Early in my teaching career, I had the fortune of working in a charter school where collaboration was highly valued. My second year there, the administration decided to create a schedule where the Math and Science teachers taught the same 45 or so kids at the same time in a block. Our rooms shared a partial wall, so we could divide the students as needed for breakout sessions, of sorts. The same happened on the other side of the building with the Social Studies and Language Arts teachers.
My co-teacher and I created incredible cross-curricular units. We did not have textbooks but used standards and creativity instead. This was before classrooms had much technology available to students, and well before smartphones were in every pocket. We engaged student with real-world scenarios and gave them meaningful tasks.
How did this work? Well, it took a LOT of planning and it was AMAZING. We would look through the science standards, something would spark, we would fan the spark with more conversation and creativity, and before too long we had the blueprint for a unit. I LOVED working with my colleague in this way. I enjoyed the learning opportunities we developed for our students. I appreciated the chance to be creative and to drive the curriculum. Most of all, though, I valued the time spent talking with my colleague.
Creativity can start with one person, but I have found the best lessons or units I create happen when I have had the chance to work through it with a colleague. Bouncing ideas around with other educators absolutely enhances the learning opportunity, but it also feeds the teacher. I have found this to be true even when the other teacher does not teach the same students. But, what is essential, I think, is the investment of both teachers in the process.
In the Summer of 2019, I engaged in a professional development opportunity on the coast. I may have written about this before, so please forgive any redundancies 🙂 . During this PD, I was grouped with a science teacher from a completely different school, a marine researcher, and a math teacher from my school. Thankfully, the math teacher and I are good friends and have worked together for years, even collaborated a time or two before this. Our goal was to create a cross-curricular unit for math and science (in our case Biology and Marine Biology) using the marine researcher’s data. The experience was not without bumps, but the end result was pretty impressive.
As I thought about this experience this morning, I found myself drawn to why this worked. The key was not teaching the same kids in order for collaboration to be effective. The key was working with colleagues to develop learning experiences. Working WITH colleagues is powerful! Being able to talk about curriculum ideas, lesson ideas, real-world connections, and all the rest feeds me as a teacher and makes my lessons so much more. It is certainly easier to have these conversations when your colleague teaches the same group of kids or the same subject as you, but I would argue these conversations are valuable even if that is not the case.
I challenge you to take the time to find a colleague and talk today. In the conversation, share curriculum ideas, be creative, take chances, and enjoy. I would love to hear how it goes 🙂