Problem

Wicked Problem of Practice

Collaboration. When entered in a Google search, the following results are among the first to be returned:

  • “Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals…” –Wikipedia
  • “col·lab·o·rat·ed col·lab·o·rat·ing. Definition of COLLABORATE. i ntransitive verb. 1. : to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” –Merriam-Webster
  • TED Talks on Collaboration

Key points of collaboration are togetherness, shared goals, and working together. The first three images returned in my Google search on collaboration involve people physically getting together– putting their hands or heads together or getting in a huddle. In our new age of technology, though, collaboration is changing. People don’t have to physically be together in order to work jointly. Tools on the web such as Google Docs, Facebook, Wikispaces, LinoBoard, and Popplet allow for real-time collaboration with people from anywhere in the world. This is good news since “…the culture of schools does not offer sufficiently responsible support for teachers to work with their colleagues on both teaching and learning” (Suntisukwongchote, 2006).

I am a music teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in Negaunee, Michigan. The music department in my school district consists of myself (K-5 Music), a 6-12 band director, a 6-12 chorus director, and a 5-12 orchestra director. Between our busy musician schedules and the setup of the school calendar, it is a very rare occasion that the four of us have an opportunity to get together to discuss anything of too much substance. It is for this reason that I would like to create a safe online environment in which the Negaunee Public Schools Music Teachers can collaborate without needing to meet face to face. At this point in time, we four music teachers work within our own programs quite independently. We reach out to each other on a one-on-one basis for a single idea here or there. But for the most part, we connect with our own content, students, and methods individually. When we do come together to produce a musical together each spring, communication proves to be an issue. We try to get messages to each other through middle men, emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls, but miss a lot of information on the way.

This isn’t only a problem of inconvenience. It affects our students negatively. When we educators are teaching in our own way without connecting with each other, we are not always making the best use of our time. For example, the band teacher may reteach concepts that the students are already familiar with because he simply does not know that I have already taught them. Or perhaps the choir director spends a lot of her time an energy trying to motivate a particular students when through six years with him, I have learned what works for him. If we spend a small amount of energy on collaborating– not one on one, but all four of us together– we can spend our energy more efficiently to teach our students. In fact, a study conducted by Carrie R. Laena (2011) proved that “students showed higher gains in math achievement when their teachers reported frequent conversations with their peers that centered on math, and when there was a feeling of trust or closeness among teachers.” She focuses on the term social capital, which she defines as a state “when the relationships among teachers in a school are characterized by high trust and frequent interaction.”

This issues of collaboration and social capital are not tame problems and will not be easily solved. It is what Koehler and Mishra (2008) would call a wicked problem. They say, “The diversity of teachers, students, and technology coordinators who operate in the social context bring different goals, objectives, and beliefs to the table, and thereby contribute tot he wickedness of this problem.” Here, we have four teachers with different goals and technological comfort levels, about 1000 students that we share in the department, and different administrators who may view a technological collaboration space differently.

I am excited to spearhead a project that will improve communication among the Negaunee Public Schools Music Department and thus enhance the music education of our students. I am confident that the technology of an organized collaboration space will help my colleagues and I teach our content and reach our students more harmoniously.  I hope that this project can serve as a model for other teachers in all subject areas who are frustrated with the lack of time to collaborate and would like to capitalize on the new opportunities that technology can afford us.

Works Cited:

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Eds.) Handbook of technological pedagogical content knowedge (TPCK) for educators (pp. 3-30) New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
http://punya.educ.msu.edu/2008/05/28/tpack-handbook-chapter-1/

Carrie R., Laena. “The Missing Link in School Reform.” Stanford Social Innovation Review. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2012. <www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_missing_link_in_school_reform/>.

Suntisukwongchote, Punipa. “Testing Models of Collaboration among High School Science Teachers in an Electronic Environment.” The High School Journal 89.3 (2006): 22-33. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2012.

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2 thoughts on “Problem

  1. Hi Emily,

    It seems you all have busy schedules! My sister teaches elementary music in Mt. Pleasant, and my Brother-in-Law Middle/High School band in Holly, so I am familiar with some of the challenges you describe. In thinking about your wicked problem I tried to imagine why I might want to collaborate as part of your team. I know I am most willing to collaborate when… I think I will get something of use, there are snacks, and I feel like I have something to contribute or that someone will accept my suggestions.

    One idea I have is if you and the other teachers express your biggest frustration, then choose the worst problem and brainstorm ways that the worst problem could be solved through collaboration. Solving one big important problem for someone in the group might make people want to work together.

    • Thanks, Ernie, for looking at it from one of my colleagues’ perspectives. That’s very helpful! I think I’m going to wait until the fall and then use some of your ideas as conversation starters. Now if only I can find a way to get some digital snacks…

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