Saturday, August 10, 2019

Teacher Dreams: Collaboration vs Competition

I've come to know those dreams that wake me up at night as teachers. Typically if I make the time to think about the dream, I find a deeper message. Like many teachers, I usually have teacher-dreams before the start of the school year and throughout the year. Like most dreams, the teacher dreams include many fragments of uncompleted thoughts and actions and a myriad of people and places I've thought about or experienced recently.

Last night the dream had a wide variety of educators I know dressed in white crowded around a big table. The conversation was snarky rather than productive, competitive rather than collaborative. The way words, facial expressions, and body language were used spoke of competition rather than collaboration. As with most dreams that have something to teach me, the dream woke me up and I couldn't go back to sleep. So, I decided to dig into the dream--what message did it hold?

Impacted by my summer study related to green chemistry and biomimicry, I initially thought about John Warner's call for us to seek survival of the compatible rather than survival of the fittest. Warner wants us to mimic nature's success story of the survival of an amazing number and variety of species on Earth. He marvels at the way that these species live mainly in harmony rather than rivalry. This is a good focus for the school year.

In my dream, the words used were words of competition rather than words of collaboration. There was less listening and more grandstanding, and there wasn't a clear focus of who we were together as we sat around the table--little harmony, more cacophony. In the dream, I, as much as anyone, contributed to the clashing voices, expressions, and body language too.

So, how do we work for greater collaboration rather than competition in schools, and why does that matter?

Choose your words carefully
First, we all have to be mindful of the words we use. In the dream, I asked a few questions that awoke frustration in some. That wasn't my intent, but replaying the scenario, I can see how that happened. Then others reacted with similar questioning and comments and so a subtle battle began rather than the good work possible. So many know this already, but it's best to think about the words you will speak and the focus you will have before entering a meeting. When we let competition get in the way of our good work, we forfeit the positive energy and time possible for what good collaboration can brings.

Focus on the good work ahead
In the dream, the focus was on past efforts and result rather than the good work ahead. This also created a greater spirit of competition rather than collaboration. Instead had we been discussing a future goal and how we would work together to achieve that goal, I believe the spirit of the conversation would have been more positive and collaborative.

Use good process
So often good conversation and collaboration is blocked by poor process. You can't put 25 or more people at a table and expect to have a good conversation together about anything. That's too many people talking all at once. It just doesn't work. On the other hand using good process to work together makes a significant difference when it comes to the kind of work we do. World cafe and hosting conversations are two processes that work well in this regard.

As I think of my own work this year, I am thinking about the areas in which I want to collaborate with colleagues. In the dream, the focus was something that's not all that important to me. I would have been better off simply staying quiet, not getting involved. There will be countless important initiatives at school this year that don't involve my interests or will to get involved simply because those efforts are outside of my main responsibility and my main focus areas. I'll help if I have something to give, but in the areas that don't involve me, there are typically many others ready and willing to help since those areas impact their daily work and long term goals/vision as educators.

For me, I want to work collaboratively with peers for the areas that matter most to me and my students which include apt science and math teaching, social emotional learning, and classroom/school community building--these are the areas I'll dig into in the year ahead.

In thinking about these areas of school life, I want to stay focused on the essential questions which include:

  • How can we successfully teach math and science in culturally responsive, brain-friendly, and student-centered ways? 
  • How can we best embed social emotional learning into all endeavor in ways that help develop students' experience, spirt, and expression of wellness, camaraderie, advocacy, self-care, and respect for each other?
  • How does the learning team of students, family members, educators, specialists, therapists, administrators and community members work together in ways that elevate all in positive, proactive ways?
Good words, good focus, and good process as well as essential questions are critical tools when it comes to a collaborative year rather than a competitive one. I'm looking forward to that.