The Seven Norms of Collaborative Work

So often we pull teachers together to collaborate but never set norms regarding how they will interact, communicate, and learn from one another. This is particularly ironic since as teachers, we know to do this with our students and spend countless lessons teaching them these precious skills.

Many of you are familiar with the Seven Norms of Collaborative Work (Garmston, R.J. and Wellman, B.M. (2016). The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield) and have probably used them in your work with teachers. I was recently asked to paint a picture of how these norms look in action, which made me think about how they look within collaborative groups and how that compares with how they look for coaches working with individual teachers. Here’s what I came up with:

What it Looks Like in Action
Pausing Pausing before responding allows time for thinking and enhances dialogue, discussion, and decision-making.In Group Work:Group members engage thoughtfully in the conversation by taking time to think and reflect before responding. This requires participants to slow down, listen, and weigh the thoughts of others before sharing their own thinking. To promote this behavior, the facilitator may use practices such as; reflective writing/journaling at specific points in the conversation, reminding group members to resist the temptation to solve a problem right away, and using protocols that build in time for each person to contribute.In Coaching Conversations: The coach listens attentively to the teacher before responding with the ‘right’ answer. The coach also recognizes that coaching conversations are more meaningful when both the teacher and coach are provided with the opportunity to share their knowledge and ideas over time.
Paraphrasing Paraphrasing allows us to hear and understand each other as we evolve in our thinking.In Group Work:When a lack of clarity exists around what is being shared by a colleague, participants regularly paraphrase what was said and seek confirmation that the message of the listener is being understood. Examples of paraphrasing stems include; “I think what I’m hearing you say is…” or “It sounds like you are saying…”In Coaching Conversations: The same strategy readily applies to coaching conversations. Using similar stems, the coach may paraphrase what was shared to confirm that the teacher was understood and move the thinking forward.
Probing Using gentle open-ended probes or inquiries increases clarity and precision of a person’s thinking.In Group Work:Group members regularly probe one-another to enhance the overall learning of the group. Probing is honest, open-minded, and has the sole purpose of clarifying and enhancing the work of the group. Examples of probing stems include; “Please say more…” or “Can you tell me about…” or “Then, are you saying…?” Effective probing does not include; leading questions, questions that are driven by a personal agenda, or suggestions that are disguised as probing questions.In Coaching Conversations: When used effectively, probing is a non-threatening process that deepens and extends the learning of both the teacher and coach. Examples of probing stems for coaching are; “Why do you think the students responded in this way?” “Tell me more about this…” “What can we learn from the student work to enhance our thinking?” “I’d love to hear your thinking on this, tell me more…”
Putting Ideas on the Table Sharing ideas are the heart of meaningful dialogue. However, one must remain open-minded and thoughtful in relationship to the ideas that are being shared by themselves and others.In Group Work:Group members understand that there are many solutions to any given problem and are encouraged to toss a variety of ideas on the table during a conversation. Examples are, ““Here is one idea…” or “One thought I have is…” or “Here is a possible approach…” or “I’m just thinking out loud…”In Coaching Conversations: In order to validate and learn from teachers, coaches begin most conversations by soliciting ideas from the teacher before sharing their own ideas. Later in the conversation, a coach may share an idea or two using the following stems, “One thing that might make sense is…” or “What do you think about…”
Paying Attention to Self and Others Meaningful dialogue is facilitated when we are aware of both what we are saying as well as how others are responding.In Group Work:Group members demonstrate this norm by staying conscious of how their behavior affects the group. A common example is group members who may choose to speak too often or not often enough in group settings. By making a group aware of this norm, participants learn to adapt their behavior accordingly.In Coaching Conversations: Coaching conversations, like all conversations, are a back-and-forth dialogue in which the two people respond and adapt to one-another. By paying attention to self and others, the coach adjusts throughout the conversation, and may do so by drawing upon other norms including; pausing, probing, and paraphrasing.
Presuming Positive Intentions Assuming that a colleague’s comments, questions, or statements are coming from a positive place promotes and facilitates productive dialogue and eliminates unintentional resentment, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings.In Group Work:Though group members may disagree with a colleague, the underlying sentiment is that they believe that the intentions of that person are positive. Groups that don’t demonstrate this norm bring judgments and negative viewpoints of their colleagues into group dialogue. Groups that demonstrate this norm may use the following stems, “I appreciate what you are saying…” “What you are saying makes sense because…” “I understand that with your background, this is how you view the situation. However…”In Coaching Conversations: Coaching is driven by respectful and trusting relationships and when a coach carries a negative view of a teacher, it shows. Coaches who demonstrate this norm are open-minded about both the teachers with whom they collaborate as well as regarding how any given problem might be solved.
Pursuing a Balance Between Advocacy and Inquiry Maintaining a balance between advocating for a position and questioning one’s own position assists the group in becoming a learning organization.In Group Work:We all carry baggage and groups are no different. Effective groups refrain from pushing a personal agenda and instead regularly question their position throughout the learning process.In Coaching Conversations: Coaches also benefit from maintaining a position of inquiry in their work with teachers. Even in situations where the coach’s role is to promote a specific program or curriculum, there is still room to question and analyze. When we approach coaching myopically—or as there being one way of doing things—we’ve lost sight of this norm.

Adapted from: Garmston, R.J. and Wellman, B.M. (2016). The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.