I’m on Twitter a lot (well, maybe not in recent weeks because of power/internet outages and vacation, but trust me, I am), and quite a number of the people I follow are educators, so I get some really good pieces of advice on how to improve my teaching. It’s hard not to agree with most of it, either, because most of these people are very smart and really seem to have a handle on what’s next in education (or at least they’re really good at either looking for it or faking it). One thing that many of my fellow tweeters (twits?) have been talking about a lot lately is collaboration; specifically, promoting a collaborative environment among both teachers and students. ”We should be collaborative because the world is collaborative!” they say and retweet.
It’s hard to disagree with this sentiment, even though it’s really nothing new; I remember touting my ability to be a valuable team member as far back as my first job interviews when I was looking for an internship in the summer of 1998 and graduating college in 1999. Heck, working well with someone else factored into my summer job as a state parks employee when I was in college, and most of that job was picking up garbage off of the Atlantic shoreline. But I can see why there would be a push for it among educators, because we do tend to be a group that gets stuck in its ways (seriously, if I hear “Well, we’ve always done it this way,” one more time I am going to hurt someone).
What I also see and understand is why there might be resistance to an idea that on its surface seems so simple it should be a no-brainer, black-and-white concept. And this is not because some teachers are so set in their ways they are the stereotypical “dinosaurs” who I’ve seen quite a number of people accuse of ruining students’ education (not that they don’t exist, mind you, but having worked with plenty of veteran teachers in my short career, I refuse to demonize them in order to make a point). Where I understand resistance to the culture of collaboration is that there is value in working by and for yourself sometimes, and I am wary of the pendulum swinging so far that we lose sight of that.
During the last few weeks, I have been at home on summer break, away on vacation, and at my school to run SOL test remediation. So, while I have had the chance to be away from work, I have also had the chance to sit down and take a look at my courses for next year and begin planning. The way I do this is probably a little insane, or at least it tends to look that way to anyone who isn’t me. The early stages of my planning process have me all over the place, and there have been times when, given an empty classroom, I have been known to fill up white boards with planning notes that are indecipherable to just about anyone but me (at least that’s what I can tell based on the perplexed looks co-workers have when they walk in on this).
I like this. I like being able to breathe. I like the moments where I can get lost in my own head space and not feel that I have to explain where I am going or what I am doing. I like having the time to sort out the pile of information in front of me without the noise of other voices (and yes, the ideas of those other voices). And being someone who teaches collaboratively on a daily basis, I think that having this time to myself makes me a better collaborator because I come into collaborative planning better prepared and ready to work.
I mean, I have the ability to think on the fly, but I’m also one of those people who can get easily overwhelmed when presented with a lot of information at once and very often needs time to process it, which is why whenever I am in a large-scale collaboration session (like a department meeting or a workshop), I tend to stay quiet. Okay, part of that is because despite what you read here I am not a blowhard and I have learned to let the blowhards have their moments because they tend to burn out quickly and when I finally get involved with the conversation it’s at the point where things are a lot more constructive and there’s less chest thumping. But really, I cannot fault people who seem hesitant to “participate in the conversation” or seem off-putting because they sometimes prefer to go off and do their own thing. There is as much value in working alone as there is in working together, and I don’t want to see that value disappear because our rhetoric is so focused on the collective.