Pulling together. Staging a rally. Coming from behind to complete a miraculous comeback. These are the most cherished moments of a team’s season.
The euphoria. The camaraderie. The esprit de corps.
The connections formed with teammates are sacred.
As teachers, we are part of a team. Certainly, we are the lead-learners of our classroom teams. But we are a part of a larger team. We are part of the entire team of educators in our building.
And greater yet, we reside in the dugout of teachers around the world, rallying together to provide the best learning experiences and opportunities for children everywhere.
Yet teamwork doesn’t come naturally to all of our students. We have to model it, explain it, facilitate it, and practice it. Otherwise, some students get marginalized. Some kids try to grab the lead role, but in the process miss opportunities to learn from their less assertive peers. Some kids are adept at raising their hands, even before they have their thoughts sorted out, just because they want to have their voice heard. Some kids like to be at the front of the line. Always.
If we are not careful, we can have classrooms where a minority of the kids, do a majority of the work. Some of this is human nature, but some of this may point to a lack of building teamwork in our classrooms. We may favor the extroverts over the introverts. We may lean more heavily, on the more reliable. We may allow the loudest or most frequent voice, carry the message. We may inadvertently create an environment where some students don’t feel like their voice is as valued as their peers.
As educators, if we are honest, teamwork doesn’t come naturally to many of us either. Though we may be more mature in how we handle some of our “me first” impulses than our students, I wonder if we are taking an honest inventory of our own team-building amongst our colleagues.
Do we pull people in to our circle? Do we praise the insights and successes of others? Do we take time to lend a hand when a colleague is struggling or overwhelmed? With our PLN, do we take a moment to honor the accomplishments of others? Do we support the risks other educators are taking in their own learning communities, even if those risks fall short? Do we get so busy promoting our own blogs, challenges, or creative ideas, that we miss the opportunity to enjoy and promote the creativity of others?
Teaching is such a wonderful calling; but it is a daunting career. While I’m energized by the daily challenge to unleash the genius in each student, I’m vexed by the federal and state mandates that are often passed down by people with little to no knowledge of the dynamics of student learning. I’m frequently plagued by the emotional weight of worrying about the one or two students I don’t seem to be connecting with, that I forget to celebrate the rest of the class that is growing and thriving. I’m more often discouraged by what I’m not doing perfect, than accepting of all the wonderful contributions I am making to my class and my building.
So what about my colleagues? How can I pull them in? How can I lift up their arms? How can I rally my peers?
A few thoughts on building teamwork among educators:
1. Honor the Logo –
The name on the front of the uniform is always more important than the one on the back. My uniform says TEACHER. The same as the uniform worn by my colleagues. That unifies me with my PLN, both in my building, and around Twitterverse. The “Teacher / Educator” title carries more weight than how many years experience one has; whether you’re published or not; how many followers one has; whether you blog or not; or whether you keynote, or Evernote. We’re all pulling on the same rope. Let’s honor that. Be inclusive versus exclusive.
2. Pats on the Back & High Fives –
Don’t you love it when a student can celebrate another student’s victories? When a student can stop and say, “I really love what Laura said.” “I think Vince deserves credit.” “I’d like to nominate Vanessa.” It fills me with joy when students can put their peers in front of themselves. Likewise, I love seeing when colleagues can praise the insights of one another at staff meetings or in Twitter chats. When we honor the voice of a colleague, they are more likely to feel like a valued member of the team, and more likely to be invested in the team’s vision and goals.
3. Kick the Base; Get in the Umpire’s Face –
Sometimes we have to protect our team members. We have to stand up for them’ when someone diminishes their point of view. Or when someone tries to “pull rank”. We have to look out for them when the critical voices arise, casting doubt on their credibility as educators. I’ll never forget the advice a colleague gave me early in my career. I was burning out, discouraged that I never seemed to be able to get everything done. She encouraged me to set aside one night each week, and take no work home with me. Just enjoy my family. Be with friends. Invest in my interests. She knew that if I brought my bag home, I’d feel guilty if I didn’t accomplish my to-do list. Her advice set me free to just be at peace for an evening each week.
4. Blow Bubbles –
Rally caps look silly. They are. But at its’ essence, learning must be fun. So should teaching. People don’t gravitate towards others who are serious all the time. We are attracted towards people with energy, and enthusiasm. Why not celebrate the learning journey each day, with laughter, dancing, singing, and smiles? Put a wad of bubble-gum on a colleague’s hat. Wear a cape. Don a hilarious tie. Laugh. Hug. Send silly photos, jokes, and letters to peers. Do a random act of kindness. Make someone’s load lighter. Make their day.
5. Wear the Jersey, Not the Suit –
Baseball managers wear the same garb as their team. True, some may look ridiculous, if they’ve allowed a protruding paunch, or they’re way past the age for walking gracefully. Nonetheless, the jersey unifies them. It levels the playing field. It reminds the team, I’m one of you. Be vulnerable. Instead of hailing your victories, share your mistakes. It is more endearing. It allows us to learn from you. Avoid directives to colleagues like “shoulds” and “musts”. I love to blog, but not every colleague “should” blog. I like to run, but not every teacher “must” run. I think mystery skype is a cool idea, but is a teacher any less effective if they aren’t doing it? I love the GRA, and want to learn more about GHO’s, but am I less of a teacher if I’m not yet doing them? Binding things on colleagues often diminishes their voice. It sends the message, “you’re not enough”. It suggests, we might be wearing the same jersey, but my place on the team is more vital than yours.
The rally caps are a fun and symbolic way to unite a team, pulling together for victory. The starters and the subs. The ace, and the guys who do mop-up. The highest salaried, and the minimum-wage rookies. All pulling together on the same rope for victory. In education, I want to tap into the creative juices of all my colleagues. I want to enlist their genius. I want our team to win.
As a whole, educators have been largely written off in our country. We’ve been marginalized. Told we’re not doing a good enough job with kids. Told that we’re not enough. That business leaders have to forge a collection of standards to rescue kids and prepare them for the future.
Let them say what they want, but don’t add to their pattern of dismissing the value of educators. Because the connections formed with colleagues are sacred. Lift up the arms of other teachers in your building. Lift up the arms of colleagues in your PLN. They might not always share the same momentary workload, but they are on the same team. They were the same honored logo on their uniform. They are a part of the vision of educators pulling together to stage a miraculous comeback in the lives of students.
Because players don’t win games. Teams do.