Thursday, 13 April 2017

Personal Qualities for Collaboration

What are the vital ingredients that create a successful team in a collaborative spaces?

Beginning my third year at HPPS and once again being a member of a new team, this thought has been 'on top' for a while. I began 2017 pondering about the Art of a team but I've often reflected back to earlier posts, Swing Thoughts and Asking the question. I've posted several times about collaboration, mainly because I'm continuously learning, but as teachers we all seem to be striving for better collaborations as more of our schools adopt this style of education. My new team, which feels successful, has extended my thinking further but this was given a real power shot when I had the opportunity to answer a few questions for an upcoming presentation to be delivered by our DP. Her question, "What advice would you give someone entering a collaborative space?"

Teaching in a collaborative space is not that different to being in your own small classroom. Good practise is centred on knowing your learners, choosing the right pedagogy and material that recognises students' learning needs and delivering it effectively. However, teaching and collaborating are two quite different things and I'm in no doubt a teacher can have some success without being a strong collaborator.

Successful collaboration as discussed in the Art of a team requires many things, vision, communication and a raft of unspoken permissions. Moreover, ultimately I'm finding, it relies on a few select personal qualities, particularly empathy, pragmatism, honesty, drive and selflessness. These traits are over and above what might be evident in tools such as Hermann Brain Analysis, where your learn about your thinking preferences.

Clearly, as teachers we are different, but to succeed in a collaborative space and ensure that the team is more than the sum of its parts, each individual component needs to demonstrate empathy towards the other teachers (please note I'm talking empathy, not manners). We each have our families, commitments, beliefs and interests. These directly impact upon each member in the space and can determine the outcomes and productivity of the team, I've never felt this as keenly as this year where even just family commitments alone are enough to have you showing your empathy. Furthermore, empathy and consideration are required to help you design a learning programme and space that fulfils the needs of each staff member with varying standards and expectations to be encompassed. The teaching itself, also deserves a healthy dose of empathy (similarly with being selfless). Make sure you keep to some sort of timeline as your colleague might need the same child next, perhaps there is testing to complete. Being empathetic to their needs allows you to tread more lightly, as the moment you don't, teaching and collaboration become infinitely more difficult.

Our differences as teachers also demand pragmatism. We all have favourite techniques, quirks and idiosyncrasies, which can you leave behind as baggage? Which ones do you need to hold onto? When discussing pedagogy, judgements and ideas often it is a matter of establishing which battles need to be fought, and which really aren't that important. Give and take or compromising requires a lot of pragmatism, successful collaboration will see teachers being warm but demanding, a yes-person isn't needed as some ideas deserve to be challenged but a colleague challenging each idea just to be vexatious isn't creating a positive collaborative environment either.

Balancing both of these qualities is honesty, in two ways also, towards your colleagues, but also to yourself. As we prepared our team agreement at the start of this year, our team spoke of our needs, weaknesses and symptoms we might display as we became stressed or entered a learning pit. In a collaborative space, this type of honesty is vital. Your colleagues rely on you to test children they're teaching and vice versa. As we enter stressful periods of various commitments, reporting/testing, EOTC, sporting events or any bottleneck that occur in our school, it is vital that you are honest towards your colleagues. I find there is need to outline where people are up to with testing, reporting, my role as a sports coordinator or their various roles. If one was less than honest there is a flow on that impacts your colleagues.

Drive appears quite important also. Working in collaborative spaces where everything is deprivatised and you rely on your colleagues is no place for someone who isn't prepared to work hard. Yes, we all have different work habits and tendencies, but the reliance on each other necessitates teachers who can dig in and get things done. I remember being asked in my first year at HPPS about the cognitive load of teachers in these spaces, I didn't feel that it was over the top until I listed all the things that your doing at any one time. The times that I've procrastinated have resulted in some terrible pits, but when any members of the team then takes on more than their share of the load then even more can be achieved.

