I’m the Only One Teaching This Course. How Do I Collaborate?

One of the most frequently asked questions we hear is, "I am the only one teaching this course. How can I be part of a collaborative team?" This question has been addressed numerous times in previous blogs, yet the uncertainty remains pervasive. We think the following story from the White River High School in Buckley, Washington, is a stellar example of how a singleton can be a contributing member of a collaborative team.

Mr. Mothershead and Advanced Placement Statistics

Since embarking on the journey to become a high-performing professional learning community, White River High School staff members have initiated a number of measures to stretch the aspirations and performance levels of their students. They have encouraged all students to undertake a more rigorous and challenging curriculum. The faculty has also made a commitment to provide additional time and support to assist students in being successful in their courses. This cultural shift is having a remarkable effect. In the 2008-2009 academic year, the number of students taking advanced placement (AP) courses has nearly tripled, and the number of AP courses offered has increased each year.

Statistics, one of the new AP courses, is taught by Cody Mothershead. Since Cody is the only person teaching this new course, one of the challenges facing him is obvious: "With whom do I collaborate? How can I be a contributing member of a collaborative team when I am the only person teaching this course?" Cody realized that although he would continue to be an active member of the math team, he would have to be creative in his approach to teaming with other AP statistics teachers.

Reaching Out

White River is the only comprehensive high school in the White River School District. However, Buckley, Washington, is only one of a number of small towns and communities located south of Seattle, near Mt. Rainier. Since he is the only AP statistics teacher in the White River School District, Cody decided to find out if there was an AP statistics teacher in a nearby district. Luckily, Cody located a teacher in Enumclaw, a district that borders White River. After initially interacting by Internet and then by telephone, Cody and his counterpart in Enumclaw met in person. They quickly realized that meeting face-to-face on a regular basis would be beneficial. They agreed to meet monthly to share ideas, learning activities, and materials. Cody said that it is amazing how much support he feels with these interactions. When they first met, Cody got information about pacing, what kids struggle with on the AP exam, and techniques to help get the information across to students.

The AP statistics teacher from Enumclaw mentioned that he knew of an AP statistics teacher in the Sequim School District. They agreed to invite him to collaborate as well. Cody also communicates with an AP statistics teacher that he met at the summer AP training. He is an experienced AP statistics teacher in Maine who, in addition to teaching the course for a number of years, serves as a reader of AP exams. Cody contacted this teacher and he proved to be most helpful, especially in terms of curricular emphasis and the development of a pacing guide. More important, the teacher in Maine agreed to stay in touch with the Washington group and help in any way he could. The teacher in Maine also uses the same textbook as Cody. This teacher is able to guide him on what needs to be emphasized for the exam, and what is perhaps overemphasized in the book.

Cody will tell you that he is amazed at how effective connecting electronically can be for a team.

Cody’s situation as the only teacher teaching a course or subject is not unusual. Obviously, there are many teachers who happen to be the only teacher of a particular course or subject. However, Cody’s response to his situation is instructive.

First, Cody took action.

Although Cody wasn’t exactly sure what to do or what the results might be, he decided to reach out and locate other AP statistics teachers. The point is this: Sometimes we try to have a perfect solution to the teaming issue before we go forward. Cody did not know where his inquiries would lead, but he got started and good things began to happen.

Second, Cody focused on the right things.

Cody’s primary motivation was not to become a member of a team, but to learn ways to become a more effective AP statistics teacher and to improve the learning levels of his students. Rick DuFour reminds us in his presentations on collaborative teaming that there is a huge difference between "co-blabbering" and "co-laboring." Cody developed a team for all the right reasons. He found others with whom he could "co-labor."

Third, Cody and his partners set a schedule in order to collaborate on a regular basis.

Cody did much more than "connect" with another teacher who happened to be teaching the same course. He desired regular communication, so he and his partners set a specific schedule for ongoing conversations. Occasionally, a teacher may seek out another teacher with whom to collaborate, but after an initial conversation or Internet exchange, the relationship declines. Let’s face it, teachers are very busy, and unless plans are developed for regular collaboration, the quality of the collaborative efforts will be iffy at best.

Fourth, Cody will continue to seek out others with whom to collaborate.

While it is admirable that Cody has developed a team with teachers from Enumclaw, Sequim, and Maine, he realizes that the status quo is never enough. He will continue to seek other teachers with whom he can learn and share. Cody is a perfect example of the idea, "Get started, and then get better!"

Fifth, Cody set the example for other singletons at White River.

As we mentioned earlier, how to be part of a collaborative team is a pervasive issue. Cody is not the only singleton in White River. He serves as an excellent example to others who feel that "I cannot be part of a collaborative team since I’m the only one teaching this course." In short, Cody demonstrates that it can be done.

There is no right way to form collaborative teams. There are many creative teachers who collaborate in creative ways. The central point is that much is to be learned when the traditional barriers of teacher isolation are broken down. Perhaps the more important point is this: Not only do teachers benefit from meaningful collaboration, but ultimately the learning levels of students are impacted in a positive way.

No responses yet.