Part 5 of a 5-Part Series.

One of the greatest resources a first year teacher has is the teacher in the room next theirs.  

Let’s be honest.  Rambo, Lara Croft, and Jason Bourne seem really cool as the lone wolf heroes they portray in their respective story lines, but in education…being a lone wolf can quickly bring your lesson, your classroom, your entire teaching profession…to a complete halt.  In this final installment of a 5-part series that has spotlighted foundational teaching lessons I learned by observing dance teams, dancers, dance instructors, and dance competitions as a whole, I would like to touch on this idea of COLLABORATION.

Dance World Collaboration

If there was one major takeaway from observing my daughter and the dancers she danced with (and competed against), it was that winners work together like a well-oiled machine, while losers typically have no “team” mentality.  Beauty and grace can be experienced when the individual dancers of dance teams are in synch versus the odd and sometimes embarrassing feeling we experience when we watch teams that have dancers that obviously do not work well together. 

As I watched teams dance at my daughter’s dance competitions this “dance season”, there were many (including my daughter’s team) that amazed not only me, but the hundreds of spectators that sat in the stands and took in all that they had to offer.  These teams were fluid in their movements.  You could tell that they had spent countless hours together trying to create a work of art.  Dancers on these teams were comfortable and secure with their dance mates as they performed dance moves that required expertise and total trust in one other. 

Over the course of six months prior to these competitions, I had the privilege to seeing teamwork in action as either my wife or I dropped off and picked-up our daughter from dance practice.  There were a ton of early morning practices and a plethora of late night rehearsals.  I was impressed with each girl’s desire and determination.  Their goal was to win, and they were going to work as hard and as long as they needed to in an effort to make sure they won…together.  They collaborated on song selection, choreography, and even costume design. Their drive and determination payed off…they won more times than they lost over the course of the dance season.  Because they chose to collaborate as a team, they attained their goal of best dance team in their division.

Education World Collaboration

As educators, we need to have the same drive and determination.  As a New Teacher Mentor Coordinator (yes…that was a title I held) I was tasked with making sure that all first year teachers had a knowledgeable and reliable mentor who would collaborate with them throughout their first year and teach them the instructional and pedagogical strategies they needed to be successful educators.  The biggest complaint I had from my Mentor Teachers over the years was that their Mentee wanted to “go it alone” and not take any of the mentor’s advice.  Much like Rambo, Lara Croft, and Jason Bourne, they wanted to be the lone wolf hero of their classroom.  The problem is, in real life…especially in the education world…being a lone wolf never pays off. 

Time and time again I’ve seen teams (Math, ELA, Social Studies, Science, and Electives) fail because one member would rather “do their own thing” and not work with the collective.  The problem is, it’s not just the “loner” who suffers.  The team loses the ideas and concepts that the individual who wants to go-it-alone has to offer.  Some of those concepts and ideas might be so impacting that it takes the team’s classrooms (and students) to the next level.  When a teacher choses to go the loner route, they also take with them their discernment that might prove crucial to the team when an idea is suggested and they are not there to share their experiences and explain why the idea might be detrimental to student progress. 

For effective collaboration to take place, members must work together for the benefit of the team or organization.  There is no place for the “Lone Wolf” mentality in education.  It does not benefit the school, the classroom, the teacher, and most importantly, it does not benefit the student.  Like successful dance teams, when teachers collaborate, they too can (and will) win.  When teachers win, students win.  When students win, society wins.

When it comes to teamwork in education, successful collaboration hinges on three important foundational factors.  Teachers must be:

  • Willing to share ideas. Within collaborative groups, there are never “stupid ideas.”  I’ve heard some humdingers before that I thought were off the wall…and they were extremely successful in the classroom.  We should never be afraid to express our ideas, especially if they might have a positive impact on students (ours and those of others).
  • Willing to accept input. When team members share ideas, we need to be willing to hear them out.  That doesn’t mean we will use suggested ideas, but it does mean we are willing to at least accept their input and then discuss.  Saying, “That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard” is stubborn-headed and has never benefited anyone…ever.  I once had a teacher suggest that we let our students listen to music as they do individual classwork.  That it would boost their productivity.  I thought she was off the mark bigtime.  After trying it…I now use this process in every one of my classes.  And yes…there is more productivity (and losing music privilege is a great disciplinary consequence).  If I had been closed minded and shot her down, I never would have picked up one of my most effective classroom strategies to date.
  • Willing to rise above. Within every collaborative group, heated discussions will eventually arise.  Arguments are OK in any relationship, as long as they are civil and those who are involved in the argument understand that at the end of the day, the goal of the team is what matters.  I’ve voiced my opinion “sternly” on several occasions where I thought my idea was going to change the world…and the team did not see it my way because the idea did not align with our team goals.  At the end of the day, what we ended up pursuing instead of my idea was just as successful…if not more successful…than my idea.  There were no long-term hurt feelings within the team because we understood that we have to rise above our disagreements for the benefit of the team, and more importantly, for the benefit of the student.  Successful collaborative teammates rise above anger and resentment and “Let it go!  Let it go!” <In my best Elsa voice…which sounded really good…too bad you couldn’t hear it>

Takeaway

Collaboration = Good.  Lone Wolf Strategy = Bad.  We teachers need to embrace collaboration and work together to have a positive impact on our students.  Our co-workers have the ability to see things from a different perspective, and when we put their perspective together with our perspective, incredible things can happen.  When teachers bring their individual experiences together in a collaborative setting, they begin to blend great ideas with incredible opportunities.  Don’t go-it-alone!  United we stand, divided we fall.  Words to live by.

Ineffective teams have individual members who only think of themselves and always look for ways to fulfill their selfish desires.  Successful teams on the other hand, have individual members who share a common goal and strive to reach that goal together.  Everything they do is for the benefit of the team or organization.  These are the types of teams that educators need to be a part of.  Collaboration is not only an essential part of a successful classroom…it is an absolute necessity.

~Mitch

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