I have had the good fortune of working with amazing teachers for my entire 25 teaching career. On each team that I’ve been a part of, we have worked together, laughed together, cried together, shared ideas, lesson plans, successes and failures.
Teaching in a silo, without the support of others, whether self-chosen or forced on a person by circumstance, is a crime. Silos can be singular, or can consist of a small group of like-minded teachers, both equally dangerous when it comes to honing our craft. I pity those that choose to work in isolation, rather than capitalizing on the opportunities that working with a team provides.
I work in a district that has embraced the idea of collaboration with the support of Solution Tree. Solution Tree’s PLC (Professional Learning Communities) at Work model has been in place in Fort Madison Community School District for nearly five years. In that time, our entire teaching and administrative staff, as well as our school board, have been trained in the PLC at Work model. It’s powerful stuff, folks! Solution Tree takes collaboration to the next level… and then some!
Working collaboratively is the second of “…three big ideas that drive the work of the PLC process”, as outlined in Solution Tree’s book Learning by Doing. The first big idea is a “focus on learning”, the second is “a collaborative culture and collective responsibility,” and the third is “a results orientation.” In the PLC model, working collaboratively means teacher teams “work interdependently to achieve common goals for which members are mutually accountable.”
Just two days ago, I experienced the power of collaboration, yet again. Allow me to describe the scene: our team of instructional coaches was tasked with developing a session for our upcoming district professional development day. We had a common goal and we worked interdependently, knowing we had mutual accountability for the outcome. However, this task was met with resistance, and the execution of planning for the task went something like this:
- Frustration – as a team, we were collectively frustrated with the task in front of us
- Denial – we began rationalizing why this particular session was not going to work… we were ill-equipped to prepare it, and teachers wouldn’t be receptive
- Avoidance – we began to list all of the other topics that we could cover instead
- Acceptance – we knew our task wasn’t going away, and perhaps we even found some motivation in recognizing that time was not on our side; this needs to be ready to go by February 1st
- Frustration – we couldn’t find a good starting point
- Planning – we finally landed on an idea that took hold; planning became fast and furious
- Celebration – we had something solid to work with, and know exactly the direction to head when we next sit together to collaborate
I’m so grateful for my team that made this plan come together!!!
Another example of collaboration comes to mind when I think of a recent coaching cycle with third grade teacher, Eran, as she has been planning for implementation of the ALL Block portion of her ELA block. The ALL Block is the second hour of ELA instruction that our third through fifth grade students receive as part of the EL Education’s Curriculum. This has been extremely challenging for our teachers to plan for, even pre-Covid. This curriculum is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants curriculum, by any stretch of the imagination. Planning for the first hour of instruction, the Module lessons, is time and labor intensive in and of itself. Adding a second hour of instruction to plan for, one that involves establishing routines for students to work collaboratively in small groups, can be overwhelming to say the least (not to mention the other subjects teachers plan for). Adding to the challenge of implementation is our level of experience with the curriculum: this is only our second(ish) year of implementation.
After receiving some professional development, provided by Better Lesson coach Kim Penn (amazing person!), Eran was inspired to reach out to me for support in getting the ALL Block up and running in her classroom. We met and began planning for implementation. Each meeting brought us a step closer to the common goal: successful implementation of the ALL block. It was through collaboration that Eran and I were able to make that goal happen.
As a result of our collaboration, Eran’s fellow 3rd grade teachers have reached out to me for support in implementation of ALL Block happen in their classrooms. That’s quite the domino effect that is occurring as a result of collaboration. There was the initial collaboration of the EL Education team →which led to the ALL Block portion of their curriculum → which led to collaboration of the Better Lesson team to provide meaningful professional development for ALL Block implementation, →which led to the collaboration of a teacher and the literacy coach, →which led to the collaboration of small groups in one third grade classroom, →which led to the collaboration of other third grade teachers and the literacy coach, →which will lead to the collaboration of students in other third grade classrooms…
The only thing that would have made our collaboration better is if Bernie could have joined us. Somebody needs to talk to that guy about the power of collaboration over working in isolation!
There are times when working individually is certainly appropriate. We sometimes do our best thinking when we are working in solitude. That is my exact situation right now, as I write this post, and do not crave collaboration of any kind. This is time for my own personal growth. It kinda’ reminds me of my running time: it is a solitary event for me (minus the few times I participate in a road race); I prefer to run alone… either in the early morning hours during the school week, or a little later in the morning on weekends or summer days. This time is sacred because it serves as some kind of therapy: I work out lots of problems and solutions on those early morning runs! Solitary activities serve to prepare us to be stronger, more productive collaborators.
I have a strong appreciation for solitude, but I have an equal appreciation for the opportunity to work with others. There is colossal power in working interdependently for a common good. Collaboration accelerates growth for all members of the team, and in the education world, accelerates growth for the most important people of all: the students we serve!