Educators should collaborate. I don’t think anyone would argue with that.
But I’m about to “think out loud” as I write this post because the style of collaboration I see (and see expected) is not my idea of what collaboration should be.
Let me first define the type of collaboration I often think is expected of educators (e.g., grade level teams, subject area teams, etc): sharing for the sake of sameness. I’ve recently heard it said that if a school has multiple classes at the same grade level, that every student in that grade should have the same experience. In general and without too much variation, the same lessons, the same pace, the same assessments. This style of standardization was upheld as the model for “collaboration” for teams of educators. Teachers should get together and make sure they are all on the same page.
Consistency in some situations has its merits and I understand the underlying intention behind insisting on it. Certainly, successes deserve to be shared as what’s successful in one classroom may also be successful in another. But, I think we can push this too far. As the famous saying goes – fairness is not sameness.
The more I delve into personalized learning for my students, the more I know it is right for kids. They are all individuals with various strengths and interests. Even within one class, I aim to have different experiences. One students’ path is not another students’ path.
I don’t need all my students to complete the same test (in fact, I no longer use tests as a method of assessment at all) nor do I need them to complete identical assignments. They are not competing against each other, so I don’t need a comparative measure. How I assess one student can be completely different from how I assess another but that’s a good thing. The focus is on where each student is right now and how that students’ learning can be pushed forward. It’s about reflecting and comparing that student to themselves.
And if I let go of the need for a “unit test” and the deadline of the “summative project”, I can let go of the need to move students along the same content at the same pace. I don’t have to make sure to “cover” the exact same content by the deadline. If a student is strong in an area, they can zip through it and move onto their next learning goal. If a student needs or wants to spend more time with the content, power to them.
If the individuals in my class are different than the individuals in your class, then why should our classrooms be the same? They shouldn’t.
So, what then should collaboration be? Just like students have varying strengths, so do educators. Team meetings and collaboration time are a great opportunity to troubleshoot together on specific issues or tap into ourselves as resources for one another.
“I’ve got a student who is really interested in filmmaking – could you conference with him on Tuesday to help push his thinking?”
“Hey, you visited Italy last summer – did you bring back any pamphlets I could borrow? I have a student interested in studying the country for her next project.”
“I’ve been really challenged by XYZ lately – what do you do in that situation? I’d really love some suggestions to try for the next time it happens.”
“Check out this amazing project by my student. She’d really love to lead a workshop in your classes next week to share her experience. I think your students might be inspired by it.”
“I’m interested in learning more about digital documentation of learning – does anyone want to explore this with me?”
Is that not more powerful? And thankfully, tons of this style of collaboration already happens.
I just hope we can embrace the idea that different is okay. That the experience in classroom A being different than the experience in classroom B is a good thing.