During our 21st Century Learning Summit in 2013, community representatives agreed that collaboration is central to our vision of being “a world leader in education cultivating exceptional thinkers prepared for the future.” Whether in person or remotely, everyone must be able to work with others, and collaboration will only become more important as our world becomes more connected. “Team trumps talent” was a phrase used by participants whose life experiences showed that well-functioning teams nearly always produce better results than even the smartest individuals on their own. Subsequent research revealed that a range of professional organizations and school districts, from EdLeader21 to Singapore’s Ministry of Education, list collaboration as a key learning outcome for students. 

Our 2014 Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation review helped us focus on how to teach collaboration more intentionally to students and how to incorporate it into SAS employees’ professional obligations. Through discussions, faculty realized that collaboration, though often implicitly addressed, was not explicitly being taught very often. That is, students might spend a whole class working in groups but never receive instruction on how to contribute individually to a group product; they might complete a long-term group project without being taught how to deal with disagreements.

This realization led to several recommendations to promote more structured development of the skills needed for successful collaboration:

  • Teachers should explicitly label skills associated with effective collaboration, so students realize they are developing these skills. 
  • Faculty should teach step-by-step lessons and provide feedback so students become competent in collaborating with a range of individuals and groups. 
    • For younger students, this includes skills like speaking within a group, listening respectfully, encouraging responses from others, and keeping track of what is said. 
    • Older students continue to develop these skills while also learning how to distribute jobs or roles, ensure equal time or responsibility, and navigate conflict within a team. 
  • Leadership skills and diplomacy are also important and teachable aspects of collaboration. 
  • Our character Core Values of compassion, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect all help collaboration to flourish.

For SAS teachers and staff members, collaboration is fundamental. As an institution, SAS believes in the worth of strong teams, and employees are expected to work collaboratively in their professional learning communities, as departments and divisions, and during group activities and professional development. In this way, we ensure that we can work together as a team that knows and cares for each student. At the same time, we model for our students what successful collaboration looks like. 

We are proud of the progress we have made in developing a framework for teaching collaboration to every SAS student. As educators, our own engagement with this skill has made us more aware of the many aspects of constructive collaboration. We believe that helping students learn how to collaborate now will give them a lifelong leg-up in all their endeavors.

My next article will explain the desired student learning outcome of Communication. Feedback, questions, or comments about our Learning at SAS series are always welcome at learningatsas@sas.edu.sg. Please get in touch!

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