I have been extremely lucky in my career in that I have had people who have worked with me to develop my craft and to help me expand my career. It is so easy for teachers to hole up and “silo” themselves in their classrooms. It is easier to simply teach and go home at the end of the day than it is for us to take risks and network with other teachers to improve our craft. If we simply teach in the four walls of our classroom, though, it does not do our students any kind of service to their learning.
When I network and collaborate with other teachers, I learn how to be a better advocate for learning. When I learn, my students learn.
This is why, ten years ago, I decided to try the Denver Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. I knew the experience would be good for me, but I had no idea how good. A mentor of mine, Mark Overmeyer, recommended and encouraged me to apply for this experience. It was an awesome summer of learning with other teachers how to become a better teacher of writing. But I had no idea what it would lead to…
…and for a long time it didn’t lead to anything. But six years later I saw a friend of mine who was a co-director of the Denver Writing Project and told her that I would like to be more involved, but I wasn’t sure how. She told me there was this new thing the project was about to be involved in and that I might be interested. A couple weeks later I had an email from her inviting me to work with other teachers from all over the country on the Literacy Design Collaborative work to help teachers better understand the Common Core State Standards.
This work helped me understand the power of collaborative thinking partners and their importance in doing the hard work of teaching. Out of this work, I was asked to be a part of the Leadership Team for a group called Assignments Matter, a group working to help teachers from across the country design relevant Tasks that are aligned with the Common Core. This experience has been awesome in that I have witness from a leadership standpoint what happens when smart teachers are placed in a room together. Amazing things happen.
I am realizing that this experience is all about creating spaces for teachers to talk and collaborate. Teachers need time, there is no doubt about it.When we are given time, we can make great things happen. It is my turn to begin passing the torch. I have invited some teachers from my building to come to a training the writing project is doing in May to try to bring some other people into the conversation. Two summers ago a science teacher I really admire did the writing project, and she and I have been working on book studies and presenting at conferences together ever since. Keeping her involved and mentoring her around literacy issues has been a goal of mine.
When we reach out and touch a teacher to help them build relationships with her teachers, we are helping them build their craft. Relationships are not only key in our bonds with students and our ability to help them learn, but with other teachers as well. When we have relationships with other teacher, WE learn.