A former student, one who was in my Anime Club, but in a colleague’s ELA class, posted this on Facebook yesterday. It made my heart soar. He’s a PhD in Chemistry candidate at CalTech. Smart kid. He was going through his middle school assignments, and took the time to give a kind shout-out to his former teachers. My friend was the one who took this idea of mine and adapted it for her own class. She’s shared many great ideas with me, too, and is my guide for starting a Genius Hour. She no longer works for the district, but those relationships remain. I can think of another amazing young teacher I worked with, who would graciously use structures of lessons, (Power Points, Smartnotebooks, etc.) and ask if she could adapt and change to suit her teaching style. Man oh man that is when it WORKS, people! I follow her on Goodreads and look up the teaching books she posts, because she always finds the best. (Links below if you’re interested.)
The reason for its creation is reading logs aren’t effective, so I developed multiple ways to get kids to read; this was one. Personally I haven’t used it in years, because every year is different, and has a new set of opportunities for growth. I am not claiming that my one little reading unit paved the way to CalTech. No–the community and collaboration of teachers, and his parents, and his own volition did. And this we cannot lose sight of, ever. Choose your metaphor: ship, team, village: we do this together as a team. How that team functions, and its dynamics, are worth reflection.
Elena Aquilar published a piece about teams in Edutopia recently. I have never believed, for myself, in the writer’s initial sentiment, that she could do everything alone. Sharing and collaboration come naturally for me. Hers is a refreshing admission that many folks bristle when it comes to teams, like group work:
“I’m going to admit that it’s taken me a while to feel convinced by the power of teams. Until recently, I didn’t have great experiences in teams. I felt that alone I could produce whatever needed to be created better, and quicker, than working with others. I often felt frustrated working in teams — the process felt so slow and cumbersome. I felt like I was usually given (or took) the bulk of the work. I didn’t really know what an effective team looked like, how one worked together, or what the benefits could be.”
Our middle school has gone through varying waves of having cross-content teams and not having cross-content teams. This next year I think we’re heading into a season of not having, but I could be mistaken. We will definitely continue the work of PLCs, which are crucial and empowering, and that may be enough. However, through the work of having a cohort of students, as my sons’ district does, it is much easier to facilitate interventions for children. Without that team of shared students, we will face some challenges, but ones I know we can handle. I have a plan in place for making sure none of my ELA students, no matter what Social Studies, Math, Science, PE, or Elective teacher they have, get my full focus, and create a mini-team individually for them. In each of their composition books, I’ll have them write their parents’ contact information, full schedule, and other notes, and check in with them periodically to see how all their classes are going, emotionally and academically. This will be an integral part of my conferencing with them. The grading system has a great “all teachers” function in emails, but this way it puts the focus on the conversation with the student first, and then bring in the support team. My e-mail output to colleagues may increase this next year, as those informal “Do you have a chance to give me your insight…” talks.
This article on the Emotional Intelligence (EI) of a team is invaluable:
A good team knows why it exists. It’s not enough to say, “We’re the sixth grade team of teachers,” that’s simply what defines you (you teach the same grade) but not why you exist. A purpose for being is a team might be: “We come together as a team to support each other, learn from each other, and identify ways we can better meet the needs of our sixth grade students.” Call it a purpose or a mission — doesn’t really matter. What matters is that those who attend never feel like they’re just obligated to attend “another meeting.” The purpose is relevant, meaningful, and clear.
So here are my vows to any team(s) that find me as a player, PLCs, Departments, no matter:
1. I will complete and share my portion of any given task or directive freely.
2. I will adhere and comply to directives.
3. I will honor your time.
Teams come in all shapes and sizes, purposes and collaboration: it can be the formal PLC, or the continued friendship and collegial collaboration that work over time and space. Just takes a different way of defining ‘team,’ and opening up to ideas.