Early in my career, I learned a lot about teaching from my colleagues, but when I sat down with the other teachers at weekly meetings, people talked past each other and bad feelings reigned.
A few years later, I was invited to join a group of teachers from many schools. I was skeptical, but agreed, and to my surprise the diverse team thrived. The tools I learned there have served me well into my current jobshare status where I share a classroom, yes, the whole thing, with my fellow part-time teacher.
Barriers like geographic distance, exhaustion, and personality clashes can make reaching beyond classroom walls difficult. Still, if we are going to serve our students well and grow as educators, true collaboration is essential. Here are a few tips from my toolkit.
Step 1: Connect
Identify teaching peers and reach out. There is great value in connecting with many different kinds of groups: a team of teachers from your site/local area/conference, a team at your same grade level, or a team of cross-grade level peers. Meetings can take place in-person or virtually. Skype and Google Hangouts offer free multi-user video chat options.
Step 2: Commit
Pick a common meeting time and keep it every time. Put it on a shared e-calendar, set-up automatic email reminders, or pencil it in on your real paper schedule. Make it happen.
Begin by establishing norms for your group. Creating clear expectations helps prevent personality clashes, gripe sessions, and other distractions. Have each member jot down expectations in areas such as timeliness, participation, confidentiality, and decision making. Post-it notes work well since they can be grouped together in the follow-up discussion. Then consolidate and choose four or five norms that everyone is willing to support. Revisit these as needed to keep the group functioning smoothly.
Step 3: Communicate
Trust is built when a predictable framework can be relied upon. Set up a process to follow. Set an agenda and stick to it.
Taking notes helps clarify ideas during the discussion and is a good reference tool for later. One tool, Google Docs, allows all participants to add to the same document in real time and automatically saves your work.
Formalize agreements, using tools if necessary. Ask for a fist to five—each member raises 0 to 5 fingers depending on their level of buy-in, or try consensus voting, where everyone votes for ALL the things they can live with instead of their single top choice.
Use data to inform your discussions, and remember to stay student-focused instead of relying on feelings. Look at student data from all students and strategize to maximize their success, then, check back in to track progress.
Step 4: Celebrate
Celebrate success. There’s always more to do, but stop and look back at your progress from time to time. Evaluate data to track student progress. Celebrate your growth as a team, too.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
Note: Article written and posted in English