Team Collaboration for Online Learning

From the onset of COVID-19, we’ve learned that our current context can change overnight, and while we’re all aware of this, the constant changes and not knowing makes a transition to online learning especially disruptive. Working online means adapting to a new environment, battling a new set of challenges, and if working from home, the fusion of work and home life. In order to continue working efficiently and creating value under these new circumstances, we need to understand, accept, and support one other’s specific situations and needs. 

Whether we are in a position to work from school or home during a period of online learning, it is important for teams to consider how the way we work and collaborate might change as a result. If we need to transition to online learning at any point during the year, I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to work together in the “usual” way in the months prior. It takes time for a new team to “gel” and work to its full potential, and having had this time together as a team, you’ve established norms and working agreements and you’re likely well into the progression of team development.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in his 1965 paper, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Forming, norming, storming, and performing in an offline environment is different to that of an online environment and to ensure your team is adequately prepared for a transition to online and a change to the way you collaborate, you may need to revisit some fundamental questions about who you are and what you are trying to do. 

I came across this Edutopia article, Four Guiding Questions for Effective Remote Collaboration by Zachary Herrmann, last year when we were preparing to transition to online learning over the winter break. Some of you might remember employing the four guiding questions to support your team’s transition:

  1. What is our team’s purpose?
  2. Who is on our team and what are our roles and responsibilities? 
  3. How does our team work together? 
  4. How does our team take pride in its work?

It is likely that most, if not all of these will change as a result of a transition to online learning, and while your team might be in a good place in its current setting, the stress and anxiety associated with online learning, can break down established systems and structures that have worked well for the team in the past. 

Purpose 

I think we can all agree that, in an online environment, it is impossible to replicate exactly what we would do if we had students on campus. With this, it is important for teams to recalibrate their purpose to ensure that they’re working on the right things at the right time. How have the team’s goals changed and how will you measure success? When we first shifted to online learning in February, 2020, without knowing how long the situation would last, we prioritized academics and a continuation of what would have happened had we been on campus. On reflection, our purpose had changed and until we were able to identify that, we were not in a position to talk about strategy and action. 

People 

Most teams at ISB will have agreements around who is responsible for what. This might be reflected in the responsibilities of a course or unit lead in Middle or High School or a Subject Area Representative (SAR) in the Elementary School, for example. In an online environment we shift to a more blended approach, with synchronous learning supported by asynchronous content housed on DX or Seesaw. How might the roles and responsibilities on your team shift as a result of this? Having a candid conversation about how team members’ efforts should be reallocated and how different duties may need to be assigned will be critical to team success.

You’ll also be collaborating with coaches, coordinators and facilitators in different ways than what you might when students are on campus. How might your team leverage the support of these people to identify high quality learning materials and ideas for online learning? 

Process

Even if we are in a position to work from campus, this does not guarantee that all team members will be able to do so. Last year we were lucky enough to have faculty children on campus, but after only a few weeks, this was no longer an option. This meant that those with children had the option to work from home. Whether you have one team member or the entire team working remotely, it is important to reestablish how you will communicate, share resources, make decisions, and how you will report on progress in this new working environment. 

Pride 

We’ve had time to build positive team culture in the on-campus setting, but how does this change in the online setting? Take time to consider what your team’s rituals and traditions might look like and how you will maintain that sense of pride and belonging. An online meeting as a team can be tough after a full day of teaching – how might your team achieve the outcomes for your work while connecting with each other as people? 

The Harvard Business Review article, 4 Tips for Effective Virtual Collaboration, summarizes the purpose behind team collaboration in an online environment well: “It’s to make sure that you and your team are aligned on your goals and most effectively moving ahead in accomplishing them. You can collaborate effectively from far apart, even when you have an incredible amount to do, if you collaborate with intention and focus” (HBR, 2021).

It’s right for us to be preparing for a transition to online learning, but let’s cross fingers and toes that we don’t have to!

 

REFERENCES

Herrmann, Z. (2020, April 17). 4 guiding questions for effective remote collaboration. Edutopia. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-guiding-questions-effective-remote-collaboration. 

Tuckman, B.W. (1965). ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,’ Psychological Bulletin, 63(6). Available here.

4 tips for effective virtual collaboration. Harvard Business Review. (2021, August 27). Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2020/10/4-tips-for-effective-virtual-collaboration. 

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