How to tell if you’re bad at collaborating

Published by Lori Pickert on August 15, 2012 at 03:52 PM

1 - You don’t want to share your successes.

If you’re a teacher, this means you don’t want the person in the next classroom copying your decor, your bulletin boards, or the way you do independent reading. Those belong to YOU. You care more about getting the credit than you do about the kids in the other classrooms.

You want to have a little edge up on everyone else — that’s how you win, right?!

2 - You don’t want to admit your failures.

Failures and mistakes are something to hide, preferably in a shallow grave far, far away in the woods.

No way do you want to “share” what’s not going well and let these people see you’re not perfect. They’re your competitors. It’s all about maintaining a façade of effortless ease — no one respects a loser.

3 - You can’t tell the difference between brainstorming and having all the answers.

If someone offers you a suggestion, they must think they’re God’s gift to homeschooling/unschooling/teaching/parenting.

If someone shares an issue they’re having, they must want everyone else to do their work for them. Instead of tossing your ideas in, you take the floor to explain what they did wrong and how they should fix it. At least then everyone will recognize that you know what you’re doing.

4 - If you can’t be the pitcher, you’re quitting and taking your ball home with you.

If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes — so if you’re not the lead dog, you’re out the door. After all, without hierarchy, how can we tell who’s ahead of whom?

5 - You only respect people who are exactly like you.

There’s your way and the various multitude of wrong ways. If someone is doing something differently than you do it, it means they don’t respect you and they think you’re doing it wrong. They’re attacking you, so start defending yourself!

• • •

All of these things come into play when you collaborate with your child.

Collaborating doesn’t mean playing devil’s advocate or shooting down “bad” ideas. It means taking a non-perfect or partially formed idea and working together to make it better. Instead of hitting things head on (right/wrong, black/white), it means tapping them to change their trajectory. And everyone gets in on the tapping.

Bad collaborating = “That won’t work.”

Good collaborating = “What if…?”

Collaboration assumes that working together you can create something better than you could on your own. When we collaborate with our children, we help them build this skill: the ability to sit down with others and help each other, work together to refine ideas and find solutions. It requires respecting different views, different talents, and different strengths. It requires respecting other people’s ideas and other people’s perspectives. You can’t collaborate if you always have to be the one in charge, the one who knows everything, the one who’s right. Collaboration requires mutual respect — and humility.

Collaboration doesn’t mean getting other people to solve your problems for you. It means hearing other opinions and seeing things from a different angle. It helps you solve your own problems.

Collaboration is an attempt to leverage success for all. We can all help each other, so we all win. Rising tides lift all boats. When we come together to increase the number of perspectives, the amount of insight, and the sheer quantity of available ideas, we are investing in each other’s success. Collaboration recognizes that success is not a zero-sum game: you don’t have to lose so I can win. We can both win.

People who don’t collaborate well also struggle with learning — because learning requires the same abilities as collaboration:

- humility

- the desire to learn

- willingness to make mistakes

- willingness to mentor and be mentored

- an open, questioning mind

Helping your child learn to collaborate — by collaborating with you and other family members, then with peers — you help her strengthen her ability to learn, succeed, and help others succeed.

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas. — George Bernard Shaw

The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team. — Phil Jackson

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. — Henry Ford


Comment by HCaliri on August 16, 2012 at 12:11 AM

I am so seeing how I need humility to be a learner/writer AND to foster learning in my kids. so hard. so worth it.
And dare I say it but being in the thick of learning with my kids is radically shifting the way I approach new things.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 16, 2012 at 07:25 AM

love that comment, heather — i think a sea change occurs when we add in humility. it allows us to stop being “in charge” of what’s happening and allow them to begin to direct and manage their own learning. instead of losing credibility with them (because we don’t know everything), they are able to see the learning process as it happens. we become co-learners.

another friend just mentioned that she thinks homeschooling has made her much more able to learn new things herself. i think as we help them acquire better thinking and learning habits, it’s inevitable that we improve our own as well!

