This school year’s catch word seems to be “collaboration.” Expect to hear it over and over as teachers team up, students do group work and districts weigh ways to bring citizen input into the budgeting process. “Partnership” is another word getting a workout, usually as community leaders pitch in to help education.
Working together has its benefits. Some are tangible, such as saving money through volume purchases and saving time as teachers share high-quality lesson plans. Some are abstract, such as the value of getting to know people with diverse interests, talents and backgrounds.
Research has found that having a variety of people working on any project brings a better result than what is produced by groups of similar people. It’s called the architecture of, you guessed it, collaboration.
While we all feel more comfortable working with people who are like us and agree with us, it is the uneasiness of diversity that spurs the best problem solving, according to studies done by Katherine Phillips of Northwestern University in Chicago, Katie A. Liljenquist of Brigham Young University and Margaret Neale of Stanford University.
“When you think about diversity, it often comes with more cognitive processing and more exchange of information and more perceptions of conflict,” Phillips says in the Kellogg Insight, a university publication. While conflict feels like a bad thing, new ideas emerge, individuals learn from one another and solutions arise.
“It’s kind of surprising how difficult it is for people to actually see the benefit of the conversations they are having in a diverse setting,” Phillips adds.
Wednesday morning, a diverse group of community leaders gathered in Modesto to celebrate partnerships of commerce and campus. Put on by the Chamber of Commerce with the Stanislaus County Office of Education, the fourth annual State of Business & Education focused on collaboration.
Even the annual Excellence in Education Awards showcased the theme. Winners were Mike Henderson, senior director of career-focused programs for Modesto City Schools, and Karen Mizell and Kristi Marcella of the Gallo Early Start Leadership Camp of E.&J. Gallo Winery and G3 Enterprises. One from education, the other from the business side, both training kids to be better employees and citizens.
Sunrise Rotary underwrote the awards; businesses donated the breakfasts; the county office donated the space and speakers. More partnerships. More collaboration.
But here’s where that diversity came into play.
The program revolved around Common Core, with background by trainer Rick Bartkowski paired with reports from the field by three enthusiastic teachers and two students. On each table were pamphlets, provided by Common Core critics, arguing against the standards.
The standards began in 2009, pushed by governors who wanted to improve education to attract business to their states, said Bartkowski, who is the county office assistant superintendent of instructional support services. After years of lower standards making scores seem higher, the governors wanted all the states to be measured against the same ruler – a tall ruler.
“They wanted students to have the ability to solve unique and challenging problems. They wanted the application of skills and knowledge,” he said. “We’re in the 21st century, not the 20th.”
To illustrate the point, emcee Cecil Russell of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce told of hearing a customer ask that a long sandwich be cut in quarters. “The clerk said, ‘I can’t. I already cut it in half,’ ” Russell said, adding that hopes are high the change will fix the fractions gap.
Sherwood Elementary teacher Karyn Garcia called Common Core “academic oxygen,” breathing new life into teaching after years of test prep and memorization.
Passionate speakers for the standards met with applause from roughly 180 in the audience. Equally passionate in speaking against the standards were three naysayers.
If Common Core were tossed out tomorrow, I asked the critics, what would replace it? Something better, came the confident reply, the old standards.
It can be tough to see the benefits of conversations in such diverse settings, which may mean good things will come of them.