“Collaboration allows teachers to capture each other’s fund of collective intelligence.”
― Mike Schmoker
Teachers have traditionally taught in isolation. Even with a huge push for collaboration and PLC’s there are still few teachers who truly collaborate in a meaningful way. I have only had a three collaborative experiences that I feel made a positive impact on my teaching over the last 16 years. Why?
During each of these experiences I worked with the same colleague. Now before I go much further, I need to explain my relationship with this colleague. To say we are polar opposites is an understatement. I am usually calm and quiet, she is usually loud and boisterous. I need to have a plan, be planned and usually follow the plan. And, although my colleague carefully plans, she is able to be much more flexible and can easily and effectively “fly by the seat of her pants.” She is messy to my OCD neatness. During our time together, I learned that it is okay to “let go” of the plan once-in-awhile and to have more fun with the kids. She challenged my inside the box thinking many times, to push us to think beyond the traditional or expected. Our approach to teaching may be different, but we had built a relationship of trust and respect. We both believed deeply that each student had the ability to improve and to learn. We loved each and every student we taught.
Our collaborative experiences were personally and professionally driven. Each collaboration began with either a wondering or a question to be answered. Our first collaborative experience began out of a staffroom conversation. We were both struggling with students who were not progressing with their reading. We developed a plan to collaborate and fully investigate this problem. This was the beginning of our adventure.
Through each experience we had support. By supporting our endeavours, our administrators allowed us the freedom to take a risk, to try something new, with support. I am sure that they worried about us and what we were undertaking each time. But, their trust in us did not waiver. They had faith in us.
Although the question or wondering was different each of the three times, we developed a similar framework or set of “protocols.” One rule we created was, “no excuses” during our collaborative time. It is simply too easy to get caught up in all the reasons why we “can’t” teach in a certain way or to point an admonishing finger everywhere else. So to re-focus, we tried to discuss positive solutions to issues we had control over. We attempted to focus on what we could do with our teaching time. We found that this ensured we were not just complaining our collaborative time away.
We were accountable to each other. We set timelines and deadlines. And for the most part, we stuck to them.
We began to value our collaborative time so much, that we discovered creative ways to make “more” time to collaborate and work on our projects. One year we asked to coordinate our Library block and our Music block. Another year each of us worked with a student teacher. During their APT there are times they are encouraged to teach on their own. We coordinated the time as best we could and met. The value of this time was not measurable, we met after school and during lunch breaks.
Now, a number of years later, I am once again working with my collaborative partner. She is my VP! We have easily slid back into our old trusting relationship. We are once again collaborating on not only how to improve individual classrooms, but an entire school! We have been discussing how to build more collaborative time into the already busy days of each teacher. We are busy developing a plan to improve our practice as instructional leaders. We see the power and impact positive collaboration can have, how do we best share this information with our teachers in a way that will ignite collaboration?