Thursday, May 13, 2010

Looking Back

Recently, at a meeting of second-year teachers at my school, we had a conversation about collaboration. Collaboration among colleagues is a big, deliberate deal at Urban, so we were asked to think about what makes for successful (and not-so-successful) collaborations. It was easy to make a list of frustrations with collaborative pairings that hadn’t worked out well—like a term in which I was the only person teaching a core course, a course that was new to me. I felt totally unmoored and unstable, and my teaching showed a lack of deliberation in planning and design. What that experience showed me was the value I find in having a functional team or at least a collaborative partner working on a course.

When we listed what made for successful collaboration, I had an easier time. What most often helps me is a flesh-and-blood check-in: how do you get them to look at the text’s more complex parts, when they’re struggling so much with keeping the characters straight? What do you think might be a better way to introduce this book? Should we tweak this prompt? How did yesterday's plan work?

Of course, even if we're collaborating closely, we don't have to teach in lockstep. I might want to experiment with something that my collaborator isn’t interested in, or I might want to add or subtract a text. But it’s great to share the results of those shifts and experiments with colleagues, and to see how their experience of the class can inform my own.

And not every collaborative meeting has to be in person. Sending emails with lesson plans back and forth can be quite fruitful, not to mention efficient. But I find that there’s often something else that comes up in conversation that might not occur to me as I’m hastily composing an email message. But the time for meeting face-to-face isn't always there, and the people aren't always there when the time's there. (Hence this blog and the long list of blogs I read.)

There's a lot to be said for the process of reflecting on one's teaching in a journal. But I've had the most insights when I've shared my successes and failures with others.

How do you collaborate? What tools do you use to share your work with your colleagues, whether in the same building or across the world?

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