The last quality that I've come to find advantageous is selflessness. When working in these spaces it is often necessary to consider the needs of others, that's showing your empathetic, but then putting their needs ahead of yours becomes necessary. As we approached our recent round of reporting, I had to consider the various needs of my colleagues. In a single cell context, managing judgements and reports is relatively straightforward, you control your own destiny as it were. In a collaborative space, much can be out your control, you are reliant on colleagues to share full information in a timely manner. As a colleague recently said, "I need you to have my back, so I'm not left looking stupid".

I feel that these are rather lofty things to ask of someone. I see each of these character traits in my colleagues and I trust that I display them also. Others may disagree with my assessment or believe that other personal qualities are more important, I'd love to discuss this with you if that's the case. I am working damn hard to contribute to successful collaboration on many levels but especially in LC2 with 2 others teachers and our learners. Honestly, it can feel like the old graphic equaliser displays on stereo systems, continuously up and down in various aspects but as long the result is superior I'll remain satisfied.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The art of a team

Collaborative teaching, team teaching and team work is no new thing. My own schooling was full of team-taught environments, as those big open plan double classes of the 1980s were experimented with. Nor is the understanding of what it takes to build, make or break a team in many environments, theorists have been investigating and studying teams for many years, consider the premise of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing proposed in the 1960s and still finds it way into many organisations and management courses today. Other in-house management courses I've been to have featured or relied on different theories and has resulted in participating in any number of team building tasks, discussions, personality tests or role plays. A succinct outline of several teamwork theories can be found here or Ultimately, the success of teams is never guaranteed but for the end consumer, be they a student, a customer or a tourist, the team's success can make a vast difference in the product or experience that they receive.

In my time at HPPS I've been involved in 2 different teams and am entering a year where the team will be different again. For the first time, I feel I know the team members I'll be working with but this has given me time to reflect on what this means for the team and team building.

Entering both 2015 and 2016, management had suggested plenty of talking and this is vital. While the true test of your team will come later in the year, the foundations are in the forming of a vision or goals for the time ahead. Even this can look different. For some teachers the need to form systems, outline roles and prepare plans may dominate thinking, for others the relational aspect of getting to know each other might be uppermost. The key in the last two years has been the initial discussions that focussed on what we wanted our learning common to look like (vision not aesthetically) and what we wanted our students to be like. In 2015 the vision setting was more informal, in 2016 our management team proposed that we form team building agreements that included some notional arrangements for how we would work together also.

Why is setting your vision so vital? Could collaborative teaching be successful without it?

Answering the second question helps to understand the first.

Successful teaching looks like a safe and happy environment, with engaged children and learning taking place that leads to achievement progress. This is possible without a shared vision. Your goal as a teacher is to achieve these things, our personal reasons for teaching demands it and the Education Council expect it through the Practicing Teacher Criteria. In a single teacher environment this is easier. You have a vision for your classroom and you set up your classroom, planning and resources to achieve it, working within the values and systems of your individual school. However, in a collaborative space you have teachers with different values, boundaries, experiences, passions and styles, working alongside each other. Without a shared vision, the team may seperate out the students, decide on plans and timetables and then engage in more cooperative approach to teaching where you merely share the space. Successful teaching may still be taking place, but possibly not successful in the context of collaborative teaching.

With a shared vision comes understanding and purpose, it allows each member to drive their own teaching experiences steadily forward in pursuit of the teams objective. It provides freedom, but with an understanding of permissions, expectations and responsibilities that help the team to achieve the overall goal. It is in this zone that collaboration is happening, each member adding value for the benefit of the team and a greater outcome is possible than each just doing their own thing.

That is to say, that a shared vision is absolutely essential for the success of both the children and the students in a collaborative space.

I look forward to the team I'm going to be working with in 2017. It's going to be exciting, demanding, educational and beneficial for my career development.

The above was typed as I approached the end of 2016, with my excited puppy phase clearly on. As we begin week 4 at Hobsonville Point Primary I must share that I'm loving everyday with my new team, they are bringing out the best in me and helping me build the areas I need to improve.

We have a shared vision, a shared passion for the children in our common and a desire to make sure that our children get the best of us. That's a team I want to be part of.