I seem to live in three worlds lately, the world of home, the world of school, and the world of writing. On the outside, each of these worlds seems to function so differently, but on further examination, I’m not so sure that’s true.
The world of school is the world that takes the most of my time. It’s a good world, and for that I’m grateful. Teaching is a profession unlike many others, in that so much is expected that you are never really “caught up” with anything. I’m not saying teaching is more difficult than other professions, or takes more dedication, that would be a lie. I’m just saying that teaching, if you let it, will suck the life out of you and leave you with very little to show for it.
Solitary teachers often struggle. In spite of the fact that they’re surrounded by students each day, they teach in isolation and lack professional, adult connections. I feel sorry for those teachers. Sometimes it’s a result of their position. Maybe a school only has one foreign language teacher or one PE teacher. Unless those teachers are able to form professional ties with others they are sort of left to their own devices.
Other times teachers are part of a group, or team, but the dynamics of that group are dysfunctional. I think this situation is worse. It’s difficult being the odd person out of a group. I’m fortunate, my team is fantastic. And the best thing about it? The collaboration.
I used to be wary of the term. Honestly, the teams I was on early in my career weren’t the best, and maybe that was partially my fault. I didn’t really know how those teams were supposed to function, and I’m sure I didn’t contribute in the productive ways that would have helped to improve them. My team now, however, ROCKS! The beauty of it is that we’re so in synch with each other that we’re able to piggyback off each other’s ideas, making them stronger in the process. For example, we may decide that we need to teach some research writing skills, then the ideas start flowing and the term “what if?” gets batted around a bit, and before you know it we have quality lesson plans created. We also share the responsibilities for creating the materials we need. What a huge relief that is. When each week you teach reading, math, writing, grammar, and science or social studies, you have a lot of planning to do! Sharing the work is the way to go.
In my home life I’ve found that collaboration works well too, especially the division of labor idea. We seem to just naturally split up responsibilities, and in general nobody feels too put upon. When we communicate less, there seems to be more work. Lesson noted.
Writing, however, seemed to be the exception to the collaboration rule. I write alone. Most writers write alone. The words come from our heads out our hands without stopping along the way. If we discussed each word before setting it down, precious little writing would ever get done. The collaboration comes after the words are on the paper. I’ve found that sharing what I’ve written makes it stronger, just as my lesson plans improve through discussion with like-minded educators.
I think the key to good collaboration for writers if finding one or more other writers whom you respect to read and critique your work. To me, that means a little at a time, maybe a chapter or two, or an article. With that type of feedback, I can think about the questions the readers (collaborators) had, and how I want to address them, if I do at all. Collaboration means give and take. It also means that at the end of the session, I am still ultimately responsible for my own outcomes. I don’t have to teach the lessons my colleagues have prepared, just as they don’t have to teach mine. I don’t have to make the revisions my writing partners have noted, just as they don’t have to make the ones I think would work. Ultimately each of us is responsible for our own work, but with effective collaboration, that work can be so much better.