by Carolyn Ito

Collaboration, literally working together, is a tool for problem solving. It is used in corporate boardrooms in large cities, on assembly lines in factories, around dinner tables in homes, and in classrooms across the country. Collaborators come together to share expertise, problem solve, produce and implement strategies, and evaluate results (Chronowski, Howard, Johnson, & Sherburne, 1993).

Friend and Cook (1996) characterized collaboration as "a style for direct interactions between at least two coequal parties voluntarily engaged in shared decision making as they work toward a common goal." (p.6) The six essential elements of this collaborative style are as follows:

  1. Voluntary participation: teachers have the choice to collaborate rather than being administratively assigned into the relationship.

  2. Parity: all professionals must believe that each individual's contribution is valued and an integral part of the collaborative effort.

  3. Mutual goals: collaborators must share common, well-defined goals.

  4. Shared responsibility: all parties share the decision-making responsibilities.

  5. Shared resources: team members contribute and share resources such as time, expertise, space, and equipment.

  6. Shared accountability for outcomes: collaborators jointly share the results of their decisions, both positive and negative.

Successful collaborative relationships take time and commitment to forge. They require individuals who have the following qualities and skills that are basic to the relationship.

  • possess creativity

  • desire personal growth

  • are reflective about own practices

  • know how to collaborate

  • believe in the benefits of collaboration

  • are open to observation

  • trust their partners

  • recognize that the goal is complex and requires joint effort and commitment

(Aldinger, Warger, & Eavy, 1991; Pugach & Johnson, 1995).

Collaborative partnerships among educational personnel may take several forms including consultation, teaming, co-teaching, and staff development. Collaborative consultation involves two or more professionals pooling their knowledge to analyze and resolve problems. There are a number of collaborative teams at work in educational settings. Multidisciplinary teams such as those formed for eligibility decisions, Individualized Educational Programs, and 504 plans collaborate to improve services for students with disabilities. Pre-referral case-centered teams like teacher assistance teams or student assistance teams brainstorm adaptations for students who are not doing well. Still other teams such as grade-level, site governance, subject-centered, and advisory teams make decisions regarding curricula and other school matters. Co-teaching is another type of collaborative partnership. Two or more educational professionals plan and implement instruction for groups of students in the same classroom using a variety of approaches such as interactive, parallel, station, or alternative teaching. Partnerships for professional growth through staff development activities such as observation, mentoring, and peer coaching constitute additional types of collaboration.

Regardless of the form that collaboration takes, the benefits are great. The information exchanged through the collaboration process increases the quality of the decisions made. The process also enriches the collaborators' knowledge. Often collaborators report great personal and professional satisfaction and support from this experience.


Aldinger, L., Warger, C., & Eavy, P. (1991). Strategies for teacher collaboration. Ann Arbor, MI: Exceptional Innovations, Inc.

Chronowski, L., Howard, S., Johnson, J., & Sherburne, M. (1993). Models of collaboration. Rockville, MD: Johns Hopkins University.

Friend, M., & Cook, L. (1996). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (2nd Ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers USA.

Pugach, M., & Johnson, L. (1995). Collaborative practitioners, collaborative schools. Denver: Love.

Date: May/June 1998