One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.
The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.
Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
Collaborating in hostile territory
Sony was a company that took pride in its decentralised specialist divisions, divisions whose pride led to them competing against each other. When five divisions were asked to collaborate to create a new music behemoth, Sony Connect, the result was disastrous.
The personal computer division based in Tokyo, the portable audio team behind the Walkman, the flash memory player team, Sony Music in the US and Sony Music back in Japan just couldn't work together, so strong was their competition. The PC and Walkman groups released their own competing portable music players, and the Music and other electronics divisions of the company released three competing music download portals. The US group wanted to use flash memory and the MP3 format. The Japan group wanted to use minidisc and Sony's proprietary ATRAC format for music downloads. By May 2004, a very disconnected Sony Connect finally launched and was taken apart by the media and users.
In the meantime, Apple innovated its narrow, well thought-through line of MP3 player products with no competition worth the name. Apple's divisions had, through Steve Jobs and a culture of unity, collaborated on one perfect player. Sony's interior competition had decimated any chance of creating one dream competitive product.
Competitive units (within an institution) cannot collaborate.
(I've added this note after a great comment, below: competition within an institution breaks collaboration. But competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive. If a leader can unite an organisation in collaboration and turn competitiveness to the outside, then the collaboration will work very well - think: football teams, corporations, or a country of school districts uniting to realise the benefits of scale that come from a nationwide online learning community, rather than letting commercial organisations pick up the financial benefits by uniting to pick off 32 Local Authorities at once.)
So, then, what does this mean for education? In a school there are many competitive units: individual teachers have, traditionally, been the kings or queens of their manor, the closed-door profession meaning that what happens in their classroom, good or bad, is their responsibility. The result can be a competitive one - "my kids", "my class", "my results". Where teachers are recompensed on performance in any way, even in the form of feedback from superiors, this heightens the sense of competitiveness, making collaboration between teachers in a school impossible. The ingredients of competition - closed doors, one-teacher-one-class, rewards and praise for good performance - may have to be dismantled first, before collaboration can be encouraged.
Between schools within a district, a similar competitive nature exists, if not more so, as schools vie for finite resources from one source - the district. Therefore, for a district to enable collaboration between schools yet more ingredients need removed or altered: funding has to be allotted strictly on a per-pupil basis, not on projects or bids, for example.
Update: Peter Hirst points out further examples of school systems removing competition to enable collaboration, notably in Finland:
Thought I'd link you to an article that intrigued me... The main basis is that by removing competition in Finnish schools collaboration thrives and they succeed - there's no private schools, no school league tables, no performance pay and no standardised tests...
It is no surprise, therefore, that international collaborations of the kind that eTwinning encourages might work better for teachers and schools than collaborating closer to home, but the question that now remains, is collaborating for what? If there's nothing to be lost through competition, there is also, perhaps, a perception that there is nothing to be gained. Cue: collaboration for collaboration's sake.
Pic from Andrew Becraft