Monday, October 12, 2009

Collaborating with Colleagues: Being a Team Player

"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 –


viagra online said...

I agree to you when you rote that collaboration does not always come easily. Luckily you have shared many ways to solve that issue.
Thanks a lot for that!

Childheart said...

Recently I was involved in a very unhealthy collaboration experience. The resource teacher complained to administration, and her friends every time she did not like what I said or did. If I suggested something she rudely dismissed but when her friend made the same suggestion then she thought it was great. Many days I would be in tears at the end of the day trying to please her and never doing so. We had 3 meetings a week for one particular student. The important decisions were made by the resource teacher between meetings, and the meetings were spent discussing the wording of performance objectives. As a result I would know when a decision had been made, and was not prepared. Then she would tell the administrator that I was not cooperating. It was a nightmare. Little was done to benefit the student and I came to be viewed suspiciously by the principal and the resource teacher almost daily. I am trying to see the value of collaboration but am extremely wary at how the process can break down if there is not trust nor mutual respect.
I hope for some closure over this because I tried to reconcile with this person, and she said that it was not about apologies. She ended up resigning and now I have an unresolved relationship hanging over me.