Top-down, dictatorial mandates are a prescription for failure in public education, as in most other sectors. As a theory of action, collaboration—in other words, teamwork or working together—has boundless potential. Collaboration based on shared responsibility means that parties are willing to solve problems, confront challenges and innovate in a system that promotes trust and that values involvement in decision-making. Collaboration is not an end in itself, and it cannot be done in isolation. It is used in service of a mission—in this case, improving student success.

Collaborative work—interest-based bargaining, finding the solution instead of winning and losing—is something that too few school systems have enough experience with. Collaborative reform leads administrators, teachers and parents to work together toward goals on which they all agree, using methods they all accept.

Collaboration by itself won’t create systemic change. But it is the vehicle that creates trust, that enables risk, and that fosters shared responsibility. Given the complex work we do in education, it only makes sense to draw broadly on people’s knowledge and to join forces to improve outcomes.

Many school districts have moved collaboration from theory to practice and this process should be the cornerstone of any education reform effort.