Making Time For Intentional Collaboration

Steve Seward's picture

The words collaboration and leadership are two words that are prevalent in most research surrounding effective teams. Although true, it seems that there is often a lack of clarity surrounding the various strategies one might use to engage others in collaborative dialogue. There is also a lack of training for this in most traditional Ed Leadership programs – leaving school leaders without the necessary strategies to efficiently and effectively build a culture of collaboration and shared ownership for students. Modeling these behaviors and reflecting on both the content and the process after exploration will ultimately allow for the ideas to be implemented into classroom instruction.

As you explore the ideas of building and sustaining collaborative teams during your adult meetings, keep in mind that one must first clarify the outcomes for the leaning. After the outcomes are clear, then you are ready to determine the structures and strategies that will best support the team in accomplishing the goals. As you plan and reflect, keep these thoughts in mind: 1) collaboration does not happen by chance, 2) collaboration does not happen without protocols, 3) collaboration requires cognitive conflict and it is this conflict that helps teams define their shared identity.

The concepts included below are part of the the Adaptive Schools Seminars. The four-day learning events are focused on developing the collective identity and capacity of an organizations members as collaborators, inquirers, and leaders. The trainings as well as the ideas within this document will provide a practical set of ideas and tools for developing collaborative groups in becoming effective and better equipped to resolve complex issues around student learning and the changing needs of our learning communities.

For more detailed ideas and information you are invited to register for the MASSP Adaptive Schools 4-day seminar led by Steve Seward (MASSP Associate Director and Thinking Collaborative Training Associate) at: or call/email Steve Seward at 616-443-2331 or to schedule a time to train your district team(s).


Protocols are necessary to ensure groups have balanced conversations and have shared understanding before moving on. When thinking about the protocols named below, think about the structures that might need to be built for your learners to fully engage in collaborative learning. Something to consider is paralleling the protocols below with sentence stems (aka sentence starters). By providing individuals these scaffolds you are giving them permission to use the language while also allowing them to feel instant success. The work of Adaptive Schools, Thinking Collaborative, states this, "Collaborative teams are developed, not born." One way to support this foundational believe is through the use of structures and intentional protocols that require balance talk.

Item Title Descriptor/Links
First Turn, Last Turn Members silently read a selected text look at a piece of data. Each person will highlight and/or write down 3-4 important thoughts that jumped out at them. Person #1 shares their reads what they highlighted without further conversation. Person #2 comments on it (keep going until everyone has commented) with NO cross-talk. Finally the person who made the initial comment gets to have the last word of WHY he/she chose it. Repeat the process.
Round-Robin Share Members determine who will begin the sharing. Each person in the group shares their thinking without cross-talk. After each person shares, team can paraphrase the patterns, pose a question, or add thinking to group.
"Say Something" Read something or respond to a set of focus questions. After allotted time, partners look at each other and say something. Then repeat.
A=share thoughts, B=paraphrase, C=question Read something participants get into groups of three. Designate a person #1, #2 and #3. Person 1 shares thinking as related to the reading, person 2 pauses and paraphrases, and person 3 asks "so…what makes that important to you?". Rotate and continue process.
Card Stack & Shuffle Participants complete a sentence designed by the facilitator--on an index card, (ie: "quality instruction consists of…" and "When students are learning, I will hear ____ and _____."). Participants then put cards face down in the center of the table and shuffle. In a round-robin fashion participants pick a card and read it. Dialogue about what was written and look for commonalities between cards.
Paired Verbal Fluency After reading about something, participants will gather in groups of 2. Each person will get a chance to share their thinking as it pertains to the text to focus question. Facilitator is the time keeper and allows pause time between role switches to allow for thinking. (length of time varies based on content) Person "A' talks for 45 seconds, Person "B" talks for 30 seconds; Person "A' talks for 45 seconds, Person "B" talks for 30 seconds; Person "A" talks for 15 seconds, Person "B" talks for 15 seconds; *partners try not to repeat ANYTHING that was already stated.
Walk About Review Participants create a written response to 1-3 questions or prompts that relate to the content being explored. After writing responses, participants walk around the room and find 1-2 people who will share their responses to the questions. Partnerships talk about similarities and differences and move to the another person. Repeat until time is called. Individuals then return to table groups and dialogue about the patterns they heard.
A/B Teach or Share Individuals work in pairs and read a piece of research or writing. Each individual reads a portion of the text. When reading is completed, each gives a summary sentence to dialogue about the reading. Variation= A/B partner "Ping-Pong" (each person share one ideas, wonder or connection – "Something I notice…", "Something I wonder…")
Marker Talk Presenter will have several charts hanging in the room or on individual tables. Each chart will have titles/heading on them that pertain to the concepts being explored. Participants will have a marker of a specific color to write with, will read, talk with group mates and interact/write on the charts to collect group thinking (can write about ideas, questions, connections to text or what someone else write, etc).

Annotating Text

Annotating a shared text allows individuals to debate ideas verses individuals. The practices also create a common language to speak from. When time is short, ask people to come with the text read and annotated. This will set the tone that professionals learn outside of the daily contracted hours and will also create conversations before and after the scheduled learning time. If you do ask people to read outside of the structured learning time, always make time for participants to reconnect with the content before talking about it. Finally, after you introduced a few ways to annotate, allow the learners to choose which type of annotation best supports their needs and text demands. According to Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, Annotation: Noting Evidence for Later Use, "When writing analytically about a text, students (learners) can consult their annotations to help them formulate arguments, analyze information, and make connections within and outside of the text. Annotations also have a life beyond their initial construction."

