Thursday, September 22, 2016

Collaboration Takes Time

As I continue to think about a detour on the learning/teaching road yesterday, it makes me realize once again that good collaboration takes time.

Our grade-level team collaboration works very well because we meet almost daily to check-in with one another and plan together. We keep running online lists and charts to support our communication and spent substantial time during the end of the summer preparing together for the year ahead.

Our collaboration, however, extends beyond the grade level team to many more teachers and administrators, all who have voice and time when it comes to the classroom program. How do we best implement their plans, protocols, and procedures when there is little time to meet and discuss all of these efforts and directions?

After yesterday's events, I reorganized the information related to these efforts into a website that's easy for everyone to reference when needed. Part of yesterday's issue was due to the fact that the information was buried amidst a large number of emails. I also became cognizant yesterday of education philosophy, policy, and practice that differ from mine and/or are new to me. I am actually a fan of debate and like to grow from differing views, but I also recognize that differing views, beliefs, and perspectives require good time when people are collaborating together, and I'm thinking about where and how the team and/or I will make that time. Since there are many people and little time, I'm not quite sure how to navigate this path. I think for starters, it's best to maximize the collaborative time that we have by making time to listen, focus on the issues that matter, debate, and make good decisions related to student learning.

As I focus on this outer ring of collaborative effort, I am also asking myself, What matters?

What matters is teaching every child well. With regard to students who are currently meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations, this is not an issue as parents, the grade-level team, and I will work together to offer a strong program of support and learning. Over time I have met the needs of these students well.

The complexity occurs with regard to students who are challenged with regard to the grade-level expectations. This is where the greatest debate occurs because there are many differing viewpoints on how to best serve these children. I always say that these are the children that teach us and make us better educators because they call us to think differently, work together, and read and research.

As I think of these students, I have some strong philosophical beliefs including the following:
  • All children have great value and performance at school at any time does not define a child's value, potential, or whole self. Many children who don't meet elementary school expectations, grow up to be successful, happy people. Learning is a progression and that progression takes many paths--there is no one pace or path when it comes to successful learning.
  • Foundation skills of reading, writing, numeracy, thinking, speaking, and a substantial knowledge base are essential to good learning. To learn those skills well challenged students need consistent, steady, engaging programming with significant support. Too often these students receive choppy programming due to the fact that they have many, many supports, but few of those supports are as consistent and steady as needed to support substantial growth and development. 
  • A student's experience of school has to engage their passions and highlight their strengths. We need to find ways to make school inspiring and inviting to all students. We have to be mindful of their sense of confidence and belonging, and we need to include students' voice and choice in almost all decisions that involve them. Rather than two educators arguing over what's best for a child, we should start with the child with questions such as "What do you think you can do? What do you want to do? How can I help you best? What do you know and what do you want to know? 
  • Collaboration matters and we all have to work towards optimal collaboration even when this is challenging.
  • Contribution matters too. Everyone has a responsibility to do their part and contribute to the team in ways that make a difference.
As the math/STEAM lead teacher at the grade level my primary responsibility is to help every child develop their interest, skill, knowledge, and experience in these areas of study. A new start to the Global Cardboard Challenge helped to build successful teams. The project is a good way to introduce STEAM including teamwork. Starting the year with many math assessments including students' own math autobiographies will provide me with a good overview of the class as well as individual profiles. I will use this information as I teach the grade-level program in multiple ways that appeal to students' interests, curiosity, and need. 

There's much to think about as we continue the year's program. It's important to make the time to collaborate well and I'll be thinking more about how to make that happen with the many, many administrators and teachers that affect the program I teach in the days ahead.