Competition and Collaboration

In reading other Compelled Tribe posts on this topic, I was surprised that I did not see a reference to Alfie Kohn’s seminal The Case Against Competition, from 1987.

I started with his paper as I outlined this post, seeing it as a foundation for a reflection on competition in schools, looking at his thoughts through the filter of what characteristics separate the highly successful schools from those which are not yet highly successful.

I consider the work of Bill Daggett and the International Center for Leadership in Education an excellent resource of what works in high performing schools.

SIDEBAR – I had the privilege of being Director of High School Programs at the Central Educational Center in Newnan, Georgia, when our school was named one of thirty National Model Schools by the ICLE in the 2003-2004 school year. We were able to get to know them and their work rather well. –  END SIDEBAR

According to Dr. Daggett, the most rapidly improving schools ask themselves three important questions:

  1. What do our students need to know to be successful in the world beyond school?
  2. What must our students do to succeed in the world beyond school?
  3. What must our students be like to succeed in the world beyond school?

I appreciate  the culture of growth mindset schools and their willingness to focus of preparing their students to be ready for the world after they leave school by anticipating and meeting employers expectations in 3-5 years. During my 15 years working in elementary and middle schools, we defined our growth mindset within the same 3-5 years, but our goal was preparing our students to be successful at the next level of their education. That was their “world beyond school.”

Our ultimate goal at all levels was to produce graduates who had skills, knowledge and attitudes to become accomplished citizens. In order to meet our goal, we had to bridge the gap between what is and what should be. This is, by definition, what the literature describes as an Adaptive Challenge, which requires a response outside the usual repertoire of most schools.

Both competition and collaboration play a role in the transformation.

Our competition is not other schools or districts, vouchers, or charter schools. The competition is ignorance or what learning should be and must become. It is composed of the internal factors of myopia, resistance to change, lethargy, confusion and arrogance. The external factors include uncertainty of the benefits of the new model.

We are not competing against each other, we are competing with ourselves for our own excellence. When you compete against others, your target is too low. You have only to be as good or better than them to win, and there is an ending. When you compete against yourself, there is no limitation to how good you can be. And there is no ending.

Schools, as traditionally structured, are not designed as collaborative systems. Capstone assessments are individual events. Collaboration in the workplace is essential to complete most tasks, collaboration in most classrooms, particularly when assessing learning, is considered cheating.

Rather than assessments of outcomes as measures of successful schools, may we continue to develop assessments of process.

All of us share the common vision of creating lifelong learners, yet we feel trapped by high stakes assessments designed to measure short-term goals, ie, raise math scores by a certain number, increase the graduation rate to…

By focusing our efforts on the soft skills that are required in the workplace, I believe we will find that our short term goals will take care of themselves.

We owe it to our students to spend more of our time shooting at the rim, and less of our time shooting at the scoreboard. First, we will be our best, only then will we worry about being the best.