Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Collaboration & Community

The word "collaboration" is thrown around so much that it should be the center square on a bingo board.  Not that I am denouncing or mocking collaboration, on the contrary, I believe in the power of collaboration and think we can take systemic approach whether collaborating with folks across the country or the hallway.

What is the impetus for collaboration?  I often think about what motivates people to do things. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is always floating around in my brain. If I'm hungry, my stomach needs to be filled, I am motivated to eat. If I'm confused by something, I'm motivated to ask a question and seek answers.  If I don't know how to do something, I am motivated to find people to teach me. As a swim coach, I constantly think about motivating my swimmers through tough workouts or difficult meets.  As a classroom teacher, I think about fostering intrinsic motivation in my students.  As a colleague part of a large professional network, I see motivated folks abuzz with activity.  I realized the impetus and motivation for anything in life comes down to one simple thing: fulfilling a need. Collaboration won't work if you don't feel the need for it to occur.

The first step with any collaboration is to find people to work with (duh!) and the purpose of the collaboration. Serendipitously, I've connected with like-minded folks on Twitter via #flipclass and we've collaborated on numerous projects: research projects, writing groups, and overall curriculum. We discussed community building during last night's #flipclass chat.  The Flipped Learning Community is the most collaborative group of folks I have ever met and this got me thinking about why that was so:

I think the #flipclass folks collaborate so well because we all have recognized a need to change. We weren't satisfied with how we were teaching and felt the need to evolve. I'm greatly over simplifying things in my response above and in this post, but part of the lack of collaboration locally may be due to others not having a need to change or understanding how to change. If there isn't a need, why do it?

About 10 years year ago, I collaborated with two other English teachers in my hall to craft a freshmen curriculum that would lay the groundwork for prepping students for the NJ-HSPA exam taken in 11th grade.  The power of that paper-based collaboration was seen in our exemplary test scores (I know that isn't the only measure of success, but prior to the great digital data era we are in now, those scores were important). We saw a need and fulfilled it with collaboration.  Now that HSPA is gone and PARCC is king (for now), we are recognizing the in-house need to collaborate and prep our students again.  While I do collaborate with individual colleagues on lessons, I wish a standardized test wasn't our primary extrinsic motivation for large-scale collaboration. I want to collaborate so that we can be #BetterTogether-- the sum of all of our parts creating something greater than the whole.

Throughout the 2014-15 school year, I was able to collaborate at home with a new to my district English teacher who also taught senior English next door to one of the classrooms I used this year.  My traveling schedule dictated that we collaborate online via email and Google Drive, creating lessons for the new-to-both-of-us senior English prep.  Having taught senior English only for the first time 2 years ago, I did not feel like an expert in my craft and welcomed her ideas.  We had similar teaching styles and enjoyed working digitally. Our collaboration was born out of a need to strengthen our understanding of the texts we were teaching to better engage our students.  I greatly appreciated our collaboration and hope it will continue when I'm on the other side of the building teaching freshmen full time again.

So as we are moving more and more towards paperless learning, I have been thinking about how to craft a digital curriculum-- house all of those lessons and materials I create with colleagues.  I presented on the technical aspects of collaboration for curriculum design at NCTE's Conference on English Leadership (CEL) in November 2014. While I've evolved many of my classroom activities and resources to a digital format, there has been little digital collaboration on a departmental level--other than emailing Word files back and forth or keeping an inventory of books via Google Sheets--with my colleagues in my building.  The objective of my CEL session was to give other ELA educators easy to use tools and strategies for creating, sharing, and housing an archive of digital resources particular to their curriculum.

After looking through the slides below, I'd love to read about your strategies for collaboration. Heck, we could collaborate about collaboration!

Am I thinking too much out of the box?

Do you have a better way?

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