One of the most common laments that educators have is that our profession tends to isolate us from our peers. Faculty may spend all day in a classroom working with their students with little, if any, time to converse with other teachers. For online instructors, the feeling of aloneness may even be intensified.
On those occasions when educators have a chance to sit down and talk with one another, the torrent of creative energy and ideas is both electrifying and fulfilling. How many of us, for example, have attended a conference and after having that time out from our regular duties to converse and collaborate with colleagues, left feeling excited about all the new pedagogical techniques we can try or all the excellent opportunities for professional development we have discovered?
The unfortunate part is that too often we let the day-to-day routine keep us from getting together to share ideas and inspiration like this. Yet, this is important, and educators must take the initiative to create opportunities for sharing among themselves.
As blogger Edna Sackson demonstrated, there are actually a lot of easy ways to spark creative collaboration among our colleagues. Here are her ten tips (18 May, 2010) with some additional commentary and suggestions from me.
1. Open the door.
“Let go of the idea that you have to teach in ‘your way’ in ‘your space’. Team teach. Invite people in. Share spaces. Learn together.”
How many times have we thought: “I wish I had someone to brainstorm a new approach to teaching this lesson,” or “I would love to present at that conference, but I wish I could find someone to collaborate with”? Each time you have a thought like this, it is an opportunity to open the door to creative collaboration.
“Collaborative planning is a constant conversation. Share what worked and what didn’t. Build on each others’ ideas. Talk about how you’ll use shared spaces.”
At times there seems to be a fear or reluctance to discuss ideas, but part of opening the door to creative collaboration is talking. If a lesson plan worked well, share your excitement with colleagues. If it didn’t go so well, share what happened and ask for suggestions. Consider asking colleagues to observe a pedagogical technique and to share their feedback with you. Mention upcoming conferences, too, and how you would like to collaborate with someone.
3. Be open-minded.
“There is more than one way of doing things. Be open to new ways of thinking and new ways of learning. Learning can look different from the way it did when you went to school.”
As busy as educators are, it’s easy to fall into a rut, to teach the same lesson the same way for a few semesters or even years. You may not be able to think of another approach or you may be resistant to new ideas. Be willing to open the door, discuss ideas, and experiment with new approaches. You may discover something wonderful.
4. Include your students.
“Ensure you are part of their learning community rather than boss of the learning. Ask for feedback. Talk about the process of learning. Listen to their voices. It’s their learning.”
Where is it written that creative collaboration only involves you and your peers? There is a value in including other constituents in a creative collaboration. Consider inviting them into the discussion and into your classroom. Select a few students, administrators, librarians, external professionals, etc. in addition to a couple of peers to participate in a creative collaboration. Think of the classroom activity you could plan with such a group!
5. Make learning trans-disciplinary.
“Learning takes place when we connect new knowledge or ideas with what we already knew. The more connections, the stronger the learning. Create opportunities for connections across disciplines.”
Move out of your own department and field of study. How does your discipline connect with another? If you don’t see a connection, how could you make one for the benefit of your students and your own professional development? Once I had the privilege of sharing my office with the chair of the math department at a college where I chaired the English program. We noticed that students typically loved math and hated writing or loved writing and hated math. We started discussing the similarities in the learning process for these two subjects and began to team teach some lessons and give workshops to share this approach with others. Others have even included the use of technology in the teaching of mathematics and composition (Gavosto, E. and O’Donnell, L., “Learning with Technology: Similarities in Mathematics and Writing,” nd.).
“Share your time, your ideas and your expertise. Share tasks and resources between team members. Share responsibility with your students.”
As with any other social endeavor, you have to be willing to put yourself out there. You must be willing to offer your own creativity and expertise to others and to projects both internally on the campus and externally within the local and global community. An easy way to do this is to volunteer to be part of an advisory board. For instance, as a member of a nursing advisory board in the past, I was able to not only connect with my colleagues in the School of Health Sciences, but I also was able to connect with similar peers at other postsecondary institutions in the area as well as with constituents at local hospitals, non-profits, and community leaders.
7. Focus on the arts.
“Work with the art teacher and the music teacher. Use the arts to enrich learning in any subject area.”
I love that Sackson breaks out the arts specifically as an area for collaboration to enrich learning. Years ago when I taught Latin at an inner city high school, I walked past what had been a small smoking area back in the 1970s near the entrance of the building. I happened to mention to the head of the drama club that it reminded me of a mini ancient Greco-Roman theater, and the idea took off. We ended up creating an assignment for my 4th year students where they would study Roman satire; then they wrote and performed their own satire. Our students not only advanced their understanding of the advanced Latin curriculum, but they also had the opportunity to learn more about theater and the arts all in a way that was more fun for us all.
8. Establish an in-school PLN.
“Learn from and with your personal learning network. It might be your grade level team, teachers of the same subject or, best of all, a mixed group. Share practice. Build on each others’ ideas.”
Once you open the door and start sharing your ideas about creative collaboration, you will quickly discover others who are interested in the same thing. The suggestion here of formalizing your own personal learning network is valuable in that you will have a ready-made team to share ideas and activities with. The PLNs I have been a part of typically set up some regular times to get together that were not always on campus. Getting together at a coffee house, a restaurant, or park, for example, works well in fostering an environment where creative energy can flow. You will find you can increasingly count on this group, and they will know they can depend upon you for collaboration.
9. Establish an online PLN.
“Use social media to connect and collaborate with educators anywhere, any time. Get the most out of Twitter. Ask someone to help you get started on building an online network.”
For many of the same reasons you would use social media to connect with family and friends, set up accounts for collaborating with your PLN and other interested persons. Link to organizations that may inspire creativity, provide information and opportunities, and offer other types of support. Social media is available 24/7, so take advantage of this opportunity to make creative collaboration conductive to your PLN members’ schedules.
10. Create a global collaboration.
“Use Skype or Voicethread to collaborate with a class in another country. Exchange ideas and beliefs. Learn from each other.”
Why limit yourself to just your PLN? There are ways to set up group areas for your local PLN while opening yourself up to global collaboration via social media. One of the parts I enjoy most about blogging, using social media, and putting myself out there as a writer is the global communication and other opportunities it has provided.
Overall, there are some easy ways for educators to connect with one another for creative collaboration. Hopefully, this will provide a start. Please share some additional ideas in the comments area below.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net