Our years of study?
Our years of practice?
Our many courses and training to keep us up to date?
Our technological resources?
Our nights spent reading so many books about education?
Our children and nephews?
Our willingness to learn and not only be teachers, but also eternal students?
Our capacity for flexibility and adaptation?
Our open minds?
Our ability to work as a team and collaborate?
A few years ago, at the International School of Panama, the school where I currently work at,I was part of a very interesting process. We needed to establish an institutional framework with the traits that should ideally characterize the educators of our school. The reason behind this was to change our teacher evaluation system. What was relevant was not only the change in the evaluation system, but also the way in which this framework would be created. All educators would be part of the process of selecting these traits. Working together at the beginning and then dividing ourselves into smaller groups, we would select the traits that would later function as a reference in the Professional Learning Pathway Process. This would be used to evaluate ourselves, reflect on our educational practices, and create an inquiry question that would guide this process, our goals, and more.
This is how 7 traits were selected that summarize the profile of the ISP educator.
These attributes would then be further developed, adding to each one a list of descriptors separated into 4 different categories: as an educator, a colleague, a professional, and a community member.
Reflecting on the question that titles this post, about what makes us good educators, it is difficult to answer because it is the mixture of many factors, attitudes, skills, and variables. However, an enhancer of our professional performance is, without a doubt, that of collaboration. This attribute was demonstrated in the very process of creating the ISP educator profile.
So I’m going to focus on that attribute: collaboration.
Throughout what I consider to be a short career in education, I have learned about the importance of collaboration. Starting with my first position as a robotics teacher that offered me the opportunity to plan with homeroom teachers and other specialists in music, languages, physical education, art, and more. Then as a learning support specialist. Being able to attend Middle School Math and Science planning meetings and contribute with the differentiation, accommodation and modification processes while learning a lot from my colleagues. The same happens to me now as a tech coach and integrationist and I feel very fortunate to be able to expose myself to so many different teaching methodologies and subject contents.
Now, these collaborative processes don’t always come easily. It is necessary to create an atmosphere of trust, companionship, and friendship, if possible. It is clear now that it is much easier for me to bring a new idea, strategy or tool to the table when I have a positive relationship with that coworker or group of coworkers. It is with these educators with whom I have co-taught, offered the best suggestions or changes, from whom I have ultimately learned the most, and with whom positive changes have been generated that really benefit students.
We cannot expect our students to approach working in pairs, groups or teams that are not selected by them with the best disposition when we do not model that behavior. The settings or the individuals with whom we will work will be not always be optimal, but we can always grow and generate changes in our peers, demonstrating, for example, a sense of leadership, responsibility, feedback, positive reinforcement, and so much more, when we work collaboratively, always coming from a place of empathy and respect for the individual.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to work with exceptional professionals who also eventually became my friends. I will take this opportunity to mention Sandrine Cucalón and Sussana Potter, for always being open to try new ideas in education and with a great disposition to collaborate and receive and offer feedback.
And of course, María Clara. If there is someone with whom I have achieved collaboration to the maximum expression, it is with her. I will use our most recent educational experience together, our Writing & Virtual Summer Camp, as an example.
This summer camp was her idea and she knew she didn’t want to do it alone even though I’m sure it would have been just as successful. María Clara is aware of the importance of interdisciplinarity and collaboration. Planning this summer camp together was as rewarding as running it. Much of that feeling of well-being and satisfaction when planning is due to our trust in each other and, when we teach together, students understand and learn from this dynamic, applying it in their relationships in the classroom.
But we also have to offer students those opportunities. We have to create those spaces. To achieve this in our summer camp, we used various strategies and tools, but I am going to talk specifically about our breakout groups. Being a virtual camp, we wanted to guarantee the creation of those bonds of friendship that are only achieved when there are spaces for collaboration that encourage interaction between participants.
Yes, we already knew in advance that we would use breakout groups, but we wanted to elevate it to be more fun, eye-catching, original, and even more differentiated. This is how we ended up adding characters to our breakout rooms with a balance in those related to literature and those related to programming.
This simple and small change generated a very positive reaction, everyone knew some or all of the characters. Some students directly demonstrated their desire to belong to a specific group, perhaps their favorite character from a video game or book. This is how, from day one, the students let us see some of their tastes and preferences regarding the two main topics, but they also felt identified, felt that they belonged, and were open to being part of these groups.
In the first survey we sent to students to get feedback and improve their experience, one of the few changes requested was to extend the time in breakout groups.
In short, collaboration is a process that takes time and consistency, but it is also enjoyable and beneficial on many levels in the educational world.
Some questions to ponder:
- Are you collaborating with a colleague currently trying to offer a different perspective?
- Have you asked a supervisor or colleague for help to improve any of your professional practices?
- Have you considered doing a coaching cycle if it is an option within your school?
- Are you open to trying new strategies?
- Do you welcome specialists: EAL, Learning Support, Tech Integrations, Instructional Coach, to collaborate with you?
Let us grow together.