Room for Collaboration

Recently I had a leadership experience that made me think a little deeper about collaboration. In early November, we added a new section of 2nd grade. Adding a section after the start of the school year is not something we have done in my time as the principal at Little Mountain. I have been part of the planning team for these additions in previous roles, but I have never lead the charge. As a new principal, I had a great mentor in Joe Dockendorf  (the person I was replacing as principal and the new assistant superintendent). I must have called him at least one time per day for every question you can imagine about how to be an effective principal. Sometimes I knew the direction I was headed and only needed the support of “go get it.” Other times I had no idea where my mind was headed, and I needed to talk through every detail. He was always there for me, and he helped me make better decisions for our families and our students. Now that I’m in my 7th year as principal, I know Joe is still a phone call away, but our conversations are less frequent as I’ve learned the ins and outs of daily principal life. We all have someone in our professional lives we can turn to with questions and support. The question is, why don’t we utilize that collaboration more often? A quick phone call to Joe to talk through how best to help our students be successful in their new classroom ended up with a brainstorming session and several strategies that ultimately made for a smooth transition.

That quick, effective collaboration got me to thinking about another Joe. Joe Sanfelippo’s weekly one minute walk to work is observed closely by his thousands of followers. Joe’s message concludes with a leadership challenge in the areas of reflection, relationships, connections, celebrations, communication, and teamwork. Each week he closes with “we’re all in this thing together!” In those quick and powerful words, Joe Sanfelippo never fails to remind us that we need to collaborate because it’s best for kids. In addition, we should be intentional about how we interact to meet the needs of our students in all stages of our careers. We have programs for new teachers, collaborative connections for our nontenured staff, and mentorship opportunities when we are new to a position that accelerates our learning curve. It seems to me that we should find a way to keep those connected learning opportunities moving forward. PLCs in our buildings accomplish this at times, but do our teammates push us out of our comfort zone enough to challenge our thinking?

In our staff meetings this year, we have explored the quote from David Weinberger, “the smartest person in the room is the room.” It’s important for our staff to know we are better when we learn together during our professional development. And to take it a step further, we no longer have rooms or walls to confine our learning or our connections. Our collaborative conversations to meet the needs of our students is available through Twitter, Voxer, Google Hangout, and other social media apps. We have no excuses to keep our expertise to only “the room.” What are other teachers doing to push student learning? What strategies are working to build a positive culture and impact social learning opportunities? We don’t need to wonder anymore. In fact, it’s our job to form those connections, from phone calls to PLCs to staff meetings to Twitter, that will help all of our students succeed.