Comment by Kate - An Every... on August 16, 2012 at 12:23 AM

I struggled a lot with this when I was teaching, a lot of competition (unconscious, subliminal competition), amongst the teachers. And now that you put it into words I can see it more clearly. This is how MY classroom looks, isn't it beautiful? This is how MY children behave, aren't they wonderful? This is how I WOULD do it, listen to ME. It seemed like we were collegial, that we were supporting each other with suggestions but really now that I think about it we weren't really a community, we complained a lot and boasted a lot but didn't really support or truly collaborate. Maybe that is one of the reasons so many of our school-wide policies and pedagogies failed to come to fruition.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 16, 2012 at 07:37 AM


most schools are organizations that are set up to be competitive and not collaborative. i mean, we all know you need to call the principal and make sure you get the “good” teacher! it’s very hard to move to a teamwork-based, collaborative approach in that environment.

and, let’s face it, most of the people who end up being teachers really enjoyed school, which itself is competitive! they were the top of their class and they want to stay there. there’s a whole competitive culture in school that is very, very hard to change.

i had to sit down not only with my own staff but with the teachers at the schools i consulted for and try to help everyone learn to collaborate and create community. it was not easy. :) some people are naturally competitive but quickly see the benefit of working together to build something significant. other people cling to their idea of themselves as being better than the others and they just don’t want to let it go.

Maybe that is one of the reasons so many of our school-wide policies and pedagogies failed to come to fruition.

i think that’s absolutely true! the teachers i worked with were very jaded re: new ideas and pedagogies. they’d already been to a thousand conferences, workshops, professional development days, etc., and they knew that nothing every stuck. no one committed to long-lasting change; no one was willing to offer ongoing support. so teachers are just pelted continuously with exciting new ideas and then … nothing. back to your own classroom, close the door, and try to meet your objectives and do better than everyone else so you don’t get pink-slipped at the end of the year.

to get teachers to buy into the idea of a community of a school with true collaboration, i think you’d have to make them feel safe: safe to make mistakes, safe to experiment, safe to share things that aren’t working well. and we’re a long way from having schools that offer that.

Comment by nona on August 18, 2012 at 11:00 PM

I am soo excited! I just clicked on to your site for the first time in months. New site! New book! So much reading to do! Yay . I only wish I had noticed sooner. I really enjoy the discussions here. Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 20, 2012 at 07:32 AM

thank you, nona! :)

Comment by David on August 20, 2012 at 11:11 PM

I really admire the educators in Reggio Emilia for saying how much they encourage and thrive on the conflicts they have as a staff in a school or centre. It's not seen as a personal attack but rather as a way of looking, at questioning practice and working in a more collegial manner. The pedagogista's role is so important in this. They are there to deliberately provoke, challenge and inspire. This same notion of encouraging conflict is explored in their work with the children, as it is only with conflict that they learn to problem solve, see things through different eyes and truly collaborate on solutions.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 21, 2012 at 08:44 AM

i’m sure that culture plays a big part, but i wish it were easier for educators here to understand how much they can help one another *without becoming clones of each other*. maybe that is part of the problem — they think if they “collaborate” it means giving up their individuality, what makes them special (a big american value). i have definitely experienced more of a tendency to want to “win” than to simply share views and work toward self-improvement.

Comment by Cristina on September 5, 2012 at 09:33 AM

It took so long to get my daughter in the same room with me to read this and discuss it! My oldest has always had issues with collaboration, even though she does it well. What we gleaned from your article was two things:
~She's always been afraid of failure. There are a lot of perfectionists in our family. But she pointed out that it wasn't so much making the mistake as having others *see* her make the mistake. Perhaps because we are a family of introverts, that fear of embarrassment is stronger?
~The other part of making mistakes is that she is the selfless one. She doesn't want her actions to cause problem for someone else. She would feel guilty if her collaboration ended with a lower grade for her partner. Ah yes. Guilt. She gets that from me. :o)

Peace and Laughter!

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 5, 2012 at 04:39 PM


well, i *hated* to work on group projects — because i always ended up doing all the work! :P

but i had a transformative experience in college when i took a journalism class. the professor had all the students work as a team, helping one another with their projects, sharing what they were doing, giving advice, making contacts for interviews, etc. it was amazing. for the first time i realized what life could be like if everyone pulled together instead of competing against one another. there wasn’t that feeling of failing anyone else, because we were each doing our own work, and there wasn’t a feeling of embarrassment, because we each chose what to share. it was a sort of ideal experience, and it made me seek out opportunities to do that sort of collaboration when i opened my school.

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