My new school is really focused on teacher collaboration. They have structured schedules such that subjects, at least in the middle and high school, are not taught by one individual – all courses have multiple teachers. In addition, the school has intentionally built collaboration time into teacher timetables. This commitment to collaboration was one of the reasons my wife and I decided to move to this school. Collaboration was one of the instructional skills that I really wanted, and needed, to work on. In previous schools, the structure made collaboration less necessary and more onerous – horizontally, I was the only teacher teaching my course and my vertical colleagues weren’t always free when I was.
It has been an intensive learning curve this year, going from almost zero collaboration, to having to co-plan, co-assess, co-score, co-grow, and co-brainstorm with three other educators. Although this is all so new to me, I’ve learned so much already about what I am enjoying and what I am hoping for in terms of collaboration.
Here are my stars and wishes about collaboration so far:
* I feel that collaboration has really boosted my creativity. Thanks to collaboration, I get the opportunity to think out loud. I have been living in my head as a planner for too many years. I had become like an echo-chamber, in a sense, parroting back my own thoughts and ideas, or ideas that I had learned but had fit into my existing thought patterns, rather than truly opening myself to what’s new.
* I am learning a lot about connecting to wider goals. In the past, while I was dwelling in my dark and dank silo (think Smaug from The Hobbit), it was easy to ignore organizational goals and initiatives. Now that I am more plugged into my peer network, I have a better understanding of institutional goals and have found creative ways to integrate them into my instruction. For instance, my 7th grade Social Studies partner and I have developed a photo essay project that is nicely connected to our school’s learning attributes, as well as to the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the center of our organization’s mission.
* I appreciate the sharing of the workload. With a collaborative partner, I am able to share some of the burdens of classroom teaching.
“Hey, I’ll create a rubric, if you meet with the Principal to get permission for us to show that video.”
“You post the summative assessment on the calendar, while I find the resources.”
This distribution of responsibilities has freed up so much time for me to be able to get more done, and – once in a while – simply pause and reflect.
If I had access to a Will Smith-like genie and could make some wishes about collaboration, I probably wouldn’t use wishes on work issues. But, if I had to, I would think about the following:
W – I would make collaboration more scheduled and less random. My time is precious and when I set aside time to grade or to create anchor charts, that’s how I expect it to happen. I’m not big on the pop-in. A quick few minutes to touch base for you means a rearranged timeline for me. Respect my time. This, of course, means that the collaborative meeting time we already possess must run efficiently. Time spent on formulating some norms at the beginning of the year would pay off in the long run.
W – Sometimes I feel that collaboration is more about a drive for parity, rather than a strive for innovation. I might have a cool idea for a quick, formative activity to deepen student understanding. But, maybe my partner isn’t comfortable with it, or wants to push on to something more concrete or measurable. That kind of compromise may help the relationship, but may not improve the learning experience. I build a lot of magic into my instruction. I work hard to hit standards, but also to make the learning experience engaging, relevant, and meaningful for students. If those latter elements get stripped away for the sake of mirroring my colleague’s class, then something important is being lost. Not everything that is measurable is meaningful.
I think both partners, just like when they get together to develop meeting norms, should meet early in the year to decide where along the collaboration spectrum they feel comfortable – are we mirror images doing exactly the same thing every day? Do we conduct our own magic while ensuring the outcomes are consistent? Or, are we in the middle somewhere?
I am loving where collaboration has taken me this year and can’t wait to see how else it will help me grow as an educator and a colleague.
What do you think?