Friday, June 1, 2012

Collaboration from #ConnectEdCa

You don't get to opt out of standing in front of your colleagues and talking about your practice.
Deirdre Bailey - Calgary Science School

Although this statement was uttered in the context of the philosophy and culture of Calgary Science School, I see it as a call to teachers everywhere to stop hiding behind closed doors.

Our profession allows (and even encourages) practicing our craft on an island alone. New teachers are thrown into a classroom and no one looks in on them again. I tell my students and parents that my colleagues are excellent teachers, but how would I ever know? I have never sat in on any of their classrooms. I have never seen them teach.

Aside from a cursory first year review, no administrator or colleague has been in my classroom for 6 years except by special invitation from me. Of course, I plan these invitations when it is most convenient and flattering to me, when I have some great activity planned or some new technology to trot out.

How can this be?

In politically charged British Columbia, true collaboration has been crushed by the rush for accountability. My school once had planned collaboration time like CSS. It was scheduled every second Friday, teacher-driven and supported by administration. And it died after 2 years because of a government push to control it by making the process accountable to arbitrary goals of student success (read higher test scores). Now, new legislation imposes a punitive teacher accountability process that can only make more teacher's doors close.

But there is still hope.

Hope for challenging dialogue, meaningful constructive criticism, true collaboration.

My colleague across the hall, Blair Miller, has been my collaboration partner for almost 2 years. This despite the fact that we do not teach any of the same courses. Our collaboration has focused on assessment practices and broad pedagogical philosophy (including inquiry and problem-based learning), but always rooted in everyday lesson planning. Through our collaboration, he holds me accountable to the highest possible standards (best teaching practice, student engagement and inquiry, authentic assessment through meaningful feedback) in short, what's best for kids. I can confidently say I would not be the teacher I am today without Blair's constant challenge, encouragement and correction.

It may be daunting. It may make you feel vulnerable. And a little scared. But, collaboration is too powerful for us to continue to hide behind closed doors.

So, open your door, stand in front of a colleague and start talking about your teaching practice.

UPDATE: September 2016

I was thrilled to see the #ObserveMe campaign promoted by Robert Kaplinsky and others. This is exactly what I was talking about back in 2012. Encouraging others to observe your practice and offer feedback is amazing.

I believe it is even more valuable to connect with another teacher you trust for ongoing feedback and collaboration. Blair and I continue to connect and challenge each other despite the fact we are no longer even at the same school.

Trust me. It is worth the risk.


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