One of the things that excites me most about the coming year is the opportunity to spend another year collaborating with my coworker (and good friend) Molly as we plan our courses. We are both teaching Precalculus for the second time, and this shared course creates a need for us to be in constant communication about our big picture view of the class, day-to-day plans, and crazy off-the-wall ideas for how to make the class better. Since we are still in pre-planning limbo (faculty and staff have been back on campus for over a week, but the real first day of school is Thursday), we’ve had plenty of opportunities to bounce ideas off each other for Precalculus/our other classes, as well as general thoughts about teaching math “in a changing world” (as trite as that sounds.)
Here’s why this works so well: we are unique individuals with our own teaching styles, mathematical histories, interests + passions, and different sets of strengths and challenges. We recognize that we don’t bring the exact same set of skills to the table (although we have far more in common than not.) From the beginning of our working relationship we have been completely honest and critical of each others’ ideas in a way that allows us to grow. If I tell her about an idea for a lesson, activity, or project, Molly will ask me clarifying questions until I can fully articulate the goals, structure, and context. When she comes across an article that fires her up and sparks an idea for class, she passes it on to me and we discuss it. If I am struggling with a tough student situation, I am able to ask for advice and know that she will take the time to fully understand what is going on and thoughtfully consider possible solutions, instead of just offering pat advice. When she needs another set of eyes to work through sequencing lessons, I can offer advice and enjoy the opportunity to flip my creative switch on in generating new ideas for a class I don’t teach. For our shared course, we generate ideas together, plan separately, trade, and improve upon the lessons.
We are open, honest, and vulnerable with each other – I spent plenty of time sitting in the back of her class last year (mostly because we shared a room), and she popped in on mine from time to time. Seeing her teach has given me new sets of tools for interacting with students and dealing with different situations in the classroom, helping me focus on areas for growth. She is incredibly intuitive and has the ability to figure out what is really going on with her students. I have been working to develop some of her habits when it comes to establishing that meaningful mentor relationship with students. Seeing her teach has also allowed me to understand better the ways in which I am unique in the classroom, and realize that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Molly is wonderful about passing on words of support and inspiration when I most need it – and her humor has brightened up some long, tough days.
So I’m thankful for days like today, spent working with Molly to rethink grading systems, rewrite syllabi, reorganize courses, and have brainstorming sessions that result in ideas like “Function Iron Chef.” As our school focuses this year on the interconnectedness of all of its faculty and staff, I would do well to seek to establish this kind of meaningful collaborative relationship with other colleagues. Our school is rich with “people” resources – innovators and experts in various fields, with unique perspectives on how to help students grow and thrive. Now that I know what an incredible impact working this closely with another teacher can have on my own professional development, I really have no excuse not to make this kind of sharing a priority.
I have a lot to learn about teaching, and I don’t actually have to go that far outside of my own classroom walls to learn a lot.