Saturday, November 28, 2009

coming off the island

The other day one of our awesome guidance counselors posted on facebook that she felt she was expected to fix the kids sent to her. The tone of her post was so down, frustrated, and helpless. It killed me because it meant that even here at the Think Tank we don't always collaborate to the best of our ability.

As I read Solving Thorny Behavior Problems I'm thinking a lot about collaboration. Crowe writes numerous times about the importance of getting an outside perspective to help you understand the full nature of the problem. I think we all know that's important, but sometimes it's a hard thing to do.

The Think-Tank always has a lot going on. We're always learning new methods of teaching, we're piloting a new report card for the county, we're bursting at the seams with new students registering every day. Trailers line the field behind our school. There is always someone reading a new theory and wanting to try it- someone discovering something new they can do with technology- someone trying to develop a new classroom initiative. It's what I love about my school. We're always looking beyond ourselves to find answers. We never assume we have all the answers.

Except when we do.

Sometimes I think in all the push of new initiatives we lose the attitude that we're collaborating together for the students and we begin to think we're on islands alone, trying to show everyone else that we're awesome teachers too. There are days it's hard to work at a place where everyone is always moving really fast. Nobody wants to be lost in the shuffle. Nobody wants to be seen as the weak-link surrounded by powerful others.

Fortunately I don't think this shift in thought from collaboration to island-teaching happens very often. There are too many chances for collaboration at my school- too many teachers involved with each child to let anyone be an island for long. But the days when you feel like an island- it's a lonely place to be. I know other schools, that don't push collaboration as hard, have a lot more islands. A lot more lonely, discouraged teachers.

It's a mix between feeling there is no support for you and feeling that even though there is support you shouldn't need it- you should be able to fix it yourself. I love that Solving Thorny Behavior Problems really pushes the importance of another perspective. It really addresses the fact that we need another view point- despite all the thought we've poured into a student's problems, someone else can say just the right thing to give us another idea- another perspective to really help the student. Asking for help- getting another opinion- coming off the island- doesn't mean you're not a great teacher. It doesn't mean you're giving up- it doesn't mean you've failed. It means you're a wise, thoughtful teacher who wants every interaction with students to be meaningful.

When we're island teachers and we finally feel we're maxed out we push the child/problem/issue to someone else to fix on their own. We don't search out another opinion to make our own work stronger- we seek out another person to take the problem off our hands.

For the most part this isn't my school. Most days we're always asking someone else to come in, take a look, give an opinion, listen to our thoughts and offer suggestions. Most days nobody worries being perceived as a bad teacher for asking for advice. People frequently come to me for advice or another perspective on a kiddo in their room. I try to do what I can, listen to what they see, look for what I see, and frequently ask for yet another opinion to weigh in. The more heads working for the child- the more likely we'll get a full 360 picture of the child's needs. Success comes from collaboration.

Everyone, at some point in time has their island moments. Whether it is because we want to feel we can solve the problems on our own, whether or not we feel we need to prove something, we don't want to add to someone else's busy plate, or if we're just discouraged and overwhelmed. We all do it. Taking time to look outside ourselves, whether for managing a specific child's behavior, thinking about a lesson, or collaborating on a new initiative will only make us better teachers, and will make our kiddos more successful.

1 comment:

acorngirl said...

I love your characterization of "island teachers" and "island moments," and your distinction between the two. You are so right that we all succumb to moments of islandness. It's too hard or too embarrassing or too demanding to ask for the help we need. Yet, which of us isn't glad to help a friend or colleague in need. We want to give, but not to receive. If we are to do our best by the kids, we need to resist the temptation to be "island teachers." We need to reach out, and, in doing us, we will encourage others to do the same.