I’m an extraordinarily lucky person. Unfortunately, I don’t always recognize it. It was my hubris, I think, that made me think collaboration was normal.
When I started teaching, I was one of those “emergency credentialed” teachers. Regular teachers made some comments about how I wasn’t a real teacher and the damage I was probably doing to the kids (not showing them movies every Friday and all…). Because of who I am, I offered to drop my students off in their classes so they could get “real” education. Funny, they never took me up on the offer. In fact, they never took me up on any offer to work together. I assumed it was because I was emergency credentialed. It never occurred to me that it was because A LOT OF TEACHERS DON’T COLLABORATE.
Why didn’t I know that? Well, first I’ve always assumed that rejection of working with me was due to a rejection of who I was as a person. However, what I’ve come to learn is that people who collaborate will collaborate regardless. They will sit down, pound it out, work with the difficult, and forge a path because it is for THE GREATER GOOD. Second, however, was that I have been fortunate enough to be in two really strong teams during my career.
Strong collaboration is VITAL to a school site. It’s good for teachers to have support. It’s good for students to get access to lesson plan ideas their own teacher wouldn’t normally consider. When you have support, you take risks. While this isn’t always successful, it does lead to a lot of learning. Teachers need to continue to learn, as do students. This is how schools innovate and move forward.
My first team consisted of Diane and Doc. I was so new I didn’t even know I was ignorant. Diane and I would fight, I would resist, then I would apologize, and, of course, do it her way. I learned a lot from Diane about classroom management. While everyone was going on about the lesson plan, Diane would point out discipline before instruction. After all, if they aren’t paying attention, your lesson plan doesn’t matter. Seems so logical… We played to our strengths and had some innovative lesson plans that year. It was a heartbreak when Doc’s daughter split us up the next year, making it impossible for us to work together. The school, the students, and the team benefitted wildly from having us together.
My next school was near horrible in the beginning. I worked with someone who hated me, whom I allowed to make me miserable, and who had ZERO respect for me. She was not going to share or innovate if her life depended on it. She was determined that she deserved the “good” kids (who could get a good education); while, since I was a “bad” teacher, I could have the limited or “bad” kids. This philosophy was toxic to the school site. It pit the teachers against each other as well as the students. I’m still stunned by the number of teachers who consider themselves good based solely on their test scores. My son’s teacher is nice, does her job, and works with her team. She’s not, however, the greatest (or even a great) teacher. However, her test scores are AMAZING. That’s because of the kids and their parents. School is MORE than school.
In some innate wisdom, my principal teamed me with a new crew (and the other teacher left because she was called on her sh*t). We were all wary. We were all skeptical. I don’t know who initiated the conversation (probably Carol), but the prevailing thought was, “We need to work together.” None of us wanted to be left alone without support. Just by deciding we’d be a team, we were. That isn’t to say that disagreements didn’t happen or that we wouldn’t go our own way on lesson plans we were really attached to. It meant that 80% of the time, we worked for the school and the kids by helping each other. It means we met on weekends and summer days. We worked to make our job as easy as possible so we could focus on the kids and the inevitable emergencies of life.
This team was invaluable when life stepped in. Two of us were hit hard with sudden, tragic deaths. Being in a team meant we could walk away, take care of ourselves and our families, and return knowing everything had been taken care of. As reflection made it tough, we were there to listen to each other. We started by making a team. We became a family. We were Las Tres Glorias — the three sisters. Then…
Two of us looped and one was left behind. Then my “dream” job opened. I left, then another. The team disintegrated, and with it, the family. But I had a lot of pride. If I could be a team in 2 other situations, why not now?
Because, my friends, that’s not how it works. You have to want to be a team. You have to plant the seeds, nurture the seedlings, grow a plant. You can’t harvest until you’ve cultivated. Best intentions can die and wither from neglect, adverse situations, or sabotage.
I am currently lying dormant, waiting for the right situation. The right combination of sunshine, rain, and fertilizer (yes, even some sh*t helps) will grow a team. I hope to get it, I will continue to try. If not, my seed will take flight to find a new plot and try again.
Next time, though, I won’t be prideful about it. I will be humble because I know that a team is a special, special flower. If I want it, I have to be patient. I have to cultivate it. And I have to have a team that wants it, too. That’s the hardest part.