What if we valued teacher teams as much as sports and music teams? How often does your school football team practice? How often does your band or orchestra rehearse? How often do your teams of teachers rehearse and practice together? Do you even think of your teachers as collectives of teams? School transformation will happen when we commit to rehearsal and practice.
Listening. Responding. Refusing to bully one’s ways. Pulling ideas. Improvising. Innovating. Working with the color and emotional palette. Collaborating in concert with one’s team and one’s band. Making beautiful music. [Watch the TED below, and more of those phrases may be put into greater context.]
I think a lot about what school could be like. I love school. I have always loved school. But I think school can be better.
This morning, I viewed the four TED talks that were awaiting me in my RSS reader:
- Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration
- Cheryl Hayashi: The magnificence of spider silk
- Yoav Medan: Ultrasound surgery — healing without cuts
- Stefon Harris: There are no mistakes on the bandstand
I learned about “Captchas,” and I learned about spider-silk biomimicry. I learned about MRI-focused ultrasound for non-invasive surgery, and I learned about jazz improv. But I learned about so much more than just these things. As a whole, I learned about people working to make things better…to make things more beautiful. From the whole, I learned some meta-lessons about innovation and improvisation.
When will school reflect the ideas that Stefon Harris espouses in his talk? When might we see the only “mistakes” in school as those moments which reveal that we failed to respond as deep listeners? Where are these types of innovations and improvs happening in order to enhance schools in ways that we are working to enhance language translation, armor and connective fibers, medical procedures, and jazz music? Where is the real R&D? Where are the jam sessions? Rest assured, there are some! There must be more!
I believe teacher teams – PLCs (professional learning communities) – can function very much like that quartet that is playing with Stefon Harris. I have been blessed to be a part of such a team in the Junior High at Westminster for quite some time. But we might need to think of ourselves less as pianists, drummers, bassists, and vibraphone-ists – less like history teachers, math teachers, science teachers, and English teachers. We may need to think of ourselves more like a quartet…a band – more like teachers of children, problem-finders and problem-solvers, innovators and improvisationalists, and challenge-facers. Then, our efforts could begin to work more like pulling ideas and listening and responding. And we administrators should be making space and time for such work. We should not restrict with regulations. We should be more concerned with pedagogy and practice than with lawsuits and legal. We should facilitate – make easier to accomplish.
Schools that operated as such would not make mistakes on the bandstand – we would make music!
How would you listen and respond to this riff? What would you add to this palette of thinking? Will you play an E or an F#? How will I consequently listen and respond? Let’s make schools better…let’s tune them to create more beautiful music!
Can we play together? Wanna jam?
Twenty-four, eighth-grade synergists are working in six discreet groups – their projects originated from the data-mining of over 300 observation-journal blog posts that they collected. The projects are:
- Graffiti (is it art, vandalism, both? how can we use it for good?)
- Nancy Creek (what can we know and understand about the creek that runs through our campus?)
- Crusade for Cleanliness (how could organizational-flow changes enhance the stewardship in our dining hall?)
- Obesity (how can we improve the alarming issue of obesity in American youth?)
- Sleep (what impact on school do our sleep habits create?)
- Habitat for Humanity Spring Fling (how could a school fair raise money and awareness for homelessness?)
Because Jill Gough, one of the two Synergy facilitator-coaches, was presenting at the Learning Forward Annual Conference on Monday, Dec. 5, she was in Anaheim, CA. The other facilitator-coach, Bo Adams, was in Atlanta, GA. Having grown accustomed to and convinced of the viability of team-teaching in such a project-based course, Bo and Jill felt some anxiety about having only one facilitator present to serve best the six groups during this critical phase of their project development.
[In your mind’s ear, cue that quintessential cartoon superhero intro theme.] Never fear…video conferencing is here!
As we think about preparing students for a work world that will most likely include significant use of such tools as iChat, Facetime, Skype, and other video “conferencers,” then it seems natural to practice such work processes. Perhaps students already use such tools socially, but school could help coach the use of such tools for more formal, business-like purposes. Additionally, we should all be thinking more about how we can invite various co-teachers into our classrooms – to break down the walls that seem to preserve the arcane model of one adult per group of classroom students. Practice leads to enhanced proficiency. On Monday, Dec. 5, Synergy engaged in some additional practice of tearing down those 20th century classroom walls. Who knows who else we might next invite to teach with us…from the exterior of our learning space’s four physical walls.
As one student-learner can be heard exclaiming in the video: “This is so next level!”
[This post is cross-published at Experiments in Learning by Doing.]
I continue to return for focused re-reading of sections from a New Yorker article by Atul Gawande entitled, “Personal Best.” The article is a deep, personal reflection and contemplation of the power of coaching – employing a trusted mentor to provide “outside eyes and ears” in order to improve one’s performance. Gawande makes the point that many professional athletes utilize coaches; however, most of the other professions fail to use coaches at a systemic level. His reflection, as a surgeon committed to improving in his art and science, provides a compelling look at how we all would benefit from targeted coaching and a commitment to the growth mindset.
This morning, I wonder if TEAM TEACHING is such a favorable and valuable experience because of the aspect of co-coaching that can happen when educators team up to guide a classroom of learners. I team teach with Jill Gough. We team teach Synergy 8, and we co-facilitate many of the PLC efforts at our school. We also provide PD for schools and organizations around the country. We continuously coach one another, and I know I learn immeasurably from the debriefs and post-activity reflections that we commit to completing. Recently, I have also watched Clark Meyer and Peyten Dobbs engage team teaching for two, combined sections of Writing Workshop: Environmental Studies. And just yesterday, I heard a teacher new to our school say that she had combined classes with another teacher, and they were likely never to go back to single sections – they were learning so much from each other, and they were seeing so much enhanced learning for the students, now able to learn with two, interactive guides.
In challenging economic times even, I will continue to make the case that schools should do everything they can to provide job-embedded team time for teachers, as well as opportunities for team teaching. Gawande summarizes why…
Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.
And the existence of a coach requires an acknowledgment that even expert practitioners have significant room for improvement. (p.9)