Monday, July 13, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #24: Collective Knowledge

This week's advices comes from Jovan Miles, a middle school math teacher in Atlanta, GA. His blog is

I’ve been teaching middle grades mathematics for four years and one of the greatest and longest lasting lessons I’ve learned is to rely on the collective knowledge of others to make me a better teacher. Arguing, disagreeing, and bitterly coming to a consensus (or not) with my colleagues has resulted in the creation of some of the most engaging, innovative, and hands on lessons of my career.

I began my teaching career, like many of us, in isolation. I planned alone, assessed alone, and the only people to ever see the results of my work were my students and administrators. As long as I got passing scores on my annual evaluations and my students passed the requisite standardized tests I thought everything was fine. I worked like this for the entire first year of my career. However, during my second year I began working with another teacher who shared my pedagogical style. Even so, our collaboration simply amounted to informal conversations in the hall away about what the other was doing to ensure that we kept the same pace while moving through the content. We each did well separately, as did our students, but we could have all performed at a much higher level.

Collaborative planning was a new idea during my first years of teaching and it took the efforts of a young, new Principal to break my colleagues and me out of our comfort zones. She forced us to plan our lessons, assessments, and performance tasks collaboratively. What we initially perceived as an encroachment on the autonomy to use our planning time as we saw fit turned into raucous mid-day meetings where arguing over content, delivery, student practice, homework, and assessment tools resulted in better lessons than any of us could have created in isolation. We were better together than we ever were separately.

We saw gains in student achievement and interest almost immediately. We lightened our individual work load by working together. We became our own professional development. We began sharing articles, blog posts, and other tangible resources in the building. As our individual knowledge base grew, so too, did the knowledge of the group. Many of us have left that school and moved on to other opportunities in education. However, all of us from those original forced collaborative planning sessions still stay in touch; we still share what we know; we’re still helping to make one another better.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 25 is scheduled for next Monday, July 20th.