The Three Rules of Collaboration

guest written by Okema Sandlin-McMillan

This blog post is inspired by this question, taken from #edchat: “If collaboration is high on everyone’s list as a needed skill; how do we work it into every aspect of our education system?”

Growing up in a small parochial school, we were taught the foundation of ourselves. Essentially, the sense of working together, honing the positives of each other, and teamwork were all values taught in our small village. Albeit those blue plaids, long socks, and strict rigor of no makeup or nail polish was annoying and embarrassing during the weekend out with your public school pals, however, I can truly say that our sense of community was strong. So strong, many of those same people today, I am sure, hold dear these memories as much as I.

Collaboration in any entity is necessary not merely for a better outcome, but for the sustanence of our society as a whole. Collaboration to me simply means working together to accomplish a shared goal. Though we often stray from traditions of the past, the basics always last. The old cliché of “…it takes a village…” will certainly foster the realities of life through and through. Take for example the old TV show – “Little House on the Prairie” – while it is undeniable, we will never, generally, as a society again live in this manner, it is safe to say a few of those values will never die.

1. Watch out for one another.
2. If you say you are going to do something, then do.
3. You do not have to agree to work together.


I see you. Merely the vision of noticing your fellow man with a simple head nod, a gesture of affirmation, is necessary across most platforms. In education, all sectors from elementary, middle, high school, and the higher education years necessitates cultivation more than ever with strained resources. We all clearly are not delusional; Money will always be power.

The chains of communication in all sectors of these nonprofit areas of education are not consistently linked. Think of the intrinsic benefits reaped if there were a contact point available to make connections for each student and their families consistently at every educational stopping point. Not just connections, but unassuming ones knowing that no matter the student – gated community or ghetto, we all breathe and bleed; Notice the advantages of cross-educational communication? For example, a former local public school one of my children attended always held a career fair, same time every year for kids on the elementary level.

While this was done for PTA rights I later learned, how great this is, highlighting careers available, at least to spark interest in the world beyond nurses, lawyers, firefighters and the like. Not to say these careers are lesser, however, with today’s technology moving faster than the speed of light, it is crucial that we unearth to our children the positives of the world before the entertainment industry does.

What would be better to string this concept along would be to watch out for them and push them into Middle School, having that same career fair. These sessions could be onsite at a local company, possibly at a local higher education institution, local city/government facility. Then think, these would open windows, doors, even gates for internships and like opportunities. Networking people – Follow me here.

Family night that involves every member, from Uncle Spot to Cousin Dot – possibly sharing personal development opportunities that may in fact increase literacy in their household, trickling down into the community chords. Do you hear music? Involve the career counselors at each level with the high school counselor, communicating to them that hey, I have this family with these interests/advantages what can we do to help them. This alone is what networking is all about. Never lose touch, watching out for one another. It is all about planning. If we only watched out for each other, our education system would not be in such peril. I mean, the outcome is graduation right? I could be wrong.


Do it or zip it. The possibilities of the should have, could have never really mattered. In fact, it is essential to speak only of things that will push our educational sector along. Making false promises lets our children down on the lower educational totem pole and in higher education, drops the adults’ educational ball that is often deflated or non-existent. I mean, these will be your Pilots, Practitioners, and Palm Readers one day.

While we understand that no one is perfect, collaboration involves sharing – so if you make a commitment, it is pertinent to know that while your role may seem small to you, it is a rather large drop in our educational bucket. Every drop counts and if you promise a small one, even a millimeter, do it, or find someone that will. Think about it like this, collaboration with the local store allows the store to have a relationship with education, this small relationship allows both parties to rely on one another and goes back to my first point – WATCH OUT FOR EACH OTHER. Knowing your neighbor allows for simple collaboration (working together) and accountability (being responsible for another). Look at your community, the people around and beside you that you pass daily and have no clue who they are or what they do. This relationship does not mean schmooze city, it simply means, no [wo]man is an island.


Playground rules apply to adults too. Just because you don’t agree on who should be on which side of the see saw, know that you’re both going to get a chance to be up and down, and (I’ve found), most of the time equally. Collaboration across educational sectors, in even just the building you work in is pertinent. Holding even the smallest grudge when there is disagreement certainly means stale air. Who likes anything stale?

Even your best friend, you do not do everything just alike. She may enjoy warm colors, you cool. They may like adventure, you enjoy your toes touching the ground, whatever the case, and you still find a way to work together. All relationships, especially in education REQUIRE consistent collaboration. Every day.

Look at the classroom next to you. You are going through the same fight wouldn’t you say. You deal with a parent that annoys you. A kid who is lethargic daily. An administrator you would rather entomb than become supporters with. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, coming together works.

Look at it like this: if in elementary you realize there is the kid that will not shake what you are trying to break, know that that is probably their temperament. So why not pull out the best traits. Alert the middle school that hey, this kid will not stop playing video games, steer his career plan through that path. On the other hand, hey, this kid, in middle school, is ALWAYS talking – there is a career for that. While you may not agree with each other, there is a way to help each other, minus the eye rolling, water cooler gibberish, and PTA politics. In the end, it is not about the cupcakes, personality clashes, it is about the students – whether they are children or adults.

In summary:

1. Watch out for one another.
2. If you say you are going to do something, then do.
3. You do not have to agree to work together.

Growing up in that parochial school with my little beaver teeth, those little black & white bullet shoes, and that paddle constantly on my rump for talking taught me all about collaboration. We watched out for one another. We never let another get lost on the playground in that metal tunnel. We always made sure we were all in together. If we made a promise to one another to do something, we did it. If we did not do it, then we communicated with each other that you have messed up, what we could do to fix it. In addition, most of all, we worked together. If this month one person was not able to do something, we surely went to another person to get it done. I never remembered us not having a thing. Our educational system can surely start today collaborating. I’m excited about the possibilities.

About the author: An avid lover of all things creative, Okema Sandlin-McMillan is a native of Greensboro, NC with a substantial customer service background in the luxury goods and education industry. Pin with her on pinterest or tweet about issues that affect business and education at

2 Responses to The Three Rules of Collaboration
  1. Pingback: Making collaboration work for your team - Tony Adams - Project Manager

  2. Okema, Author

    Hi Tony! Thanks for the comment. Apologies for the delay. This plight seems to be a trend across educational sectors. It’s great to know there’s a model similar out there. Hopefully it will trickle down and allow small changes. If there’s anything to neglect, it should NEVER be education! Connect on Twitter, Kindly, Okema

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