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Collaboration isn't "Working Together" (Plus Resources!)

“I don’t really know anyone here, and I’d rather just be by myself.”

“They (the other students) didn’t really offer me any useful feedback. They just told me my work was good.”

“I mean, why do I need to talk to them about what I just read? I can do this faster if I don’t have to talk about it.”

“Ugh. Can you please put him in another group? We’re not getting anything done.”

Have you ever heard your students make any of these statements? Have you uttered them yourself? Collaboration can be one of the most challenging aspects of… well... all the things. At Applied Coaching for Projects, we coach teachers all over the world, and we can almost guarantee that the topic of collaboration will surface at least once in each workshop. (And starting in May of 2020, the questions regarding collaboration grew a whole new set of challenges. How can we possibly teach our students to collaborate if we’re all learning remotely?!)

So why do we go to the effort to collaborate? Humans are built for connections. What is the first thing you do when you strike up a conversation with a new acquaintance? You ask them where they’re from, who they know, what they like to do, etc. With each response, your mind automatically searches for some shared life experience with this person. Your brain is wired to connect. Subconsciously, most of us need to feel as though we belong to a community somewhere. Collaboration in school provides our students with this opportunity to connect and belong.

Connecting isn’t just about belonging. It’s also about learning. Who’s the smartest person in the room? You’ve heard that one before, right? Spoiler alert!... The smartest person in the room is THE ROOM. So, the highest quality of learning is often a social experience. In his book, Social. Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Matthew Lieberman asserted that “the real solution is to stop making the social brain the enemy during class time and figure out how to engage the social brain as part of the learning process. We need the social brain to work for us, not against us in the learning process.” (Lieberman, 2013) Therefore, our learning will be deeper through sharing perspectives with others. Our partners can prompt our brains to consider a topic in a new light, uncover bias, or improve a product's quality based on something they noticed. We collaborate to make our learning more rich and sustainable.

At this point, you’re probably starting to pick up on our belief that collaboration is so much more than simply working together. It is a skill that must be intentionally practiced and cultivated. In our ebook, Connecting Together: Collaboration Strategies for Online and Physically Distanced Learning, we defined collaboration with four domains: Relationship Building (not exactly collaboration, per se, but essential for it to occur), Goals and Progress, Collaborative Thinking, and Feedback.

Four Domains of Collaboration: Relationship Building, Goals and Progress, Collaborative Thinking, Feedback

Connecting Together supports teachers in developing collaboration skills through a curated set of strategies that can be used and adapted for each of the four domains. The book's original purpose was to provide teachers with resources to be used in remote and hybrid learning. Thousands of teachers from all over the globe downloaded it to prepare for this wild pandemic school experience. Even though our world is moving more and more students to in-person learning, the guidance and strategies for intentionally developing collaboration skills are still relevant. In fact, do you remember the quotes at the top of this page? Collaboration is going to continue to be a worthy area of focus! If you haven’t already, be sure to grab your free copy of our collaboration ebook from here!

At Applied Coaching for Projects, we believe that developing our collaboration skills goes beyond benefitting individuals. Collaboration skills are essential to success and making this world a more intelligent and caring place. In The Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Kids Don't Have the Skills They Need for College, Careers, and Citizenship -- and What We Can Do About It, Tony Wagner noted that “students who have learned to collaborate, to think critically, and to be more confident about their own ideas also tend to make better moral judgments" (Wagner, 2014). This is the future that we want. Do you want that too? I’d like to humbly offer some additional resources to support you in an effort to make collaboration more effective and powerful in your classroom. The resources are sorted by the collaboration domains referenced in Connecting Together.

Don’t forget - sharing is caring! Please let us know what resources you use and would like to add!

Relationship Building

Creating a safe environment for productive collaboration to thrive.

3 Quick Games to Play. Games are a great way to build connections. Check out the games on this poster for ideas. (Applied Coaching for Projects)

4 Quick Games to Play in Remote Learning. These games are designed for classes that are still virtual but can be adapted for in-person settings. (Applied Coaching for Projects)

Check-in Circle for Community Building. Students or staff sit in a circle, center themselves with a Mindfulness Moment, and use a talking piece to respectfully take turns answering a question about how they are doing. They close the Circle process by reflecting on the effectiveness of the process itself. (Greater Good in Education)

Crooked Circle: A Game for Building Trust. While holding hands in a circle, students work together to maintain balance as alternate players lean forward and backward. (Greater Good in Education)

Impromptu Speed Networking. Participants discuss a thought provoking question with multiple partners. (Gamestorming)

I See You. Everyone Matters. Members of the classroom or meeting stand and respectfully acknowledge each person in the group. (Greater Good in Education)

Group Juggle. Activity involving the juggling of various objects as a group to provide a playful opportunity to reflect on group dynamics and collaborative skills (School Reform Initiative)

