I have collaboration on the brain. It is also on the brains of other educators and curriculum coordinators, as evidenced by my Tweep, Stacy, in her recent blog post. I love to collaborate. Some of my fondest teaching memories are those brainstorming, planning, developing, moderating, and creating with numerous colleagues over the past couple of decades. However, in a new position that finds me in an office all alone, well, my opportunities to collaborate are not quite as numerous as they once were. Perhaps they could be more plentiful, but collaboration doesn’t feel as easy as it was back in the days of planning as part of a grade-level or subject-specific team.
When lists of 21st century skills are compiled, collaboration is one skill in particular that is a constant. When considering the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T) developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), it is clear that the collaborative process is key to meeting many outcomes successfully, thus strongly implying that a collaborative process be in place. The NETS-T document puts forth
The standards for evaluating the skills and knowledge educators need to teach, work, and learn in an increasingly connected global and digital society
The third standard addresses “model[ing] digitial age work and learning.” Through this standard “teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.” In order to successfully meet this standard, teachers in the digital age should be able to:
Demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations
For me, this is perhaps the easiest of the four outcomes. I live and breathe this particular outcome. Through demonstration, those around me have observed my comfort level with and ability to use technology, both personally and professionally. I used to disregard the comments and compliments from my colleagues, but I have gradually grown to accept that I really have achieved a level of technological fluency that is certainly not possessed by the masses. So, I forge ahead learning new apps, reading articles, reflecting, blogging, and growing through a program like COETAIL.
Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation
Teaching in a classroom allows for collaborating with the student population. However, the thought of moving out into the next layers of the school community provokes a feeling of overwhelming futility. This may be a slightly extreme reaction, but the thought of transferring my knowledge of technology to my peers feels like an enormous task.
Firstly, there are about 180 teachers on staff. One hundred and eighty! To accomplish the feat of just working with the sheer volume of bodies would require a small army. This is where a support team of technology coaches would be useful. These coaches would ideally be full-time positions with no other job responsibility than working to support teachers. However, even a handful of teachers willing to take on small tasks with teaching teams would be helpful.
Secondly, like students in a heterogeneously grouped classroom, my 180 peers possess such a wide range of comfort levels, background knowledge, skills, and motivation that a one-size-fits-all approach seems destined to fail. In this situation a differentiated approach to professional development would be the only way to go.
Thirdly, addressing the needs and varying levels of interest and abilities of an entire staff requires a vision, support, and time. In order to reach for the NETS-T a clear plan of action is required.
Communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats
Communicating information and ideas effectively is certainly simplified through blogs, newsletters, Twitter, Facebook, and email. These tools for communication allow for the wide dissemination of information in a timely manner. As a direct result of familiarizing myself with the NETS-T document, I realized that the communication piece might be an area to address in order to foster an increase in meaningful collaborations. This week I began the Curriculum Weekly blog. My intention is that this blog will help to facilitate the sharing of some basic information about 21st learning that will reach a significant percentage of my 180 peers on staff. If I am really lucky, this blog will serve to nurture a collaboration or two for myself, as well as many others.
Model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning
This is about “sharpening of the saw” as referenced by Stephen Covey. It is through “balanc[ing] and renew[ing] resources, energy,” and knowledge that we develop our skills and remain effective. For me, this is where my social network plays a role in helping me to achieve this standard. It is through following all of those links shared by friends and strangers on Facebook and Twitter, watching TED talk videos, reading the Mashable blog, and ‘messing around’ with new media that we develop proficiency in “model[ing] and facilitat[ing] effective use of current and emerging digital tools.” It also takes courage to blaze the trail to show others how it’s done!
The four verbs that introduce each of these outcomes hold the key to the 21st century skill of collaboration. Each action is connected to, and can lead to, the establishment of a collaborative environment. Through demonstrating our technological fluency, we present ourselves as capable to assist and lead. Through collaboration with various stakeholders, we learn from each other as we build relationships and make connections. Through communicating our knowledge and experiences, we open ourselves to new possibilities. Through modeling our learning about, and use of, emerging digital tools, we position ourselves to be ready to grow ideas within a collaborative situation.