People working toward the same goal rely upon each other. This is referred to as interdependence, which can result in movement toward or away from the goal (Johnson & Johnson, 2009). My experiences with interdependence have varied widely, but regardless of whether the effect was positive or negative, analyzing those experiences can help me become a better teacher.
Unfortunately, most of my experiences with collaborations have been examples of how to work as an ineffective group.
Elementary teachers tend to work in grade level teams. Sometimes, that is only a nominal team. Other times, large projects have to be organized and carried out. One grade level team I was involved in had projects to complete. We met as a group and decided on a way to divide the work so no one person was stuck with the whole thing.
Although expectations were clear, the deadline would arrive and we would meet to finalize our results. Invariably, one or more members of the team did not have their parts. “I just did not get around to it” was the common explanation. As a result, there was a last-second scramble to get things done.
In my first year with that team, I could not get my ideas heard for any amount of trying. Even when the group could not find a way forward, I would suggest a way to solve the problem and the response from the group was, “We just don’t understand how you think.” I was not given an opportunity to explain. At the end of the meeting time, nothing had been accomplished. I ended up defecting and working alone for the rest of the year. The following year, the principal stepped in and moderated a few meetings to ensure that everyone’s ideas were heard and seriously considered.
These examples of negative interdependence resulted in no significant movement toward the goal (Johnson & Johnson, 2009).
Leaving behind my education experiences, I have had better collaboration experiences as a writer.
Earlier this year, a friend of mine contacted me for help on his novel. He had written the first third of it but then hit a block that he had not been able to get past. He hoped that another writer would be able to get him past the problem so he could resume writing the tale and asked if I would collaborate with him on the second part.
We divided up the work. He provided me with the basic outline of the second stage of the novel and a map of the area. We communicated, mostly through private messages on social media, about how to execute the next scene in the work before I wrote the first draft. He would go through my work to correct places where I had not quite emulated his style correctly or had gotten the details incorrect. Then it came back to me so I could make further suggestions to improve it. Naturally, since it was his book, he had the final authority to say whether that part was officially done.
For the rest of the second section of the novel, we continued the collaboration. Once the second part was finished, he thanked me for the help and was able to continue on with the third part alone.
Our team, formed for the purposes of getting the stalled novel past the hard part, showed positive interdependence. Both of us worked diligently toward the goal (Johnson & Johnson, 2009).
My negative interdependence examples showed me the importance of some suggested procedures.
The members of my grade level team did not complete their work on time because there was no official consequence. There was no group or individual evaluation. Although the group had to scramble to get everything done on time, as long as the work was turned in somewhere close to the deadline, no one in the administration really cared about how it was done. Peer evaluations can encourage more effort from those who would otherwise simply ride along and do nothing (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008). If some sort of peer evaluation had been in place, perhaps there would have been fewer last second efforts.
When a group stalls but will not listen to the ideas of a group member, the instructor might need to step in and enforce ground rules (Lakey, 2010). In the situation I was in, ground rules had already been established to make sure everyone’s idea was heard, but when the group refused to hear ideas from all the members, the principal had to step in and enforce the ground rules to get the group moving forward again.
My positive interdependence example demonstrated the importance of communication and mutual respect. Our virtual group never met in real life (Adams & Galanes, 2012). We handled the entire project online through the message function of a social media program. The other writer had to be willing to give me creative control of his work temporarily, and I had to be willing to let him change what I had done to fit what he had in mind for his novel as a whole. We trusted each other to work in the best interests of the project (Adams & Galanes, 2012).
Groups should work together in a constructive way to accomplish a goal. When that happens, the team can accomplish great things. Should the teams have trouble cooperating, accountability and enforcement of the ground rules might help the group get back on track.
Adams, K., & Galanes, G. J. (2012). Communicating in groups: Applications and skills. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2009). An educational psychology success story: Social interdependence theory and cooperative learning. Educational Researcher, 38(5), 365–379.
Lakey, G. (2010). Facilitating group learning: Strategies for success with diverse adult learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2008(116), 7–27.