In chapter 4 of The Adaptive School (2016), Garmston and Wellman describe seven norms that are essential to group collaboration: pausing, paraphrasing, posing questions, putting ideas on the table, providing data, paying attention to yourself and others, and presuming good intent. I planned to focus on the seven norms in this post, but after reading chapter 4 more closely, I realized that the success of these norms relies on individual group members being able to monitor their own thinking and behavior. So instead, I chose to focus on the four “group member capabilities” (Figure 1) identified by the authors that underlie the seven norms of collaboration.
What is interesting to me about the four group member capabilities is that they are each a skill that need to be learned and practiced. They require “metacognitive awareness” (Garmston & Wellman, 2016, p. 38), that as anyone who has tried mindfulness practice knows, requires repeated exercise. Research by Gratton & Erickson (2007) showed that companies that were the most successful at fostering collaboration intentionally trained their employees in collaborative best practices and had executives who modeled collaborative behavior. And, as Foltos (2013) notes, a lack of collaboration skills is often the cause when a group of educators can’t work together effectively (p. 79). Clearly these are not skills we are born with; they must be developed. The other thing that is powerful to me in this approach is that it puts the responsibility for productive meetings on all group members, not just the facilitator or coach.
Match your Intention to Your Behavior
The first group member capability is to know your intention and choose behavior that reflects it. “Clarity of intention drives attention, which in turn drives the what and how of a group member’s meeting participation.” (Garmston and Wellman 2016, p. 38). If you aren’t clear on what your intention is before meeting with a coaching partner, you will not be able to act in a coherent, organized way to support your intent. This reminded me of something we covered in our first DEL course on mindful use of technology: if you aren’t constantly monitoring what you are doing online and comparing it with your original intent, you can quickly waste hours of time.
Avoid Unproductive Patterns of Interaction
The second group member capability is to recognize and avoid certain patterns of interaction that can either derail or shut down a productive meeting or coaching session. Garmston and Wellman (2016) warn against three typical modes of listening, responding, and inquiring:
- Autobiographical – relating everything the speaker says to your own experience which can lead to “distortion and miscommunication” (p. 37)
- Inquisitive – getting carried away with the speaker’s story and asking questions to the point that the meeting gets off-task
- Solution focused – jumping in to fix things, which “stifles the generation of new possibilities” (p. 38)
Know When to Assert Yourself and When to Integrate
Knowing when to assert yourself in a meeting and when to integrate is closely tied to two other group member capabilities: knowing your intent and understanding and supporting the group’s purpose. According to Garmston and Wellman (2016), “Self-assertion and integration are conscious choices only when group members have personal clarity about their own intentions as well as a knowledge of and willingness to support the group’s outcome and methods” (pg. 39).
The authors note that “self-assertion does not necessarily mean self-focus” but rather keeping the meeting centered on the original purpose, which may include advocating for ideas or processes (pg. 39). Integrating with the group means “…suspending judgements and counter arguments in an attempt to understand viewpoints different from their own” (p. 39).
In most meetings, there is constant interplay between the two approaches, but by minding the original intent, it is easier to choose the appropriate response. An example in a coaching meeting might be to ask, “How does our current discussion relate to our original goal of giving students multiple ways to show their understanding in this lesson?” If someone can prove that it does support the original goal, then the questioner integrates; if not, the questioner asserts that the group change its focus to the original goal.
Understand and Support the Group’s Purpose and Methods
The fourth capability is focused on the growth and health of the group as a whole and includes individual contributions to a group’s purpose and development (Garmston and Wellman, 2016). Purpose refers to the group’s reason for being; development means continually working as a group to improve how things get done. As the authors describe, “Without continued attention to expanding repertoire and skills, the group stagnates and does not increase its capacity for handling more complex work in the future” (p. 39). This stagnation is the last thing you want in a continued coaching relationship. In addition to being aware of whether you as a team met your coaching goal (e.g. developed a lesson plan that integrated technology in a way that supported equity), coaching teams should also evaluate how their process skills contributed to their goal and what could be improved. They should then develop a plan for improving these skills in their next round of working together.
Building these four group member capabilities and applying them in coaching meetings supports ISTE Coaching Standard 1: Visionary Leadership. All four capabilities are needed to work effectively with teachers in designing purposeful tech integration.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
Garmston, R., & Wellman, Bruce M. (1999; 2016). Developing collaborative norms, Chapter 4 of The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon. Permalink: https://alliance-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/rpqmv/CP71107094210001451
Gratton, L. and Erickson, T.J. (2007). Eight ways to build collaborative teams. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2007/11/eight-ways-to-build-collaborative-teams