"Be a team player." It's one of those sports analogies used frequently in the business world -- and in education. District and school administrators also want team players. The days of closing the classroom door and creating a self-contained world are over. The autonomous classroom simply doesn't exist -- and for good reason. Our students need more than just one person to guide their education. They need the added power of several brains working together for their good. Yet collaboration does not always come easily.
Teachers are, for the most part, determined course setters. We also have strong opinions about what works and what doesn't work. That determination and self-direction are beneficial for our students; those characteristics facilitate learning and help us make it through each day. Put a group of determined, opinionated individuals in the same school, however, and you often have a recipe for headaches. How, then, can such strong personalities work together as a team?
The first requirement is a willingness to work with others and the ability to recognize that you can't do it all on your own. No one can meet all the needs of all the students who walk through our doors without help. It just isn't possible. The best way to find that help is by asking questions.
If you have a mentor, look to your mentor for guidance. Write down questions as they occur to you. (Don't think you'll remember them later, because you won't.) When you get an opportunity, ask the questions. If you don't have a mentor, look for a veteran teacher in the building -- one you know has a positive outlook on teaching. Ask if that person would mind helping you out. Most will be glad to offer their knowledge and expertise. Administrators are another good source of information. Don't be afraid to ask them questions. You are showing your willingness to learn and your willingness to go to others for help.
The second step is to seek out the support faculty and staff. Those are the people in the school who know your "special" students best. They can help you decipher IEPs and modify assignments for those students who need it. You also can learn how to modify your lessons to best meet the needs of different students in your classroom. Schedule some time to sit down with the department chair and/or the teacher who works with your students and pick their brains. Ask for advice -- and listen to it. That kind of collaboration benefits your students greatly.
The third requirement is to be humble. Listen to the wisdom gained by veteran teachers. Although you might think that some of their ways are outdated, don't discount their skill and knowledge. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. It isn't always easy to be humble when you've waited so long to get into your own classroom. You'll save yourself a lot of extra grief by asking and listening, however.
The fourth step is to plan with other members of your grade level team. What is being taught in Math, Science, Social Studies, and so on? Can you find a way to connect your topics and objectives to those being taught in other classes? The more you work with other subject area teachers, the more you'll be able to help your students see that the world does not exist as separate parts. Everything is interconnected. If you are in a self-contained classroom, share ideas and brainstorm lessons together. You might have a great idea for presenting a lesson, but another teacher might be able to add to that idea and make it better.
Don't forget about the other professionals in your building. The librarian is an excellent resource and should be consulted frequently. Let him or her know what you are teaching and ask for ideas or resources. The art, music, and phys-ed teachers also might be able to enhance your lessons with ideas and their own special strengths. Each person in your building has a variety of strengths and talents. Get to know each one so you're better able to call on those different resources within the building.
Collaboration takes hard work and effort. It's not easy, but it's worth it. Ultimately, your students are the ones who benefit, but you don't lose out either. In the process of collaborating with different colleagues within your school, you are building relationships that will last, and making a place for yourself within the school community. Being a team player is a win-win situation for everyone.
Column by Emma McDonald reprinted with permission from Education-World – http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/columnists/mcdonald/mcdonald014.shtml