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Collaboration : A journey from "ME" to "WE"

Prerna Kalra

Program Lead, Centers of Excellence (Urban)

When I think of collaboration I am transported back to countless spaces of discussions and debates. One particular story that stands out is one of four students, studying in one of the government schools I work with, engaged in a collaborative story-making activity. Sana, Parmila, Ritika and Sushma are grade 5 students in the school, and I have seen them grow into thoughtful individuals over the last three years. On this day, they were part of a small group, working together to create a story. I expected them to immediately jump in with several ideas, select a few that made sense and mutually agree upon a narrative. But what I saw was not only different, it filled me up with joy and pride. 

As they started the discussion, Sana shared that she needs her own time to ‘pause and think’ first, a practice we often encourage our students to do during class, as she felt that would help her come up with better ideas. As her peers listened to this, each of them valued what Sana had to share and decided to follow suit, taking some individual thinking time. Once they came back together, they listened to each other's ideas, asked clarifying questions, and built on each other’s ideas to make an interesting story. At one point, Ritika reached out to Sushma, asking if she would like to add something as she hadn’t spoken much. In response, Sushma shared that she would need more time. The group, instead of moving on, waited patiently, providing Sushma the space to engage in a manner that was most comfortable for her. At the end of twenty minutes, they had created a story together, successfully accomplishing their goal. 

As I reflected on this experience a valuable insight emerged, collaboration begins when we have clarity about our intention of coming together.

The students had come in with the intention of creating a story together, and hence were able to create it while ensuring that everyone participated fully and in a way that worked for every one. Along with their intent, they were aware of their individual needs, from individual thinking time to their ability to honestly communicate their needs to their peers, and this awareness enhanced the overall experience for each individual involved. As they moved further in the process of designing and framing their characters, they were aware of what interested them, whether it was the aspect of writing, drawing or adding new details and they took ownership of that part. Hence, individually and together, they were able to truly co-create a story, that was their own. In that twenty minute zoom call, all the elements of collaboration came to life. 

Having worked with a diverse range of stakeholders, from children to teachers and parents, I have learned that articulating our intention to collaborate helps us strengthen the collaboration.

For any collaborative effort to lead to fruition, it is essential to ensure that we are clear about our individual intentions, and that we are able to work towards articulating a shared intention. It is important for all the partners to come together in a meaningful manner, anchored in that shared intention. 

As an organisation our vision for our children is: ‘To live in harmony in this ever-changing world, we believe our children will continuously learn, reflect and grow into self-aware individuals who act with alignment in head, heart, hand, and soul in service of all beings’. In order to bring this vision to life we have formed a collaborative partnership with all the stakeholders that impact the life of our children, focusing on fostering a deepened awareness of self, others and the world around us. We have come to realize that while each one, teachers, Principals, parents and us as an organization, in our own capacities might have some impact on our children, together, we are stronger and our impact is deeper. 

Our engagement with our stakeholders focuses on different aspects of learning, leadership and culture, each valuable on its own. We start our engagements with our stakeholders by aligning on shared purpose and values, as it lays the groundwork for developing a partnership that supports us in our individual and collective journey. Knowing that each one of us is working with the same intention and with the awareness of our goal, has helped in streamlining our efforts and leading to changes that are sustainable. Capacity building continues to be at the core of our work as we improve the quality of learning and teaching in schools, but for any meaningful shift to happen, we have learnt that focusing on our mindset, as an individual and a collective, helps us truly move forward in our journey from ‘Me’ to ‘MWe’. 

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