Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Teaching Can Be Lonely. Let's Fix That.


Selfie with this
week's Snapchat filter.
My Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook feeds are full of sweet little graphics that say "Thank You Teachers!!!" (so many exclamation points) thanks to Teacher Appreciation Week. Snapchat even has it's own filter. The outpouring of thoughtful emails, hand-written notes, and parent-hosted lunches are welcomed and energizing at this point in the school year.

But teachers should remember to thank one another, too. As a teacher, try co-planning, co-teaching, co-writing, or co-presenting. We all have colleagues, either from the classroom next door or from a school across the country, who have strengths or talents we have learned from. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate gratitude is to offer to collaborate. There are many ways to do this, and everyone will benefit from the effort. Even students.

Co-Plan

1. Get Introduced to New Techniques and Tools
You and a colleague teach the same course offering, but not in the same classroom at the same time. Why not inject some new approaches and new resources into your lessons/projects by co-planning? After working through instructional design together with both middle school teammates (like Steve Olivo) and high school department colleagues, I learned that we are better together than apart.

2. Be More Likely to Reflect
When we co-planned and then used the same project design in our respective classrooms, we were more likely to reflect during and after the process. Either via email, text messages, or over lunch we would talk about how our students reacted, engaged, and learned based on our approach. When we thought metacognitively, we were modeling for our students and improving our teaching.

3. Save Time
There have been certain colleagues (Caroline Allison, Kara Gleason, Jessica Bailey) who I have co-planned with enough to implicitly trust their approaches to teaching and learning. This means that when one of us was in a bind and the others had a lesson to offer up, we could take it and use it with our students and with very few tweaks. Developing that kind of trust builds strong schools and helps teachers maintain their sanity.

Co-Teach

1. Give Students Quicker Feedback and Answers
When there are two teachers in the room, one can be in the front giving instruction while the other is in the back looking at student screens. One can be encouraging that quick snarky group while the other is gently nudging the quiet timid crew. One can be helping with a tech snag while the other is helping with a content misunderstanding. In short, two is better than one.

2. Model Problem Solving Together
Inevitably, our students pose questions or present ideas we couldn't anticipate in the throes of the lesson. When we are flying solo in a room full of students, we either address it confidently or stumble. If we are co-teaching we can field those moments together. Talk it through right there in front of the students. Let students observe how professional and thoughtful problem-solving happens.

3. Ensure Your Cheesy Adult Jokes Won't Fail
I recently co-taught a classroom full of freshmen with Jay Pawlyk, an English teacher, on the philosophy and technical set-up of digital portfolios. We joked about how older generations sometimes comically misuse new tech tools. We both had a good laugh at jokes that were anachronistic to the 14 year old crowd. The students saw good natured collegiality and neither of us felt like the ancient in the room. It was a win.

Co-Write

1. Distill (and Haggle Over) Ideas
When co-authoring, both come to the table–or the Google Doc–with plenty of ideas. The challenge is to work together to narrow those ideas to a bite size length. Readers should not have to get through something that is double the length just to get double the insight. Ross Cooper and I worked hard to make this happen in our post Should I Download That App? for EdSurge. We submitted a draft to our editor that we knew was too long. The haggling over Google Hangout that followed was well worth it. We both like the article better because of how we distilled our ideas and trimmed the fat.

2. Develop Your Writing
The biggest mistake writers make when they co-author is to split up the work. In the end, the piece just reads like it is bouncing back and forth between two writers instead of reading like a cohesive strong statement. Kyle Pace and I wrote somewhat separately, but then we edited together. And we edited a lot. Now that it is all done, we feel confident that our EdSurge post Five Ways to Create More Teacher Rockstars in Your School is a solid piece.

3. Deepen the Discussion
The goal of writing and publishing any piece, whether it is on your own blog or with another website or print publication, is to share ideas and spark a conversation. When a piece is co-authored the reading audience will inevitably increase and you will get to converse with and learn from even more people. A diversity of perspectives will deepen the discussion and help you refine your own ideas and vocabulary.

Co-Present

1. Welcome Energy from Outside Your School
I have co-presented at EdCamps with Tammy Neil and Andrew Marcinek and at MassCUE with Kit McGuire and the #TechTeamMA crew. (In 2 of those 4 cases we'd only ever met in person for a few minutes before presenting together.) In all cases, my thinking was stretched and I brought those thoughts back to my students, classroom, and school. And, in all cases, the experiences helped shape the way I think about learning and teaching.

2. Broaden Collaborative Tools/Skills
Whether you get to meet your co-presenters in person ahead of the big moment or not, curating resources, outlining a strategy, and designing the presentation will work best using some digital collaborative tools. My favorites, and perhaps the most obvious, are Google Docs and Google Slides. Or get more creative with your presentation by getting out of slide decks. Try Prezi or Weebly. All of these platforms are collaborative and will allow you to work together while in the same room or asynchronously during a few free moments on a weekend.

3. Divide and Conference-Conquer
My colleague Julie Cremin and I had the chance to present together at the iPad Summit in Boston, Leading Future Learning, and the Blueprint Institute. In all cases, we carried out our own session (quite well, I must say) but then used the opportunity to attend as many sessions separately as possible. Since there were two of us there from the same school, there was no regret about missing offerings scheduled at the same time. If you are co-presenting, take advantage of the free/discounted admittance to the conference and spread the love. Set up time to debrief together when you get back to school.

Teachers, use this week to spark gratitude among our colleagues. During this Teacher Appreciation Week, nothing inspires gratitude like truly collaborative work. Give one of these approaches a chance before the end of the school year or during your summer preparations. It will be worthwhile for your own professional learning and you'll see an impact on your students' experiences too.