Friday, April 3, 2015

When the big C doesn't mean cancer

Collaboration is a word is thrown at teachers regularly and the Big C of the A-Z blog challenge. Usually, the word comes with a phrase that includes “real-world learning, technology-based, and project based.”

In the education world, teacher collaboration is a nice idea and not just in the “nice idea in theory” sense.  Teachers who cover the same subject or grade should be working together.  Collaboration makes sure that each department or grade level team is operating on the same page. 

I like to think I collaborate pretty well.  I’ve gotten some of the most valuable lesson plans and strategies from other teachers.  Harry Wong says the best teachers borrow, beg and steal ideas, and I’m proud to say that borrowing, begging and stealing are areas in which I excel.  Hey, why reinvent the wheel when someone else already knows how to teach the concepts just as well or better?  Most teachers know what good collaboration is and are happy to share their ideas with each other. But most of us aren’t CISD.

My district’s vision of collaboration is very, very different.  I found this out during my department training prior to the start of the year. CISD trainers showed us videotaped examples of a group of teachers role playing how a team might collaborate on lesson plans as if we didn’t know how to talk to each other. As if we needed a bunch of stilted, cue-card reading teachers-as-actors showing us the benefits of working as a team for us to understand. Really? I can’t be totally sure, but I think the guy playing the special ed teacher actually donned a false mustache for the part.

The lights came on and we all felt inspired.  At least we were crying. 

The training coordinator then asked us to pull up the district curriculum website.  Here we would find our lesson plans for the English department.  Each calendar school day had a plan, which hit all the standards and even scripted our instruction. 

“This is what the district wants to see,” the cheery coordinator told us.  “Each sophomore English class will be teaching the same lessons, so we’re all on the same page.  If I go into Ms. Jones’ class and Mr. Hawkins’ class, I should see the same lesson being taught on the same days.  And it’s all right here!  See how easy the district is making it for you to plan lessons?”

What? This is collaboration? Sounds more like automation. A more enlightened educator raised her hand. “But I thought we were supposed to be planning with our teams.  I mean, does it really matter how we approach the topics as long as we’re covering the same standards and novels?”  

“The district is providing you with the lessons,” said Smiley.  I think she was starting to grit her teeth.

“Right, but I know that I may want to approach a lesson a different way because my kids might need something different,” Enlightened responded. 

“Yes, and that’s great.  What the district wants to see is uniformity,” Smiley said.  Her mouth didn't really move as she spoke.  “You’ll still be able to collaborate with your team.”

“What do we have to collaborate about if we have to teach preset lessons?” Enlightened asked.  Smiley didn’t respond.  Enlightened persisted, “What will we be collaborating on?”

Smiley’s smile got bigger.  She turned to the rest of the room, “So isn’t this a great resource?  Everything you need is right here.  You never have to worry about what’s coming next.  It’s foolproof!”

Maybe I don’t understand collaboration as well as I thought I did.  Maybe a fake mustache would help.