Tag Archives: collaboration

A Collaborative Effort

This post is written by NCTE member, Lauren Petri. 

LaurenPetriI have not spoken for almost ten entire minutes in my classroom, and it is both uncomfortable and humbling. They don’t need me today. My seventh hour is participating in their third Philosophical Chairs Debate, and buried underneath my anxiety is a well of pride bubbling over as my students create a deliberative discussion about the prosecution of child soldiers. While I certainly am not the facilitator of this conversation, I can see my thumbprints in their words. More specifically, I can hear the insight and language I gained in Teaching Deliberatively: Writing and Civic Literacy, a 2015 summer graduate class offered through the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa Writing Project, becoming part of my students’ academic and interpersonal interactions.

Many of my students are not tactful. They’re eighth graders and they’re nearly always ready to battle with their words. Their worlds revolve around hallway exchanges and social media sparring. When I started to delve into classroom discussions, I was abruptly met with an uphill battle. My students had plenty of disagreements, but few had the vocabulary to sort through their conflicts productively. So, I started small. I worked with one of my classes to create a list of “sentence starters” to use when in a discussion that involved conflict. We practiced, and practiced, and got better each week. A classroom initially fraught with haphazard comments slowly became one where words were chosen with care and purposeful thought. I began to trust them, and as their positive experiences in my classroom piled up, they began to trust me.

Following Teaching Deliberatively last summer, I was adamant that my classroom would nurture a climate of conversation. As I anxiously anticipated my first year of teaching, I envisioned lively discussions and intrinsically motivated students. However, that is not quite what reality placed in my lap. I was, and still am some days, frustrated with the lack of buy-in from my students. Developing those sentence starters with my class was a huge step toward creating a community of students who are willing to take risks. When my students became more willing to take academic risks, I started to see growth.

In the process of trying to create learners, I can easily forget that I am one as well. In the days following the Teaching Deliberatively course, I realized that I needed to be part of a community of learners if I ever hoped to create one. Follow-up sessions with other cohort members helped. The time I spent engaging in civic discourse with colleagues renewed my own sense of curiosity. So, instead of bulldozing through content, I always stop to ask my students what they think of a particular lesson or activity. Their input has become an essential component of my daily planning. They know that whether the lesson goes without a hitch or flops, we’ll discuss it together. I ask for honesty, and they are experts at being honest with me. We craft the kind of language we need to let us communicate in a way that propels us forward, and I am certain that I am a better teacher because of it.

Lauren Petri is a first year middle school Language Arts teacher in Des Moines, and is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa.

Voices from the Voxer- NCTE 2015

Jill DeRosa, Kari Yates, Jennifer Hayhurst, Dani Burtsfield, Justin Dolcimascolo
Jill DeRosa, Kari Yates, Jennifer Hayhurst, Dani Burtsfield, Justin Dolcimascolo

A bloxer (blog+Voxer) post about meeting an NCTE first time face to face Voxer family gathering, submitted by guest writer,  Erica Pecorale @epecorale

Voxer Walkie Talkie Messenger is an app that helps large groups of people stay in contact with one another by leaving voice messages that can be played and replayed at the listener’s convenience. I became friends with a group of educators on Voxer. We met through our voices, sharing our educational passions, questions, and goals. Our conversations have been feeding our professional souls for the past year and have led us to count on one another’s wisdom, inspiration, professionalism, and friendship as we contemplate teaching goals, career decisions, professional development, and even personal family endeavors. This community of teachers, administrators, authors, and colleagues opened arms, brains, and hearts to one another, and we are all stronger because of it.

Our Voxer family originally came together through a collective reading of Dr. Mary Howard’s (@drmaryhoward) book Good to Great Teaching. That inspired some Twitter messages between two literacy coaches, Jenn Hayhurst (@hayhurst3) and Amy Brennan (@brennanamy), both of whom were inspired by Mary’s book. That led to the development of the weekly Thursday night #G2Great Twitter chat. From that book and Twitter chat, an inservice class shared between two Long Island, New York, school districts set up the Voxer group and its original members.

Dani Burtsfield, Jennifer Sniadecki
Dani Burtsfield, Jennifer Sniadecki

Through this social media tool, we have a platform from which we can verbally rehearse our thinking before meetings, professional development sessions, and even writing blog posts. Our Voxer family — we call ourselves Voxer cousins — has created a safe, supportive venue for sharing our worlds with one another.

