Cooperative learning is an essential component of the classroom environment. From an early age, students need opportunities to communicate, problem-solve, collaborate ideas, and learn to work together to implement them. As professionals working in the K-12 schools, we recognize this is not something that changes as we age.
In a team setting, it doesn’t take long for things to take a turn away from the objective. Whether that be interpersonal communication breakdown, i.e. disagreeing with other group members on the project and shutting down, working with others that you do not know or relate to, or having the inability to see the forest through the trees by getting hung up on the details of the planning process, therefore, causing a paralysis in accomplishing the given task. Regardless of the difficulties that can and do arise, one must remember, that the development of a team is a continuous learning process.
Learning to work as a team requires many attributes. Practicing is what the world of education is all about in theory. For students, it’s getting ready for that big project that leads to the big college entrance essay, which leads to the big job interview. Everything is preparing them for the future. As we prepare students for the next phase of life, we must give them opportunities to develop the skills necessary to work with others effectively. The concept of preparation is important to remember in teamwork. Oftentimes, the sweetest successes stem from the trial and error testing, hours of deliberating and compromising, and a constant commitment to the end goal even in the face of adversity. Some may call it mental toughness or grit. It requires a sticktoitiveness to keep going no matter what the obstacle. It also requires the individual to think bigger than themselves and recognize that everyone in the group has a role to play in order to achieve the team goal. Thinking with perspective about the task is helpful. Having a mindset that not everyone can be a leader, but that everyone can embrace the part they play to accomplish the common goal.
Being Curious Thinkers and Testers
One way to be a curious thinker is through using inquiry guided questions to drive thinking. This gives group members a safe place to be curious and explore possible outcomes. Inquiry allows people to test theories, try out scenarios, and keep an open mind toward discovery. Having the freedom to wear the investigator hat and look at a problem as a puzzle, engages the mind in looking at the task through a new lens. It helps to add a layer of interest and makes the learning experience more meaningful when the end goal is reached. This is definitely true with students and transfers into the professional world as well. As teachers, we are constantly challenging our students to work through concepts in cooperative settings as a team. By having some guided questions to frame thinking, a group is more apt to be positioned for success in achieving the goal.
Exploring the Elements of an Effective Team
In a group setting, an individual needs to be willing to recognize when to set their own feelings aside in order to move forward with the group and work with the common goal in mind.This keeps group members focused on the end task. Someone in the group needs to keep the big picture thinking in mind. This helps to bring perspective to the group and lead them by keeping the end goal in mind.
Trust is not something that happens immediately. In a classroom environment, students need to have an opportunity to feel safe and develop a rapport with their peers in order for trust to be cultivated. It is helpful to give each individual opportunities to showcase their knowledge and talents to each other through different activities and discussions. This provides team members opportunities for validation and for obtaining mutual respect. To be valued by peers and given a safe space to explore, can be a huge gain for the group as a whole and create an environment where trust is at the core of the team.
Communication skills are a necessary team staple. One challenge is to make sure all voices can be heard and acknowledged, while also learning to compromise with others keeping the common goal in mind. It is not uncommon for groups to encounter communication breakdown at times. These can be considered growing pains. Working through these obstacles requires commitment, a putting aside of egos, and perseverance: all skills that make a group stronger in the end.
Establishing strong agreements among group members to achieve the end goal develops team unity. This goes back to developing trust in the group dynamic as well.
Collaborating constructively can apply to many things when students work as a team. For one, is the discussion relevant and meaningful? This can be guided by establishing each individual’s role in the group and alternating responsibilities at each meeting. Once the team understands the strengths of each individual, it becomes easier to delegate responsibilities to each member as various tasks arise. Another idea is to maintain accountability of the group by assigning each teammate a portion of the task at each step or in each meeting. This not only allows people to share responsibility, but also increases the likelihood that each meeting will be relevant, meaningful, and applicable to the task. This can lead to a higher engagement among team members because it doesn’t let groups off the hook to waste time when collaborating. Finally, it builds on developing respect among members through honest dialogues and relationships built on integrity.
These concepts are used among educators in the classroom setting with students on a daily basis. They are practicing skills that are relevant and transferable to the professional world.
Written by Amanda Shindle, M. Ed
CPD Adjunct Instructor
Borah High School
Accelerated English 10 & AVID 10
The Center for Professional Development is the state of Idaho’s premiere professional development provider in the K-12 market. We offer PD credit for the workshops run in your building or district. We also offer specialized PD workshops that can be brought in to your district or building at anytime. For more information on our department and the workshops we offer please visit cpd.nnu.edu.