by Jill Eurich, Assistant Director, Intermediate/Middle School
I am writing this on Tuesday, January 2, 2013 and it looks as if the fiscal cliff has, for now, been averted but tough negotiations still lie ahead. As this whole drama unfolds I find myself thinking a great deal about collaboration. I believe in congressional and presidential terms it is referred to as “working with people across the aisle.” The struggle that has ensued over the past months has heightened my appreciation for the integral part collaboration plays in our work with teachers and students.
Our partnership with adult learners provides a variety of opportunities to collaborate. A vital part of our work as university liaisons to schools is to get behind the thinking of our literacy coaches and for them, in turn, to learn how to get behind the thinking of their teachers. This tentative stance, so crucial in coaching and the delivery of professional development, takes flexibility, insight and compassion. It involves taking on the responsibility to make our time together productive and toward that end to problem solve as necessary. Setting norms together and having clear, achievable outcomes are two key components in successful collaboration.
For students, productive collaboration is something that is taught and actively monitored. Looking someone in the eye when he speaks, careful listening, building on someone’s idea, learning language that can be used to respectfully express a different point of view are some of the skills that make a collaborative interchange one in which we benefit from the background knowledge and perceptions of others and use that information to further our own thinking. Whether it’s through interactive read-aloud, literature discussion, an inquiry approach to reading and writing in a genre, or countless other instructional opportunities throughout the day, collaboration opens up new avenues of thought and deepens our understandings. Today’s students will become tomorrow’s President, members of Congress and other parts of the workplace. It will benefit us all if as they take on these roles they both value collaboration and know how to collaborate effectively.