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Collaboration, consultation, participation; these are words used within educational strategies and initiatives but what do they all mean? Do they mean the same thing?
Collaboration usually means to work with someone to achieve something.
Consultation means a discussion between people or groups before they make a decision.
Participation means the process of taking part in something. (Encarta Dictionary: English (UK))
With reference to their dictionary meanings, collaboration, consultation and participation are very much linked together, but what has that got to do with education?
According to Head (2003), collaboration is valuable on a personal level, it enhances moral support and confidence; on a professional level it provides improved effectiveness, self-reflection and teacher learning, through sharing good practice.
Teachers and schools are all working towards the same goals. Effective schools need effective communication and collaboration amongst staff, other agents, parents and pupils. (Head, 2003)
Christie et al, (2007), suggest it is well documented by (King, 2002; Loughran, 2003), that participating collaboratively with a range of other practitioners allows knowledge to be produced which goes beyond the restrictions which affect the professional perspective. (Christie, D.et al, 2007)
Without effective communication and collaboration, teachers in schools can be unaware of the knowledge that exists between themselves; as a result, they cannot share and draw upon that knowledge.
The formation of new knowledge and improved practices for teachers cannot be left to chance or to institutions of teacher education in universities. Knowledge creation and dissemination are embedded in interactive learning, processes which are shaped by structural and institutional arrangements. (Hargreaves. D, 1999)
Hargreaves argues there are growing efforts to build an effective professional ethos of collaboration to develop common goals, to cope with ambiguity and complexity. (Hargreaves. A, 2000)
In spite of this, if collegial methods only support collaboration with other teachers and not forms of collaborative partnership with other people and professionals, teachers may become isolated, which could bring about damaging effects in terms of reducing their professional knowledge and restricting their ability to objectively criticise policy and practice. (Christie.et al, 2007)
Cordingley et al. (2005), cited by Forde et al. (2006), suggest collaboration between teachers is about trying out new ideas, which helps to change practice and secures a teacher's commitment within the school. Barth (2001) says that the key in learning-rich-schools is about teachers learning together.
Some schools are developing professional learning communities where leadership is seen as whole school rather than led only by the Headteacher. Schools where this concept is taking place have improved the ability to bring about better performance, higher levels of motivation and sustainable development. (Forde et al. 2006)
In Scotland, the McCrone Agreement places a responsibility on teachers to work together with colleagues and other people and professionals to pursue the overall objectives of the service. Teachers also have a professional commitment to develop their skills and expertise through an agreed programme of continuing professional development (CPD) through an additional contractual 35 hours of CPD per year. (SEED, 2001)
CPD plays an important role in shaping professional identity, along with collegiality and collaboration; however, some award-bearing courses such as the Chartered Teacher (CT) can cause conflict and resentment, with some colleagues unwilling to cooperate. (Forde et al. 2006)
The traditional view of professionalism centres on the classification, organization and occupational role, however, the concept is more complex in that, there are particular significant features which are frequently referred to. These usually include specialist knowledge, autonomy and responsibility. Therefore, Professionalism implies that such characteristics are evident in an individual's work. (Kennedy, 2007)
Forde et al, (2006) suggest that teacher identity is not always closely connected to the role of being a teacher; a person's values, beliefs, attitudes, feelings and understandings also play a major part in forming professional identity, as does personal history, ethnicity and culture, therefore, personal identity also plays a part.
Collaboration and participation can mean different things to different people at different times.
Williams, et al (2006) discusses collaboration between children as a means of learning and as an essential aspect of pedagogical quality in educational settings.
According to the studies of Damon and Phelps (1989), peer collaboration is necessary for several achievements such as children's understanding of justice, growth of self-esteem, willingness to share and care, and ability to handle symbolic thinking, as well as the fostering of communication skills and the development of creativity and critical thinking. They also suggest that collaboration motivates children to learn new skills. Williams, (2001) found that young children collaborated constructively when there was a common problem to be solved. This can be related to theories of learning (Piaget, 1959; Sa¨ljo¨, 2000; Vygotskij, 1978, 1986) which show that children learn and develop through collaboration and togetherness. (Williams. P, et al, 2006)