One important distinction is “active” and “inactive” participation. Someone can be inactive or silent and still be cooperating. When collaborating, everyone has an active role. If someone is simply being compliant, they can be considered to be cooperating. That is not the case with collaboration. There is shared action with collaboration. With cooperation, someone can simply give someone help to achieve something. When cooperating a person is making or helping someone to be able to do or achieve something. Collaboration offers the help along side someone or some people to achieve something together.

A Montessori Classroom offers the opportunities for both throughout every single day. Here is an example of collaboration from my classroom. One boy had the idea to create a timeline of the history of the Titanic. Several other boys joined in on the idea. They helped each other do research, draw, write and color on the timeline. As the guide, I had very little to no part in it, and my assistance was not necessary. One boy got the idea from a book to contact someone from the book. He asked an adult for help in contacting him to get some more or unique information. He emailed a historian who helped with the movie “Titanic.” The man responded and they were able to exchange and get new information for their work. This great work had many other benefits besides completing a project together. Everyone had a shared work to do to accomplish a goal, and they all played active roles, while there was no dictating. This is what a Montessori classroom makes room for. Below is an interesting diagram of cooperative and collaborative learning.
Public and traditional schools mostly offer cooperative learning opportunities and very rarely if at all offer collaborative learning. When a Montessori guide gives a lesson, there is cooperative learning between him/her and the student(s) to understand new information. A follow-up lesson gives way to more cooperation to reach the goal of understanding, remembering and/or applying. Yet, if students get an idea to do something different together, which leads them to learn something new (a different goal), those students are collaborating. Now, both cooperative and collaborative learning styles are happening in the classroom.

What about looking at the school as a unit? A school has a mission that is usually developed by one person, the founder. Cooperation is where the parents agree to follow the policies, pay tuition, get their children to school in hopes that the guides and other students will cooperate to help their children learn and be better than when they are dropped off. Some parents do not even think that much about it, they do not even play much of an active role, other than getting their children to school. However, here is a different outlook on collaboration for the school as a unit.

A Montessori school wants to play an active role in children’s education. Families want to play an active role in their children’s education. The basics of cooperation are met. Payment is made, children’s needs are cared for, and parents drop students off on time and come to conferences. Before the children are accepted or start, there is an agreement of goals that are to be attained for their children through a collaborative conversation between head of school, guide and parents. The school provides information that the parents can do at home to facilitate their child’s growth and development. There is also a monthly night of engagement between school and parents to nurture the parents’ understanding of happenings in the classroom and to share information or ask questions about experiences that are happening at home. Then the school takes an active role in creating solutions if necessary. Sometimes, even just the act of sharing helps others with what they are going through, or may go through, in the future. There is not so much lecturing as there is the sharing of information to come to new knowledge, expressing it and being able to apply it for another’s benefit. It is a group work and not a facilitator structured work. By default, it can be argued that there is a facilitator or leader, but beyond that there is a group agreement for group work based on a common goal where everyone plays an active role.

In conclusion, there are many similarities, even with the etymology. Yet, collaboration requires active and group oriented work. By work, I mean the actual meaning of the word, a sustained physical and mental effort to achieve goal(s) or overcome obstacles. While there can be cooperation (working together) during collaboration there cannot be true collaboration during cooperation. When the facilitation to achieve a goal is led by someone, and there is at least one person taking an inactive role, by simply complying, the work is cooperative.

With that said, our goals should include to understand collaboration and cooperation. Have or create more opportunities to allow for collaboration. Get parents involved to collaborate and not just cooperate. Heads of schools and schools would benefit by collaborating with each other to help make the school and school policies better. This is assuming that the head of school is creating a space with staff who want the same thing as the head of school and are willing to work together to get there. This takes humility and good communication skills on the part of at least the head of school. If schools, or even guides, can start with this understanding and applying it at least to their classroom and parents, it would be amazing to see what the reported difference would be before having this awareness.
Please share your thoughts comments and experiences so others can benefit from your insights!



Iseult Catherine O'Brien said...

Hello Matthew ~ One of the beauties of Dr Montessori’s Methods is that a competition to be the ‘most anything’ just does not arise. For the very young, or new to the class, or shy students, watching other children take on a project, like the “Titanic timeline”, allows them to watch co-operation in action; to see how others decide on what part of the project they shall concentrate on; and how the whole effort is a joint project; everyone offering what they can to the mix. Only children, especially, really need to see this type of activity to learn what they may never have had an opportunity of seeing previously. Dr Montessori understood so well how children learn social skills through work, and watching and learning how other do something in a Montessori atmosphere is not 'inactivity', as it might be so judged in other class settings. If a child is asked at home what she did in class today, part of the news would be that she watched a group of children working as a group on the Titanic. If encouraged to say what she found interesting about what the children did together, she may go on to say that one child offered to paint the background because he likes painting big things. She will have learnt co-operation, even if lacking the specific words to describe the processes. She may watch a couple more times before joining in, whenever she feels comfortable and able to contribute to a project. Parents should learn to ask oblique, nuanced, questions, which carry no expectation for the child, and so make talking about the day much easier for her, and so much more fulsome. Parents get a much better idea of what is going on in their child's mind, which will help them follow up with ideas at home, especially at the weekends, possibly taking on their own projects. I love the sound of what goes on in your classroom. Regards, Iseut.

Kimberly Van Wagner said...

Thank you for this post. This is something I think about a lot, especially in the classroom and you make some good points. However, Rather than saying one is "inactive" (cooperation) and the other is "active" (collaboration); I would counter that collaboration is "creative" -- when people collaborate, there is an end product, it may be abstract, but something is created together. With cooperation, as the word implies, working at the same time, doesn't mean working together. In essence, we allow or give space to each other to do our own thing so each of us is productive but not necessarily, together. For example, I am walking and want to cross the street without getting hit by a car; the car driver wants to get to work without killing anyone so we both actively cooperate with the rules of the road and meet our goals. If we were collaborating we would be working together to make sure the "rules of the road" are efficient, fair and judicious for both drivers and pedestrians.

I know, it is a small quibble, but I think it is significant in helping to understand the difference.

Matthew Simberg said...

Iseult Catherine O'Brien, thank you for your comment! I really appreciate the added information that you contributed and I completely agree!

Matthew Simberg said...

Kimberly Van Wagner, thank you for your insight and I see your point. There are definitely nuances to be thought of with this.

mary russo said...

Hello Matthew - Thanks for the clarification - and the introduction to the specific differences. I've talked at length about this, but as one who works in the public schools it's often difficult to find ways and means to shape Montessori collaboration (as described in the AMI world) to meet Common Core so that students show adequate yearly growth. The vision of knotted pretzels springs to mind. Again thank you for taking the time to create this essay (yes I still recognize this literary endeavor as what it this actually is - no matter how it's published).