How Teacher Committees Destroy Progress

by Guy E. White on 10 November, 2014

Collaboration is not what it’s made out to be.

“Collaboration” has become a new buzzword in the public education world. When educators say this word, it can be about as misused as ubiquitous discussions about “the data.” What types of teacher collaboration are truly helpful for educators?

This is not, despite what the title of this article states, an anti-collaboration article. In fact, I can say, with much experience inside and outside the education world, that collaboration can lead to amazing advances for those we serve. However, not all collaboration is the same. As educators, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this the type of collaboration we truly need for this particular concern/problem/instance?”

Have you ever sat in a mind-numbing meeting where lots of words were being said, but nothing was truly getting done? By the standard of many educators, that was collaboration.

Have you ever made elaborate plans during a one-hour curriculum planning session, but found that few (if any) people truly implemented ANY of the plans in their classroom? That’s often called collaboration too.

Have you ever been part of a committee that spun and spun in their mental webs for months without getting anything truly substantive done? God help us: that’s collaboration, by some definition.

Not all collaboration is made the same, and we, as educators, need to wise up to that.


Here are some of the top costs of commonly-implemented collaboration schemes. Ask yourself, is this a committee worth the cost?

Cost #1: Slow Response

Are you forced to wait months, if not a full year before matters of concern are fully addressed by a collaborative group of educators?

In many school districts implementing new city-wide curriculum plans centered around the Common Core State Standards (standards I love, by the way), educators are forced to wait an entire year while a committee of their peers implement requested curriculum changes. Imagine having to wait to do a specific type of activity in your classroom while your “peers” decide if it’s a good idea or not. This is happening throughout the country right now!

Is the lack of a speedy response worth the collaborative effort?

Cost #2: Loss of Individual Freedom and Creativity

What activity do you love to do with your students? Does it serve a purpose? Does it serve a meaningful educational purpose? Imagine having to scrap that activity simply because it does not meet the collaborative agreement of your group.

Creativity is at the top of the highest levels of learning. When collaboration stifles creativity, we defeat the purpose of the collaboration itself: to promote the wellbeing of those the collaborators serve.

What impact will this loss of individual freedom have upon your learners and educators? Is it worth it?

Cost #3: Reinforcement of the Culture of Your School and District

Do you want to reinforce or change the culture of your school? It’s an open question! Some collaborative groups of educators tend to reinforce the existing culture of the workplace, because they discourage maverick activity, creativity, and innovation while relying on the wisdom of the group.

This is not necessarily a bad thing!

However, if you want to change the culture of your department, school, or district, collaborative groups will not always do that: they will sometimes have the opposite effect.

Is this the collaboration you are looking for?

In the end, it’s up to the educational leaders (whether teachers or administrators) to build the framework for the best type of collaboration being called for by a particular situation. In some situations, collaboration is not needed.

Educational leaders need to know the costs before they buy in.

What do you think about this? What are your collaboration horror stories? Stories of triumph?

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