Make Fast Friends. Students participate in a “speed-friending” activity by taking turns describing themselves to classmates in 30 seconds. (Greater Good in Education)

Memory Wall To appreciate student contributions, celebrate their accomplishments, and build camaraderie among team members. (Gamestorming)

Superstar. To build trust and inclusion, students play a game where they learn more about each other and celebrate what they have in common. (Greater Good in Education)

Goals and Progress

Identifying and tracking progress towards a shared goal

Appointment Clocks. This strategy can get multiple participants thinking, collaborating, and discussing together in a short amount of time. (K20 Center)

Circles and Soup. A strategy to help groups determine what is within their locus of control and to determine the next steps. (Gamestorming)

Collaboration Contract. A contract for teams to create working agreements (Park Based Learning)

Compass Points – North, South, East, and West for Youth Engagement. An exercise in understanding preferences in group work (School Reform Initiative)

Good Group Work in Math. Students discuss norms that will help create an environment for productive, positive, and equitable group work in math class before working together. (Greater Good in Education)

Graphic Game Plan. A visual process for identifying milestones and the steps needed to complete them. (Gamestorming)

Group Contract. A contract that causes teams to plan solutions for potential problems (Park Based Learning)

Personal Kanban. A strategy for tracking progress and identifying next steps (Gamestorming)

Project Management Log: Team Tasks. This document helps a team keep track of tasks, who is responsible for them, and by when. (PBLWorks)

Project Work Report: Individual. This form may be used during a project to have students report what they individually accomplished on a particular day or week. (PBLWorks)

Project Work Report: Team. This form may be used during a project to have students report what their team accomplished on a particular day or week. (PBLWorks)

Collaborative Thinking

Deprivatizing thinking and building on one another’s ideas

ABC Graffiti. A group brainstorming strategy designed to promote thinking for a topic, concept, text, etc. (K20 Center)

Affinity Mapping. Process of silently distilling similar ideas as a group. (School Reform Initiative)

Block Party. A pre-reading text-based activity (School Reform Initiative)

Check for Understanding Circle. Students sit in a circle, center themselves with a Mindfulness Moment, and use a talking piece to respectfully take turns sharing their level of understanding of an academic topic. They close the Circle process by reflecting on the effectiveness of the process itself. (Greater Good in Education)

Dump and Clump. Used to provide a deeper understanding of vocabulary/content information by using critical thinking skills to categorize words (Oregon Educator Network)

Fishbowl. A strategy for a dynamic unfacilitated whole group discussion that prioritizes listening (Facing History and Ourselves)

Four Corners. Students move to one of the four corners of the classroom to indicate their position on a controversial statement, then engage in discussion or debate about their opinions. (Greater Good in Education)

Innovator’s Compass. 5 powerful questions that help us get unstuck in any challenge, big or small—in one usable picture to share. (Innovator’s Compass)

Save the Last Word for Me. A strategy for small group discussions (Facing History and Ourselves)

Start, Stop, Continue. A thinking routine to examine various aspects and determine the next steps. (Gamestorming)

The 4 C’s. A routine for structuring a text-based discussion (Project Zero)

Word-Phrase-Sentence. A routine for capturing the essence of a text. (Project Zero)

World Café. A method for improving large-group discussion by borrowing concepts from the informal “café” conversations that we have all the time: round tables, cross-pollinating ideas, and pursuing questions that matter. (The World Café)


Seeking input to improve or refine ideas to advance towards a goal.

+1 Routine. A routine for identifying important ideas worth remembering (Project Zero)

Charrette Protocol. A feedback protocol based on an area of focus and dialogue (School Reform Initiative)

Compass Points. A routine for examining propositions. (Project Zero)

Critique Protocols Strategy Guide. This guide offers strategies for implementing peer critique protocols that enhance learning and improve the quality of student work. (PBLWorks)

Exclaim and Question. This strategy offers a framework for students to practice generating, offering, and receiving constructive criticism. (K20 Center)

Gallery Walk. A process in which students examine the work of others and leave feedback. (PBLWorks)

I Like, I Wish, What If. A quick and easy strategy for reflection. The simple structure helps encourage constructive feedback. (Oregon Educator Network)

Peer Feedback - Silent Conversation Protocol. This is a simple but powerful peer feedback protocol that can be tailored to various needs and ages. (EL Education)

Praise, Question, Suggest Critique Protocol. This process will help students see what is working and then consider questions and suggestions that will lead to revision and improvement. (EL Education)

Step Inside: Perceive, Know About, Care About. This routine is for getting inside viewpoints. (Project Zero)

Two Stars and a Wish. A reflection strategy designed to provide student feedback via peer- and self-assessment. (K20 Center)

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