Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Collaboration through a Lens of Social Capital

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Collaboration through a Lens of Social Capital

Article excerpt


Four distinct women joined to write this piece. Women embarking upon the world of academia at different points in their lives and careers crossed paths. They began by sharing casual conversations. These informal connections through conversations revealed commonalities. Dinners were shared and family stories told. Robert Putnam (2000) deems this schmoozing. Eventually, rewarding relationships evolved, a community formed, and a norm of mutual help and reciprocity (p. 87) developed. This connection between individuals formed because of collaborative relationships.

In any collaborative environment, relationships are essential. Human relationships require communication; there are no exceptions. It is indisputable that interaction improves communication effectiveness (Knewstubb & Bond, 2009, p. 180). However, communication may also result in problems. The first problem lies in whether or not all parties have a shared understanding. Second, mutual trust needs to be established. Third, a collaborative culture must be nurtured and protected. Every member has something to contribute and when channeled correctly such contributions leads to an effective team (Steele & Boudett, 20082009, p. 56). This is a reminder that success does not happen in isolation (Hord & Hirsh, 2009, p. 22), but collectively. In order to address these problems, we worked to establish shared understandings of the group's purpose and goals using a lens of social capital.

Social capital lends itself to multiple definitions, interpretations, and uses. The group used social capital theory from Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone (2000) and explored collaboration in educational environments. Our group defined social capital as the gain from social connections within education among individuals, groups, and society as a whole (Putnam, 2000). Thus, collaborative endeavors have individual and collective faces. The individuals form connections benefitting their own interests. These combined interests form a common group purpose or goal. In order to gain social capital, common purposes or goals have broader, civic implications (Putnam, 2000), for example, the purpose of improving educational opportunities for students. The essential piece, the human complexity and embedded social nature of the collaborative process only works if mutually beneficial (Putnam, 2000). The individual, group, and societal benefits must find a perfect balance for the collaborative endeavor to support the concomitant development of social capital (Portes, 1998).


The group's interests are in mathematics education, the arts, and early childhood, however all members have a common curriculum and instruction foundation. You may wonder how we ever found initial harmony given our different fields, but our theories and principles were basically compatible. Initially, we identified an area, collaboration, which we had in common. This was the intersection that created our purpose. Our initial goal was a successful conference presentation, along with an article. The social preparation (Albee & Boyd, 1997) was imperative for our group. We engaged in an analysis of the American Association for Teaching and Curriculum (AATC) conference. As conversations evolved, it seemed perfectly natural for us to investigate collaboration within our unit. Through our discussions, we found one member facilitated and guided the direction of social capital. We utilized a variety of resources, specifically the aforementioned Robert Putnam (2000) and translated them into our own ideas. Linking together the idea of collaboration and social capital with our lives, we engaged in dialogue based on a social constructionism theoretical stance.

Social constructionism focuses on the cultural generation of meaning created through the social interactions of a group (Burr, 2003). Collaboration with others enables us to make sense of our realities and the intersubjective world we share with others. …

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