What are the vital ingredients that create a successful team in a collaborative spaces?
Beginning my third year at HPPS and once again being a member of a new team, this thought has been 'on top' for a while. I began 2017 pondering about the Art of a team but I've often reflected back to earlier posts, Swing Thoughts and Asking the question. I've posted several times about collaboration, mainly because I'm continuously learning, but as teachers we all seem to be striving for better collaborations as more of our schools adopt this style of education. My new team, which feels successful, has extended my thinking further but this was given a real power shot when I had the opportunity to answer a few questions for an upcoming presentation to be delivered by our DP. Her question, "What advice would you give someone entering a collaborative space?"
Teaching in a collaborative space is not that different to being in your own small classroom. Good practise is centred on knowing your learners, choosing the right pedagogy and material that recognises students' learning needs and delivering it effectively. However, teaching and collaborating are two quite different things and I'm in no doubt a teacher can have some success without being a strong collaborator.
Successful collaboration as discussed in the Art of a team requires many things, vision, communication and a raft of unspoken permissions. Moreover, ultimately I'm finding, it relies on a few select personal qualities, particularly empathy, pragmatism, honesty, drive and selflessness. These traits are over and above what might be evident in tools such as Hermann Brain Analysis, where your learn about your thinking preferences.
Clearly, as teachers we are different, but to succeed in a collaborative space and ensure that the team is more than the sum of its parts, each individual component needs to demonstrate empathy towards the other teachers (please note I'm talking empathy, not manners). We each have our families, commitments, beliefs and interests. These directly impact upon each member in the space and can determine the outcomes and productivity of the team, I've never felt this as keenly as this year where even just family commitments alone are enough to have you showing your empathy. Furthermore, empathy and consideration are required to help you design a learning programme and space that fulfils the needs of each staff member with varying standards and expectations to be encompassed. The teaching itself, also deserves a healthy dose of empathy (similarly with being selfless). Make sure you keep to some sort of timeline as your colleague might need the same child next, perhaps there is testing to complete. Being empathetic to their needs allows you to tread more lightly, as the moment you don't, teaching and collaboration become infinitely more difficult.
Our differences as teachers also demand pragmatism. We all have favourite techniques, quirks and idiosyncrasies, which can you leave behind as baggage? Which ones do you need to hold onto? When discussing pedagogy, judgements and ideas often it is a matter of establishing which battles need to be fought, and which really aren't that important. Give and take or compromising requires a lot of pragmatism, successful collaboration will see teachers being warm but demanding, a yes-person isn't needed as some ideas deserve to be challenged but a colleague challenging each idea just to be vexatious isn't creating a positive collaborative environment either.
Balancing both of these qualities is honesty, in two ways also, towards your colleagues, but also to yourself. As we prepared our team agreement at the start of this year, our team spoke of our needs, weaknesses and symptoms we might display as we became stressed or entered a learning pit. In a collaborative space, this type of honesty is vital. Your colleagues rely on you to test children they're teaching and vice versa. As we enter stressful periods of various commitments, reporting/testing, EOTC, sporting events or any bottleneck that occur in our school, it is vital that you are honest towards your colleagues. I find there is need to outline where people are up to with testing, reporting, my role as a sports coordinator or their various roles. If one was less than honest there is a flow on that impacts your colleagues.
Drive appears quite important also. Working in collaborative spaces where everything is deprivatised and you rely on your colleagues is no place for someone who isn't prepared to work hard. Yes, we all have different work habits and tendencies, but the reliance on each other necessitates teachers who can dig in and get things done. I remember being asked in my first year at HPPS about the cognitive load of teachers in these spaces, I didn't feel that it was over the top until I listed all the things that your doing at any one time. The times that I've procrastinated have resulted in some terrible pits, but when any members of the team then takes on more than their share of the load then even more can be achieved.
The last quality that I've come to find advantageous is selflessness. When working in these spaces it is often necessary to consider the needs of others, that's showing your empathetic, but then putting their needs ahead of yours becomes necessary. As we approached our recent round of reporting, I had to consider the various needs of my colleagues. In a single cell context, managing judgements and reports is relatively straightforward, you control your own destiny as it were. In a collaborative space, much can be out your control, you are reliant on colleagues to share full information in a timely manner. As a colleague recently said, "I need you to have my back, so I'm not left looking stupid".
I feel that these are rather lofty things to ask of someone. I see each of these character traits in my colleagues and I trust that I display them also. Others may disagree with my assessment or believe that other personal qualities are more important, I'd love to discuss this with you if that's the case. I am working damn hard to contribute to successful collaboration on many levels but especially in LC2 with 2 others teachers and our learners. Honestly, it can feel like the old graphic equaliser displays on stereo systems, continuously up and down in various aspects but as long the result is superior I'll remain satisfied.