Collaboration Celebration

Since Monday’s post was on sharing space in the classroom, I thought I might add my two cents about sharing a class. I’m starting my 12th of year of teaching (WHAT???) and have had a few different collaborative partners. My relationships with each of my partners has been very successful. These are some of the ways I measure that success:

1. No one wanted to kill the other person (very often, at least).

2. Our students truly did benefit from two teachers in the classroom, as evidenced by the class and Virginia SOL pass rates.

3. My team-teaching (or collaborative-depending on where you live) partners and I were kept together for a few years each. To me, that says that someone in the Big Office figured we were doing something right.

Ok, full disclosure here: My collaborative partners were either some of my closest friends going into it, or became some of my closest friends during our time in the classroom together. I feel incredibly blessed to not only have had the opportunity to teach with some of the best teachers I know (honest!), but they are some of the best people I know. I still consider each collaborative partner I’ve worked with a friend, even if I don’t see or talk to them very often anymore or even teach at the same school anymore. But I was just that lucky to know them. I know MANY teachers who have had very different team-teaching experiences. I’m positive that the closeness between us as friends was a major factor in the success of our teaching relationship. I’m not saying you should be besties with your partner, but not wanting to rip their arms off and beat them to death with their own appendages is what I would call a bonus. And if you’re like me, you’ve been to every collaborative training there is. You know about dividing time in your classroom, and how to carve out the roles in the class. But team-teaching shouldn’t be cold and robotic. I believe that to have a good working relationship, the emphasis on that phrase should be relationship.

1. Celebrate Diversity I know. That sounds trite, and we hear that all the time in terms of our students. But that very much applies to your teaching partner. When we’re teaching and truly invested in the students, we are bringing all our experiences and world views into the classroom to help develop a well-rounded student. That person in the front of the room right now? She has completely different experiences and world views than you. You know what that means? She has different stories. She has a different way of reaching the students. She has different teaching methods. And not only does that benefit the students, but you get to learn a whole lot from her, too. The personal stories about her trip to Greece that make that unit in your Ancient History class come to life? Listen to them. Learn from her. She has a lot to offer if you’re willing to see it.

2. Laugh. A lot.- You know those times when you look around the classroom and all you see are glazed stares and drooling teenagers? How about when you think your whiteboard is learning more than your students? Those are the times to bond together as people more than teaching partners. Throw out an allusion to a book you’ve both read or a movie quote from your partner’s favorite film. Make them laugh. Trust me. Laughter in the classroom goes a long way. Plus, it’s contagious and perks the students right up.

And it doesn’t have to be a stuffy intellectual allusion or reference to something über sophisticated. If you can’t laugh with each other when your partner starts dancing and singing “Walk Like an Egyptian” to get your kids to remember and relate to a portion of another Ancient History unit, you are in for a VERY LONG time together. I caution you, though. If you are giggling about inappropriateness together (Hey, it happens. No judging.), make sure you have a tactic to hide that from the students. For example, if your partner in English class accidentally introduces Edgar Allen Porn instead of Edgar Allen Poe, it may help to not make eye contact with said partner and then get a good laugh after class. Either way, laugh.

3. Trust Your Partner- Seriously. Trust that they know what they are doing. Trust that they have the students’ best interests at heart. Trust that they won’t throw you under the bus during the first parent-teacher conference. Trust that when you have substitute or are out of the room they aren’t rummaging through your belongings or stealing your M&M’s out of your bottom drawer.The basis of every single relationship we have is trust.

4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T- You know what that means to me? At the very least, it is being considerate and civil at all times. Maybe she has a child at home and is running on 2 hours of sleep and is tad crankier than usual. Give it to her. She’s tired, we all get that way. Maybe he is the most forgetful person in the world and wants you to be his personal secretary more than his partner. Remind him of the faculty meeting the day before it’s regularly schedule time. In return, they might not mind the day your car breaks down on the way to school and you miss the first 30 minutes of class. Or maybe she is willing to do all the grading for a while as you tend to a sick child. You get what you give. And in the same way, never, NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER badmouth your partner in front of your students. EVER. That just makes you both look bad. In fact, don’t badmouth your partner to anyone.

5. Be Kind- If all else fails, kill ’em with kindness. You are bound to be frustrated or annoyed. And it is perfectly okay to address your concerns with your partner (in fact, it’s encouraged. The Big Office likes to call that, “communication”). But it’s not okay to berate them, condescend to them, or give them the silent treatment. And yes, I know someone whose partner gave them the silent treatment. And no, they weren’t 8 years old (biologically). And it wouldn’t kill you to offer to check their mailbox for them since you are going there anyway. There’s no harm in making an extra cup of coffee in the morning for them. Kindness goes a long way. Again, you get what you give.

Like I said, you don’t need to be besties with your partner. But get to know them as a person first, and the rest will fall into place. And if all else fails, post this sign in your classroom for you AND your students (I got this at over at Sweet Blessings…and it’s printable! Go check out her sweet blog!):

PS- If any of you have team-teaching tricks or stories I’d love to hear them!

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