As our professional sharing grew and plans for the 2015 NCTE Annual Convention in Minneapolis firmed up, we realized that 16 of our 23 Voxer cousins would be going, and 5 of us would be attending NCTE for the first time! We began excitedly planning our convention. Since we live all over the country, we couldn’t think of a more appropriate venue than the NCTE Convention for us to meet face to face for the first time.

IMG_0046 Voxer 1
Jean Marie Mazzaferro, Kim Gosselin, Jennifer Hayhurst, Keri Ziemacki, Amy Brennan, Jill DeRosa

Waiting in the hotel lobby for each member of our Voxer cousins to arrive, going through registration together, choosing conference ribbons, and being greeted at the Elementary Get-Together by some of our educational heroes such as Lester Laminack; Ralph Fletcher; Ken, Yetta, and Debi Goodman; and many others helped us to kick off the most valuable professional learning experience for literacy educators each year. Some of us were welcomed home to NCTE, bringing along with us a new extended family. The rest of us were born into a newer, larger extended one.

Back Row: Kathryn Hoffman-Thompson, Erica Pecorale, Joan Moser, Justin Dolcimascolo, Jill DeRosa, Julianne Harmatz, Jennifer Hayhurst Front Row: Kari Yates, Dani Burtsfield, Amy Brennan, Mary Howard, Tiffany Coleman, Lisa Eickholdt, Keri Ziemacki
Back Row: Kathryn Hoffman-Thompson, Erica Pecorale, Joan Moser, Justin Dolcimascolo, Jill DeRosa, Julianne Harmatz, Jennifer Hayhurst Front Row: Kari Yates, Dani Burtsfield, Amy Brennan, Mary Howard, Tiffany Coleman, Lisa Eickholdt, Keri Ziemacki

Erica Pecorale is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Teacher Education for Long Island University at Riverhead. She is also a Literacy Coach and consultant. 


Collaboration Is Key

collaboratingPossibilities unfold when we work closely with colleges. This point was driven home by editors Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe in their 2014 CCCC Exemplar Award acceptance speech (reprinted in the September College Composition and Communication):

 One of the things Gail and I are proudest of—in receiving this award—is the way in which it foregrounds the practice of collaboration. In the early 1980s, we worked together because we wanted to accomplish certain things in and for the profession: opening a broader range of publication spaces to a wider range of academic voices; getting the field to think in creative and productive ways about the challenges posed by computers; exploring new approaches and environments for composing and circulating communications that escape the gravity of the printed word. We couldn’t accomplish these goals individually—there were times when one of us had access to scarce resources and the other did not, when one of us had the opportunity to write and the other did not, when one of us had the expertise needed for composing a certain kind of text or mastering a new technology and the other did not. We learned, in short, that collaboration was less a choice for us than a necessity, and we learned, like so many of you, that we were much better as a team than we were as individuals, that we could accomplish so much more cooperatively than we could alone. I suppose that’s true of almost everyone in this profession, isn’t it?

For more on the value of collaboration, be sure to read:

Well-Designed Conversations –how to design conversations that build collaborative relationships.

The Power of Teacher Collaboration – three more tips for successful teacher collaboration.

Research as a Turning Point – a math learning team finds positive growth through the sharing of research-based journal articles.

Teacher Collaboration: Keys to Common Core Success – coming together to make Common Core work.

Collaboration Takes New Knowledge Into Action – Liane Ramirez discusses building a community of practice.



Supporting New Teachers: A Plea to Administrators

There are things we can all do to support the “energy, fragility, knowledge, and drive that new teachers bring to the teaching profession.” In “How Can You Help?” from Tensions & Triumphs in the Early Years of Teaching (NCTE, 2006), the authors offer their “two cents” of advice on what they have come to believe are the best ways to support new teachers. The suggestions here are among those they offer to Administrators:

Make time for regular professional study and conversation a priority.

blog-TensionsTriumphs-groupshot-webTo bring our beliefs to life and continue to grow, we need time for collegial conversation that will help us consider ideas from professional literature and our preservice experiences in the context of our new settings.

We need support in evaluating programs and practices so that we can teach within and beyond existing systems without selling out.

Simply put, we need time for talk, opportunities to build “critical and longstanding relationships” (Nieto, 2003, p. 78) with our colleagues as we work to define and redefine ourselves as educators. . . .