Annotating Strategy
Margin Meaning of the Text
What does the text say?, What does it mean? Why does it matter? and What connections are you making?
All A’s Strategy
What might you argue for or against, agree with, or what is the author assuming?
Read and Connect
Balancing what the author said and connecting it to your triningin or realities.on the left side of the page(s) write What author said… on the left side of the page(s) My thinking…
Read, Highlight, Jot
1) read text, 2) highlight key vocabulary and phrases, 3) jot down 2-5 key ideas from the text and prioritize them (1 being most important)
Evidence-Based Language
From my reading I know that…, According to the text…, The author stated…
Lifting Lines & Text Coding
Highlight key lines and code them 1) Want to remember (!) 2) Key ideas (*), Investigate further (?)
Within & Beyond Text
What is the author telling me? What does the author want me to understand? What might this mean for me and my colleagues?
1) highlight 5 Key phrase or ideas from the text, 2) examine the phrases and determine the 3 common words or themes, 3) come up with one systems thought based on the content"


Do not underestimate the power of reflection. When teams learn and reflect together, they grow together. Make time to reflect before, during, and after the learning event. As Bob Garmston, the founder of adaptive Schools, stated, "If you are too busy to reflect, you are too busy to grow." Some things to consider are reflecting on the content (information learned) , process (strategies used & and interpersonal relations), and how individuals might adapt the strategy within their own realities; these actions allow transfer to take place.

Reflection Strategies
M.I.P-Most Important Point(s)

  • Something I found important…
  • A key idea…
  • A summary thought…
Think, Ink, Link

  1. individually this about the content,
  2. jot down idea,
  3. find 2 other people, share, and come up with a synthesis thought the captures the 3 ideas
Shape-Up Summary

  • Square=Some things that square with my beliefs, values, and/or assumptions…
  • Circle=Some things circling in my mind…
  • Triangle= Three key points are…
High 5-Partners
Participants stand and find 1-2 people form across the room. They then engage in dialogue by reflecting on focus questions, graphics, quotes, or data.
Writing to Prompts

  • I used to think…, now i think…, I will explore further…
  • What I think I know…, What I am interested in learning, What I am learning about myself, others, and/or the content…
Post-It Summary (or Tweet)
Individually write, on a sticky note, a summary or write in relation to the learning target. Post the sticky notes. While posting read others and connect is there is a shared idea or theme. *variation is to tweet the summary
Snowball Reflection
Participants write, on a 1/2 sheet of paper, in relation to 2-3 prompts. When finished writing they crinkle up the paper and place infant of them. when promoted they stand throw, gather a read. Repeat 2-3 times seek gin patters between the "snowballs". Share out thinking.
Think and Connect

  • draw a graphic that represents your thinking
  • summarize your thinking, summarize your teams thinking
  • similes/metaphors
  • write a questions
  • if I remember to…I will be able to…
Stoplight Reflection
Write or respond through goal setting. As a result of this learning, what will I /we STOP doing (red light)?, Continue doing (yellow light)?, and Start doing (green light)?
Shared Thoughts
Each person write one word that captures the essence of the learning for them. When promoted find a team of 3-5. Put the words together to form a sentence—each teams reads/shares.


When grouping individuals, first think about your purpose, then determine the teams. people will need to know how to collaborate in teams of two before asking them to work and learn in teams of 3, 4, or 5. Each time you add another person to the conversation, you increase the complexity of the collaborative event; individuals need to pay attention to themselves and others, determining when to insert and when to pull back. When grouping you might also want to think about the learners’ level of proximal development in relation to those you ask them to dialogue with. If placed with people who are to high or low in relation to a partners proximal development, frustration will result. Also, when recouping individuals, ensure learners understand the the purpose of recouping. In the text Got Data, Now What, Bruce Wellman and Laura Lipton Note this, "Length of time as a working group should vary according to task requirements. Small groups are effective for text-based activities, idea generation and data exploration. By varying the length of time that groups work together and regrouping periodically, individuals within a larger group develop deeper working relationships and greater knowledge of one another. Switching partners also provides a period of purposeful movement for energy and brief social interaction. One pattern for intact groups is to establish base groups that meet regularly and employ informal partnering for designated tasks."

High Structure Groupings Low Structure Groupings
  • personality type
  • skill or will
  • interest or winningness to adapt
  • big picture or logical sequential
  • eye contact
  • counting off
  • line-ups
  • share or clock partners
  • color patterns, height, brith month, number of syllables in your name, similar socks/shoes


Exploring language stems and teaching adults and students how to effectively and efficiently communicate is key to creating collaborative cultures. When these norms are present, reflected upon, and are part of a a teams behaviors and beliefs, shared identity and ownership result. These ways of communicating are the backbone of collaborative teams; teams that create cognitive conflict for the betterment of all stakeholders. For more information click on the provided Seven Norms of Collaboration link: Below is are link to sentence stems.

Item Title and Link

For more ideas and information please register for the MASSP Adaptive Schools 4 day seminar ( or call/email Steve Seward (616-443-2331 or to schedule a time to train your district team(s).


  • Block, P. (2008) Community: The structure of belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler
  • Costa, Arthur and Garmstrom, Robert (2002). Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools Training Sessions.
  • Ellison, Jane and Wellman, Bruce (2009). Ways of Talking that Make a Difference in Groups. MiraVia, LLC & The Center for Adaptive Schools.