Changes in the educational world have left a good many teachers frustrated. That is likely the understatement of this decade, right? New laws, new mandates, new standards, new everything, it seems like. I have discussions with teachers and school leaders all over the country. Scratch that, I am in Bogota, Colombia, so I can say I have discussions with teachers all over the world, and I hear the same thing, “Just leave me alone and let me teach.” Well, almost. Many teachers are finding great relief in their frustration by becoming a part of a real learning community. I don’t mean the kind that meets just to talk about the field trip permission forms (although a few minutes of housekeeping likely eases burdens, as well); I am talking about real learning communities that work together to make teaching and learning better for teachers and students. There is an assumption apparent in this model---we need to be able to get along in the sandbox in order to work together for the greater good.
I have had the honor and privilege of working with grade level teams at the elementary level who are ROCK STARS at building community among the group. They lift each other up (some say “they fill each other’s bucket”), they share resources and ideas, they plan lessons together, they watch each other teach and give each other “critical colleague” feedback. And why not? We will retire someday, having worked in education for whatever number of years. My question is: do we want to say we “made it through the storm” or do we want to say “we made the best of our life’s work by working together”?
As many of you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early May, went through several surgeries throughout the summer and fall and am now able to call myself a “Survivor”. When a friend and former colleague (at a neighboring elementary school to the one at which I was Principal for many years) was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks ago, we began messaging each other and lifting each other up. We now refer to one another as “bosom buddies”! People may remark, “I didn’t know you and she were such close friends.” Well, it may be that going through a difficult time has bonded us more. Like survivors on the Titanic, there seems to be some strength in bonding, sharing stories, and sharing experience, strength and hope (friends of Bill W. will certainly recognize that reference). I firmly believe having someone in our corner can make the difference between surviving tough times (whether that is simply a bad day where a parent wrote a rude note to me or whether I am going through the final stages of hospice care for my mother), people need people. Why not, instead of going it alone, reach out and hold another person’s hand? Anyone who does such a thing will find the giver “gets” just as much as the receiver does. Anyone who has ever done mission work knows exactly what I mean.
Collaboration improves trust and communication among teachers. Teachers who regularly collaborate find their work to be more fun, as well. This week has been a week of focusing on collaboration, as I not only gave a keynote and taught a workshop in North Carolina for school leaders on this very topic, but collaboration is also the discussion and study topic for a class I am teaching for Masters’ and Doctoral students at Walden University.
Perhaps we need to be reminded of all the ways that collaboration can help us, in our work, in our play, in fun times and in stressful times.