Not only do we need time for professional conversation, but we also need time and support for experiences that will promote productive talk.

Make it possible for us and our experienced colleagues to visit exemplary schools, view professional videotapes, and read professional literature. Provide financial resources to pay for books and trips to national conferences. Build in plenty of time for reflection about implications for our classrooms. Think beyond typical structures to consider creative uses of time in your schools. . . .

Create an atmosphere in which it is safe to take risks.  

pg12Carmen-and-kids_webIn many of our situations, it was not customary for teachers to risk exposing vulnerabilities about their own teaching. The prevailing feeling seemed to be that teachers should already be there. As a result, some of us experienced an enormous barrier to sustaining and building on our visions of great teaching: We did not feel safe enough to risk examining our own practices—to trust that we could try and fail and try again.

Administrators, your leadership is key to creating an atmosphere that encourages risk-taking. In such an environment, teachers are delighted at the sound of the principal’s footsteps coming down the hall. It means that one more interested teacher-learner is about to join us and our students.

In such an atmosphere, testing issues are put in perspective, and teachers work to address those issues without feeling pressured or humiliated by the public announcement and reification of scores.

In a risk-taking environment, there is room for talk as teachers share data from children’s work, read professionally, try new ideas, and then read and try again. A risk-taking environment is one that reveres teachers as experimenters, thinkers, and learners, allowing us to build knowledge so that we can make better instructional decisions for ourselves.

Join us as co-learners. . . . 

When you participate fully as learners, you provide important demonstrations about what it means to be an educator who can’t stop learning. . . .

Read and discuss professional literature with us. Jump in and get involved regularly in our classrooms. Take risks with us to try out new ideas with our students. Show a genuine interest in ideas they are pursuing or books they are reading. Engage us the same way.

Become a part of and contribute to the exciting buzz of children and teachers learning with one another.

We will welcome you as a colearner. We will look forward to your presence in our classrooms and professional study groups as we teach, reflect, revise, wonder, and learn together. . . .

Epilogue-beach-photocropRT-300web This text is excerpted from Tensions & Triumphs in the Early Years of Teaching: Real-World Findings and Advice for Supporting New Teachers (NCTE, 2006), by Susi Long, Ami Abramson, April Boone, Carly Borchelt, Robbie Kalish, Erin Miller, Julie Parks, and Carmen Tisdale.

“I Will Plant Companionship”

This is a tree with multiple handprints and it's meant to symbolize Walt Whitman's phrase "I will plant companionship" These thoughts about classroom community from Katie Greene and Karen Conn Mitchum, excerpted from English Journal,  seem particularly relevant right now, given all the teachers and learners who will be coming together in new configurations across the country over the new few weeks:

Walt Whitman’s pledge, “I will plant companionship,” as spoken in his poem “A Song,” encourages teachers to pause and reflect on the types of communities that exist in our classrooms and schools, and on our obligations to nurture the seeds of collaboration and respect.

We wonder, in the hectic pace of our daily routines, if our practice mirrors Whitman’s enthusiasm to advocate for companionship and community.

As language arts teachers, we often find that the best and most effective moments of our teaching occur when we allow for students to interact authentically with literature and when we create spaces for them to participate as invested members of literary communities.

As Whitman embraces companionship and camaraderie, how have we modeled for students that literacy is a social event?

What can we do to help students acknowledge their roles as members of literary communities, as described by the NCTE/IRA Standards? . . .

In addition to supporting the diverse stories and experiences that our students bring into our classroom communities, it is also important for teachers to engage in different communities. Teachers are not only members of their classrooms but also members of a larger “classroom of educators.” As we encourage students to engage actively as members of their educational and personal communities, teachers must also strive to partake as invested members of professional communities.

To model collegiality and avoid the creation of superficial communities, we must work to erase the practices that treat teachers as “lone rangers,” where novices and veterans are left to create communities behind the closed doors of our classrooms.

When we engage with one another, participate in professional learning opportunities, and welcome one another into the communities of our own classrooms, we are strengthened by one another’s ideas.

The classroom community, for both teachers and students, requires a proactive attitude and demands the willingness to support an environment of collegiality and respect.

Excerpted from “Community in the Classroom” (English Journal, March 2012) by Katie Greene and Karen Conn Mitchum