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Finding a Common Thread

Creating Collaboration in Home-School Partnerships



We are a bit of a board-gaming family. I’m one of those people who, when they spy a cheap game in an op shop (with enough of its pieces to be able to play still!) or on a specials table somewhere, will see if I am able to buy it to pop away for a special day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we are game schoolers, although you might question that if you visited our household on some weekdays and saw evidence to the contrary, scattered all over the kitchen table.

One of the games which has proved popular over the years, with my own kids as well as others who borrow our games, is Zooreka. This is primarily a competitive game in which you combine chance, choices and changes in weather to gather food and build habitats to form a zoo. Within this game there is one co-operative aspect. When a player lands on a ‘team-up’ space, that player must roll the resource dice and see which icon they get. Each other play must then take turns to roll the resource dice, and if when one rolls the image that matches that of the person on ‘team up’, they both get the matching resource card.

Rolling the die, it struck me that ‘team up’ was somewhat like having to be on the same page for a win-win. When two people are not sufficiently aligned in their thinking, it doesn’t matter how good the potential outcome is for either, neither will get it. I have no idea why, but I was immediately transported back to the days of sitting in lecture theatres, fresh out of school, listening to my economics lecturer talk about The Prisoner’s Dilemma - perhaps my mind jumped to this because the dilemma is considered a form of game theory.


“Self-interest can be group interest through co-operation.” 

This particular phrase in the video resonated with me, as I have been contemplating how, as a parent, one might be better equipped to communicate the needs of our tamariki with their kaiako. It all comes down to getting on the same page, but I, as well as many other parents with gifted children, know this is not always an easy task. Teachers are stretched to capacity already. So what can we do to achieve a win-win without adding further pressure?

David DeSteno writes in the Harvard Business Review that, “When it comes to empathy and compassion, the most powerful tool is a sense of similarity – a belief that people’s interests are joined and, thus, that they’re all on the same team and will benefit from supporting each other.” His suggestion ... “Take time to learn about team members, find commonalities or shared interests and begin to highlight them in discussion. Develop a team identity and encourage people to categorise themselves as part of it.” This sounds like fairly practical advice, equally relevant for us in the realms of education as in the business world.

In terms of tikanga, this aligns with developing and nurturing:

  • whakawhanaungatanga, establishing links and making connections within the school whānau;
  • kotahitanga, coming together in solidarity; and,
  • mahi tahi, working towards a common goal, with each having their own role to play.

We have, however, to tread lightly so as not to raise any defenses. If you have had bad experiences in the past, please, no eye-rolling, hear me out - but first ... here’s a thought-provoking talk by Jim. Have a go ‘being the paper’ and see what you discover. You will need to skip to 7.02 for this.  

Warning: In the earlier part of this video Jim talks about green zone and red zone chickens, showing an image of hens that have been badly pecked as the example of red zone hens. This may be upsetting to some. Viewer discretion is advised.


Jim goes on to identify three major triggers as he explains that defensiveness is not so much about safety as it is avoidance of feelings. “... a lot of people think that they’re actually defending themselves from someone else when they get defensive, but what’s really going on is we are defending ourself from fears inside of us that we don’t want to feel. We behave in a certain way that let us not be aware of those fears.”

Fears about:

  •  our own significance,
  • our competence,
  • our likeability.

We need to be aware of our own defensive responses and what sits behind these, while also remaining mindful of how our choice of words and behaviours could trigger these fears in those we are trying to collaborate with. So, what can we do? Identify the skills we need to employ that will aid in collaborative practices. Jim suggests ...

  • collaborative intention - “… having the ability to be able to stay focused on mutual gains in your relationship when your relationship hits one of those speed bumps in the road. When somebody makes a mistake or does something that you don’t understand or it’s unexplainable, can you stay in the green zone and get curious or you go into the red zone and get furious?”
  • truthfulness – “… being able to create an environment where it’s safe enough for people to raise difficult issues and tell the truth.”
  • self-accountability – “… being able to see what choices are available to you all the time in any given situation and what choices you’re making ... to get people not only to recognise what choices they have and that they’re making but also be accountable and responsible for all the consequences, both intended and unintended for any choices they do make.”
  • self-awareness – increasing self-awareness about own defensiveness.
  • negotiating and problem-solving skills.

Using Jim’s words, teachers are “... genuinely good people ... trying their imperfect best to improve the world the best way they know how” - as we all are. Teachers want the best for their students, just as we want the best for our children. As noted by Berryman and Ford, “collaboration ideally entails shared expertise between educationalists and family caregivers ...This sharing is not unidirectional, but reciprocal, so that agents in each setting are able to learn from and complement each other. In our view this does not undermine the expertise of the teacher. Indeed, the modification of teachers' expertise required by shared understanding with caregivers enhances professional expertise.” In other words, we all get on the same page and it’s a win-win. This is an important insight for our advocacy for our gifted and neurodiverse children.


Kotahi te kohao o te ngira e kuhuna ai te miro ma, te miro pango, te miro whero. There is but one eye of the needle through which must pass the white thread, the black thread, and the red thread. Hold fast to faith, hold fast to the laws, hold fast to the love.

- Kīngi Pōtatau Te Wherowhero


Image credit: Amirali Mirhashemian on Splash, licensed under CC 2.0


Finding a Common Thread

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