There may not be a skill that is getting more attention than ever than COLLABORATION. Indeed, in Education, we use the word so much that it has sadly become cliche or jargon. However, that being said, it is and has been identified as the most important professional skill in the new economy (See Forbes Magazine). Matter of fact, one of the dominant reasons people often get fired is still related to an inability to work with others. I like the word collaboration, but preferred the word PARTNERING. Collaboration sounds like working with others, while partnering sounds like a long-term investment in a relationship that is mutually beneficial.
So, if we can agree that partnering is crucial and essential. Let’s identify what it really looks and feels like in our educational environments and beyond. One, partnering first infers that we will work with our peers. Students need to partner with students, teachers need to partner with teachers and so on. And this partnering can extend well beyond our immediate or like peers, but can, thanks to technology, be global partnering with peers. Students can connect with and partner up on projects with students with similar interests all over the world via social media and other tools. Teachers can participate in professional development and dialogue with educators from around the world via Twitter and more.
But let’s focus on the partnering that can exist beyond our peers in terms of community and professional partners. For a variety of reasons, education is realizing, more than ever, that we have a vast network of potential partners in our communities beyond the school walls. Schools need these partners more than ever and these partners are interested in education more than ever. The time is right and the time is now. What does collaboration - or partnering - with community again look and feel like? Here are FIVE ways to examine further:
Resources: Our community partners have tremendous resources. These can come in the form of time, money, equipment, expertise, mentoring, professional/industry standards and more. As we move more towards real, relevant and project-based work, we are going to need all of these from our community partners. They can help fill all of the gaps in transforming our educational experiences and systems. They not only have a vested interested in helping from a philanthropic standpoint, but also have a need to be directly involved in training, recruiting and inspiring their future work forces. Our students and schools need them, but they need our students and schools too. It is mutually beneficial.
Mentoring: mentioned in the list above, this is going to continue to be what students need to be successful as they prepare for 21st century careers. Their teachers, families and peers are important, but cannot take the place of professional mentors. Networking has always been crucial and will continue to be. Each student needs to develop a network of professionals that can inform, champion, inspire and facilitate professional student work. Mentors from our community partners (business, leaders, non-profits and others) can provide that final and integral link that all students need - both in the short term and long-term.
Reciprocation: as also mentioned earlier, partnerships are mutually beneficial. Our community partners need our students, educators and schools too. One, they are potentially training, recruiting and creating their future workforce right? Most leaders in all industries or trades realize that their best employees are the ones that they train and indoctrinate. Additionally, most of our community partners often need volunteers, feedback, customers, ideas and more. What better than to give our students the opportunity to give back to their partners in these vital roles. Students have time, ideas, creativity, energy, networks and more to share with the partners. They represent an important focus group that partners can truly appreciate, utilize and realize.
Problem-Solving: this is often mentioned as a skill that is also essential in success in the new economy. Much of our educational redesign is centered around the need that our students need to bigger and better problem solvers. Ironically, our world also has a host of real world problems that represent the work and opportunity for future jobs, companies and industries. Students and educators will have problems that community partners can address in a variety of ways (see #1) and community partners will have problems that our students and schools can address (see #3). Bottom line is that if problem-solving skills are vital, we will need to practice and see them in real world contexts and situations. Partnering to solve problems is a backbone of the new economy.
Public: one of the hallmarks of our educational efforts going forward is that our work - student work, educator work, etc. - is now going to be public more than ever. Students need to have public work for relevance and portfolio development. Educators need to have public work for everything from ongoing professional development to new definitions of meeting standards, having success, etc. When we partner with our community entities, all of our work will be more public. The community partners represent the public and will bring the public aspect back in new ways to public school.
The need and acknowledgement of partnering (collaboration) is more present and relevant than ever. Indeed, it may be the most powerful component, or missing link, related to many of our educational ills and challenges. Our classrooms do have to become community (or truly public) classrooms more than ever. Our partners are waiting to be invited and involved. We need them and they need us. It’s time to PARTNER 2.0.
Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
(images courtesy of Foter, Free Digital Photos)