About the Creating a Shared Learning Environment category

To help develop some shared norms of collaboration, let’s start by reading through The Seven Norms of Collaborative Work.

Once you are done, respond to the following prompts on Discourse:

  • While all of these norms are vital for good collaborative work, which of these norms do you feel is the most important to actively keep in mind when working collaboratively?

  • Why do you think this is the most important? What past experiences have you had (both good and bad) that led to this opinion?

  • What is missing from this list? If the goal is to foster generative conversations and critical (but productive!) peer review, what other expectations should we include?

Once completed, be sure to read through your colleagues’ responses. If you are doing Paths PD with a group you know, it may be helpful to synthesize some of these responses into your own set of expectations before moving forward. We recommend posting that somewhere in Discourse so people can refer to it later.

I most appreciated the norm on maintaining a balance between advocacy and inquiry, but I would go even further to contend that in collaborative work spaces, it is important to maintain a level of detachment from our own ideas. What I mean by this is that once we put an idea out onto the table, it belongs to the group and is no longer “my idea”. The group is free to modify it, challenge it, or accept it. As it undergoes peer review, I myself am also open to changing my stance towards the idea. On the other hand, when another person submits their idea to the group, I consider it with the same seriousness and respect that I treat my own ideas. In this way, ideas can be put forth, modified, and taken up in a common pursuit of truth/progress.


I think the most important part to a productive dialogue is assuming positive intentions, and to avoid what feels/makes other people feel hurtful or personal. I really like Milly’s point on detachment from our own ideas since it also reinforces the thought that when agree/disagreeing with other’s points, it is the idea that is being discussed and modified instead of person behind an idea. Another important norm I think will help is to not impose our own opinions onto others and to avoid minimizing other people’s experiences. Specifically I think this could mean using “I-statements” like “I believe that …” and “In my opinion”, instead of assuming what others might know/think/feel. Bad phrases to watch out for might be “Some people believes that …”, “People without […] won’t understand […]”. I believe by qualifying our ideas as from our own experiences, we reduce the risk of making unfair judgements on other people’s experiences and emotions, which tend to be a large factor that contributes to student becoming defensive or feeling attacked personally.

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I really believe people agree way more than they realize, which is why I believe paraphrasing is a critical piece in productive dialog. Paraphrasing encourages collaborators both to ensure they understand what the other person is proposing, and also to let that person know that they’ve been heard.

So often I’ve been in meetings where colleagues are talking past one another, describing almost exactly the same issue, but not feeling heard. These meetings devolve into vent sessions and though sometimes that’s necessary, it’s rarely productive. Recognizing an issue and moving forward together is essential to a productive dialog.

Similarly, I think a shared sense of respect among all involved is critical to a productive collaboration. This might seem obvious, but I think often in education, we end up in these massive meetings and committees. With that many people, it can be hard for everyone to understand one another. I think it’s important that we respect and trust one another to work productively on the things we’re involved in.

Looking at the list provided, I can see the influence of similar models on meetings and trainings I have participated in. Most importantly, I feel that “Pursuing a Balance Between Advocacy and Inquiry” and “Paying Attention to Self and Others” are necessary to create an effective collaborative environment. I have too often sat through a meeting/professional development where a facade of “collaboration” is presented when in fact you are merely being presented a preformulated program or solution. Similarly, there are times when the loudest voices quickly drown out dissenting opinions (especially new staff or those in more tenuous situations). True collaboration is messy, time consuming, and requires mutual respect; all of these things are difficult to implement in the midst of a busy school year with a large staff.

The biggest hurdle that I see unexplored in the list provided is the fear of “more.” I have heard something akin to “this isn’t anything additional, just doing work differently” numerous times in my short teaching career. And very rarely is that statement actually honest. Most programs do require additional work and the prior workload rarely (if ever) decreases. I feel that very clear communication about how collaborative initiatives will fit within the preexisting reality would help alleviate some of the anxiety that prevents difficult conversations or substantive radical change.

Milly, Willers, and Dylan’s comments echo the necessity to develop a healthy environment to allow quality conversations to occur. Their perspectives are refreshing to hear and provided moments for self-reflection on my own behavior in previous environments. There are times when my big picture concerns can be so overwhelming that I get wrapped up in what becomes a contrarian attitude towards the task at hand.

Of all the norms, i do feel like “Paying Attention to Self and Others” is the most important. We often collaborate with people we know at some level, but given the group settings, some people are willing to always jump in and talk or share while others hesitate. In being more mindful, all are either invited when not speaking or some are more aware of the length they talk and will take time to pause.

For myself, I am always a person willing to share when I know the group well or feel confident on the subject; however, if people or the subject are new to me, I hesitate more. It isn’t that I have nothing to add, but that I sometimes feel uncertain of when to speak. In the past, I appreciate when someone notices me and asks for my contribution. Even if it is just once, it has allowed me more confidence and that makes it easier to jump in later.
Overall, I feel like there needs to be something added about respectfulness or equal contributions to make sure everyone has their input and that the group can agree to how they should be conversing. Group dynamics are not something on the list and that is certainly something to keep in mind when collaborating.

The most important norm for collaborative group work is “Probing: Using gentle open-ended probes or inquiries increases clarity and precision of a person’s thinking.”
Not only does asking clarifying questions build compassion and empathy with your peers, but it also encourages critical thinking and self reflection for both parties. It also can prevent miscommunications or assumptions that could prevent quality collaboration.

I have experienced situations from both sides where someone assumes bad intentions behind a comment, idea, or solution and then does not ask any questions to clarify if that was the intention. This ties back to the “Presuming Positive” norm as well as I think these two work together closely. Not taking the time to ask questions can cause a situation where what was intended was misinterpreted or miscommunicated causing a halt to any proper collaboration. Instead, asking clarifying questions can allow stakeholders to really understand where everyone is coming from. Even if they don’t all come to agreement, mutual understanding can only help when working with a group of people.

This is a pretty comprehensive list. As others have said, it could be helpful to explicitly add a norm on mutual respect for both people and their diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Many of the other norms describe how we show respect, but it can always be helpful to be explicit with our expectations.

I moved what I’d written before. I’m still struggling with what and where to post comments and replies.

While I’m not totally certain I should be looking at these from the point of view of an educator or student, I’m working on the premise that it may not matter.

  1. Pausing is a problem for many. Often, folks don’t care for the quiet-preferring to fill it with noise. I find myself working very hard to teach my students about wait time. I’ll provide a prompt, and require a quiet period for thought. Some find this almost painful, as they’re so used to being among the first to provide a response. I encourage them to wait a bit to allow everyone time to process and form a response. Instead of calling on one student, I’ll have them speak in small groups, allowing for each student to share.
  2. What’s missing? I’ll mention an agenda-only to set time limits. Just like with kids, adults will get off task and waste time if an agenda or plan isn’t offered and agreed too from the beginning.
  3. Responding to others. I cannot figure out how to see the responses of my peers. I’m hoping someone will be able to point me in the right direction, so. I can contribute.

Pursuing a Balance Between Advocacy and Inquiry
In working with teachers to collaborate on students, in the past I have been in many meetings where a personal agenda was being used to go against what was actually best for the student. It can be difficult to move forward when this is happening and something that needs to be handled delicately.