With all the buzzwords and fads in education, "collaborative learning community" has the potential to lose its meaning, of losing its potency. Taken individually, each concept has incredible power and together, there is a synergy, a revolutionary force that we have not even begun to recognize yet in schools. So what is this thing called a "collaborative learning community"? It is a philosophy as well as a place; it is a way of being as well as a working model. It is a mindset as well as a map.
The foundation of a collaborative learning community is collaboration - working together for common goals, partnership, shared leadership, co-evolving and co-learning - rather than competition and power given to only a few. Collaboration, rather than isolation, unfortunately, is a foreign practice to many educators. For most teachers, the adult in the next classroom is not someone they confide in about matters of teaching practice because it is too threatening. There is no time for teachers to collaborate even if they want to. In most schools, teachers do not see each other teach; they do not know each others' disciplines. As Gene Maeroff states, "In schools, disciplines are as separate as the planets". Therefore, it is difficult for educators to even imagine the far-reaching possibilities of collaboration.
The focus of the collaborative learning community is learning - learning where students are actively demonstrating their understanding, rather than students passing written tests as the sole sign of knowing. Learning, that is based on conceptual understanding and the ability to apply this knowledge in a variety of contexts, is a primary goal within a collaborative learning community. It is a new way of thinking for most educators (and the public) to know that all students can and will learn, that learning needs to be demonstrated, that it is important to learn not only facts, but also conceptual relationships of ideas and the processes and positive attitudes of learning. There is much talk about thinking and problem-solving skills, multiple intelligences, learning styles and fostering creativity; yet, implementation of these ideas are often relegated to separate programs. They have not yet been embedded in each and everything that is taught. Putting the focus on student learning, rather than teacher telling or "covering the content", means (1) students take responsibility for their own learning, (2) learning experiences are geared to students' interests and needs, (3) students are actively engaged in learning in a variety of groups and contexts, and (4) learning is understood, applied and internalized.
Collaboration and learning happen within the context of community - a creation of unity through appreciating and celebrating diversity. In addition, the school reflects the population and background of the larger community; therefore, collaborative learning communities help students learn the attitudes, knowledge and skills that benefit all in the community and community members become partners in facilitating and expanding the learning process.The Center for the Study of Community in Santa Fe, New Mexico provides the following as the identifying characteristics of community:
•Sense of Shared Purpose •Respect for Differences •Agreement on Core Values •Acceptance •Participation •Trust •Communication •Collaboration •Commitment •Reciprocity •Conscious Choice •Accountability •Shared Responsibility •Efficacy •Equity •Perceived Skill •Openness •Cohesion