The current day classroom is one that is based on collaboration every day. Student collaboration, teacher collaboration, collaboration with experts. An inherent and essential element of collaboration to make the best possible learning experiences for our students is sharing. Gone are the days where a teacher makes the “perfect test” and keeps that exam locked up in a file cabinet behind his desk (Okay, I know that this may still happen, but let’s pretend.) Most teachers are now extremely willing to share ideas that work, share lessons and strategies that engage students, and share resources that improve the overall quality of our students’ education.
An underlying question that I ponder: What is collaboration? I’ll revisit this in a moment.
Expanding our Professional Learning Networks
How amazing and awesome is it to participate in the many chats that are held weekly on Twitter to share the things that are working in our classrooms? How great is it to pick up a few new educational tools and new ways of thinking about a concept or giving your students a new wrinkle in the learning activities they participate in within your class? Or, when you take advantage of an opportunity to attend conferences in the summer to speak face to face with some of your role models in education? What about when you jump into an EdCamp or local ed tech conference to share best practices of something you specialize in or have a passion in, only to have it be improved upon by someone in attendance sharing an augmentation to that passion of yours? To make a long story somewhat shorter, there are a plethora of ways for us to grow as educators to improve our students’ educational experience and opportunities to find success. These are things that all educators should strive to take part in to be the best educator they can be.
Hootie and the Blowfish & the Currency of Collaboration
For my colleagues that are Darius Rucker fans, he describes what is needed in order to truly collaborate: Time. Not expertise. Not an ungodly amount of skill. Not some secret society or handshake. Not a conference registration fee. Time. If you want to participate in the educational dialogue, you just need to commit the time needed. You can throw effort and work ethic in there, too. Now we have some (as the Donald would say) “yuge” variables here: time, effort, and work ethic. Teachers have busy lives: kids, aging parents, second jobs, marriages, volunteering gigs, community projects, coaching, etc. The list of things that intrude on our time and effort levels depend on these items and how much one prioritizes their teaching. The last variable, work ethic, is one that I want to focus on in the collaboration discussion.
When Collaboration is Really not “Co”llaboration
Let me preface this by saying that sharing the great things that occur in our classrooms and schools makes us all better. When we build walls in our classrooms, we all stunt our own growth. Second, teachers all have different skill sets. For some teachers, they may not be comfortable or at a place where they are ready to share their successes quite yet. That is perfectly fine.
But, back to my original question. What is collaboration? In my professional learning network, I have always felt like we all have some obligation to “pay it forward” at some level. From new teachers to longtime veteran teachers, we have something to offer to teachers.
What is collaboration? Is collaboration consistently lifting the same educator’s (or educators’) ideas over an over with no contribution back? Is collaboration consistently capitalizing on the time, effort, and work ethic that another educator invested or sacrificed even though you may have the basic skills to also innovate yourself? I love being in a position to share with my colleagues at a school, district, state, national, and, thanks to the ADE Program, an international level. I am invigorated by the idea that educators are really more powerful than ever in terms of our ability to advocate for better learning experiences for our students and to find others with common passions. One area, though, still perplexes my mind. Is it acceptable to define something as collaboration when it is consistently a one way street, paved with stones of a lack of work ethic, time, and effort of others? Is that collaboration? In my book, it is not. And we need more collaborators.