Misery Loves Company or Better Together?

By: Charlene Aldrich, retired South Carolina Literacy Instructor

In education, there are times when it’s a little bit of both.  I like to believe that Better Together overcomes Misery so that Company discovers possibilities rather than ponders problems.  

Too often educators, unknowingly, develop a silo mindset in their quest to accomplish everything that needs to be done to meet everyone’s needs – the state, the district, the administrators, the students, the parents, and the support staff members.  It’s a gradual process and, unlike the business definition of a silo mindset, is a re-action rather than a pro-action. A silo mindset in business develops when co-workers refuse to work together as a team – hoarding resources and hiding ideas that benefit the whole.  Personal recognition trumps the greater good.  Fear of losing out overshadows building relationships.

Photo by Jari Hytönen on Unsplash

In education, however, silo mindsets develop in response to overwhelming workloads, little downtime, and too much paperwork!  It becomes easy to say, ‘I don’t have time to collaborate,’ and ‘I just want to get home.’  There’s not even time to contemplate the fact that ‘better together’ results in efficient and effective instruction as well as developing a support network. I’d like to suggest three ways to promote collaboration in a school:  grade level, content area, and schoolwide.

Intradisciplinary Collaboration

Intradisciplinary collaboration within a school is big picture collaboration; it involves planning curriculum that has continuity, scope, and sequence from an intro course to the AP offering.  Long-term planning such as this happens outside of the regular school year.  The biology team or the Algebra team or the Honors ELA team meets at least two times a year: one to look back and one to look forward.  Another model is a two-day retreat with the same idea – looking back and looking forward.  Priorities include sequenced content area text resources, scaffolded instruction from course to course, and intentional development of disciplinary literacy practices. Collaboration between teachers who teach the same courses should focus on dissecting the course standards into individual lessons to develop content area knowledge necessary to meet them.  

Grade Level Collaboration

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Grade level collaboration, on the other hand, is an ongoing effort among colleagues to develop ways to build relationships between the content of each other’s courses.  In an effort to provide real world connections and context for learning, teachers work together to plan content overlap that is mutually reinforcing.  Literature pairs well with history; mathematics pairs well with business and economics.  The arts curriculum overlaps with history as artists’ and musicians’ compositions reflect the culture in which they were created. Lyrics in music correlate to poetry in ELA. Sciences and math are mutually reinforcing; construction trades, culinary, and physical education include math calculations, conversions, and statistics.  And every content area has significant people whose lives are told through biographies and autobiographies which are just one of the many categories of literature taught by ELA teachers.  

Collaborating across a grade level doesn’t even have to be synchronous to be effective. Connected content introduced in one discipline becomes background knowledge in preparation for future content of another discipline; it also serves as a source for applying content knowledge to new learning situations. Long term retention is accomplished as connected content surfaces a variety of courses that review, connect, and extend content for deep understanding.

Synchronous School-wide Collaboration

Synchronous school-wide collaboration is possible several times a year in response to awkward calendar planning.  For example, the day of Halloween and the day after Halloween are sometimes void of learning because excitement replaces focus.  Thematic collaboration on these isolated days rescue students and teachers from wasted time and potential behavior management issues.  Two days of hype and sugar-highs are replaced with inquiry and fact-finding: history, cultural celebrations, economic impact, spending statistics, chemistry, nutrition, poetry, drama, short stories, music, art, and even physical education!  All it takes is a little creativity mixed with a lot of enthusiasm to connect content, include a course requirement, and engage students throughout the school around a common theme two or three times a year. I can personally recommend this NewsELA article as a place to begin: 

https://newsela.com/read/halloween-spending/id/46288/?utm_source=email&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=web (It will ask you to make an account to read the article; the article as well as all of their ‘news’ articles are free.  Other content needs a subscription.  All of their free news articles make great themes for collaboration or connecting to specific lessons in your content area.)

What are the ‘down days’ at your school? There should never be a class day that a student can say, ‘It’s Halloween. The teachers never do anything important on Halloween. I can stay home.’  If you are reading this, then you may be the one who can make collaboration happen in your school!  Find the First Follower in YOUR school and do it! 

About the Author

After 20 years of growing literacy in under-prepared college students, Charlene retired to focus on state-wide literacy initiatives such as LiD, 6-12 and her R2S approved literacy courses at College of Charleston.  She lets her life speak by empowering teachers to have the confidence and competence to implement a literacy model of instruction in any content area and at every grade level. Her best Covid-19 memory is teaching her grandson Algebra 1 via phone calls, Zoom, text messaging, and FaceTime.  It was online instruction at its best – synchronously and interactively.

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