Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

More about collaborative structures

Instructional collaboration, colored by dept. and sized by number of ties.

Instructional collaboration, colored by dept. and sized by number of ties.

My previous post shared a few sociograms describing different sets of relationships at a school. Jeff Wayman, who blogs here, responded by asking what lines in the instructional collaboration network “should” look like. Closer together? More varied? The problem with the picture posted last time was that it was prettier but contained less information.

So here is a new sociogram. This is the same network (who collaborates with who around teaching), but with colors representing departments and sizes representing number of ties. This time I’ve included the isolates — people who collaborated with no one off to the left. I’ve also included arrow heads. It turns out that it’s possible to be named as a collaborator, but for that status not to be reciprocated. This kind of asymmetry is common. For example, I might consider Jeff a “friend,” but maybe he thinks I’m a colleague than a friend. In this case, I think it’s fair to say that some sort of collaboration happened if there’s one arrow head, but that something special (stronger? more memorable?) is happening if there are two arrow heads.

So what’s up here? We could throw some math at this to really describe what’s happening, but even a gut read here is pretty easy to do.

  • People are somewhat fragmented. Most collaborate with only one person, if with anyone at all.
  • There are a few examples of cross-department work (hence, the strung up shape of the main component), but these seem to hang by a thread. Especially compared to the person in royal blue, who seems to be well-tied to be a hub of collaboration.
  • Otherwise, collaboration is mostly within department.
  • We don’t see many triangles or clusters (instances of “the friend of my friend is also my friend”).
  • Administrators and other non-teachers are in this network, but their involvement in collaboration isn’t obvious.

So what? What “should” this look like? I think it depends on what you want out of your school. My sense is that this sociogram fits this particular school’s culture. I didn’t hear many complaints during interviews; in fact, I heard a lot of pride about collaboration. Someone else might want administrators more involved, departments more tightly connected, or more cross-department work. But realistically, this was a high school, and I think they’ve done a good job here of resisting the temptation to be totally closed to one another.

I’m not a fan of pushing collaboration just for the sake of pushing collaboration. But if this school wanted to be more collaborative, some small steps are below.

  1. I’d suggest finding ways to involve the isolates–getting them more involved with somebody/anybody.
  2. I’d also suggest “making more triangles.” That doesn’t mean doing 3-person projects. These teachers seem to be collaborating by pairs, which is fine. Rather, I mean that it wouldn’t be bad to “match make” or to introduce collaborators to other collaborators. I think groups would begin to feel a little more momentum and mutual accountability overall, even for projects that are not necessarily held in common.
  3. I’d have larger conversations about collaboration. What is it; what are strategies to make it worthwhile? How do we (or students) benefit from it? Is more collaboration helpful, or do we have “other jobs” to be doing instead? By making collaboration a conscious activity, I think we’d see more ties among actors and more double-sided arrows (instances of more memorable or more remembered collaboration).



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This entry was posted on June 10, 2014 by and tagged , , .