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NYC Helpline: How To: Tips for Finding a Collaborative Partner

I Want to Hold Your Hand: Tips for Finding a Collaborative Partner Sarah Picard

During the first weeks of the school year teachers settle into their classrooms, build classroom community, assess individual needs and create classroom environments that encourage independence. It is at some point during all of this hustle and bustle of the beginning of the year that many teachers ask themselves, "Why am I doing this alone?" Many teachers begin to feel isolated. Some of my colleagues have told me they feel like they are making a decision every single minute and they are unsure of many the decisions they make. Should a student be moved into a higher level reading group? Should I move on to the next math lesson in the curriculum or do I need to go back and review again? Am I letting one of my students go to the bathroom too often? Why is she asking to leave the room so often? They constantly express the need to have someone to ask about these crucial teaching decisions. 

Seeking out a partner or critical friend within the school building is what many teachers at P.S. 126  have done. Teachers walk into each others classrooms with student work in their hands, questioning each other about what they should do for specific kids; they gather around a big book, asking about strategies for a first grade reading lesson; and others spend time after school each day planning lessons with their team members. Many of the teachers at our school say their teaching is better and they feel more confident because of these collaborative relationships. After being in this kind of collaborative culture for several years, I have begun to ask myself how these collaborative relationships or critical friendships have bloomed. I wondered how these kinds of critical friendships could be replicated in other school communities so I went to the core of these friendships, and asked the teachers how they developed their collaborative relationships. 

What I found out was finding a partner for collaboration requires patience, time, and commitment for all involved. First, you need to decide what kind of partner you are looking for -- What area of your practice needs help? Are you looking for help with classroom management? Do you need help teaching reading? Are you struggling to understand the new math curriculum? Then, look around your teaching community for teachers who you think may be able to be a collaborative partner with you . Ask colleagues on your grade or in your subject area if they have expertise in your area of concern. Your principal or staff developer may be able to help you identify other teachers who could provide help with your areas of concern. When you have found a teacher or two who are willing to talk with you, make an appointment to visit their classroom(s) on your prep periods. Bring your notebook to jot observations of that classroom and questions you have for that teacher. You might get some of your questions answered and you will probably generate a whole new list of questions. After you observe the classroom, set aside a time to debrief so you can have a conversation about what you saw and what you thought about what you saw. These conversations will build a sense of community between you and your partner. You will decide if your teaching styles and philosophies are similar and what you can learn from each other. Teachers at our school say that after a few of these structured conversations, they feel more open and willing to stop by each others' classrooms to ask questions and get involved in deep conversations. Hopefully, your observations and conversations about the observations will lead to similar results and you will find a critical friend to turn to when you need someone to hold your hand.


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