One of the most rewarding dimensions of my professional life is collaboration. I've collaborated frequently as an author (including a co-edited column on professional writing with Jonathan Bush that included a piece about teaching collaborative writing). I've also enjoyed scholarly collaborations with others beyond my campus--including a long-term teacher-research and writing partnership with Jim Fredricksen. (We share some of our thoughts on academic partnerships in Collaboration: Talk. Trust. Write, which we co-authored with several others who have their own collaborative partnerships.)
While collaboration with friends and colleagues beyond my campus has been integral to my professional life, I have rarely had the opportunity to collaborate in teaching with faculty here at Dordt College. Until this year.
Every week this summer, I had the joy of co-planning a faculty workshop with colleagues. Those of you who have led faculty workshops may be shaking your head in disbelief (joy and workshop planning in the same sentence?!), but hear me out. What contributes to the joy in these collaborations?
Productive Pressure Points(1) Attendance at these faculty workshops is voluntary, and I've found that the voluntary attendance policy makes it relatively easy for me to convince others to collaborate with me in planning and leading the workshops--and helps us to plan better together. My colleagues accept my invitation knowing that if we plan a good session, faculty will be interested and appreciative. But we don't want to don't want to disappoint those who show up, so there's still pressure....but it's positive peer pressure. That knowledge helps us to keep focused on designing workshop sessions that are useful, smart, and engaging. The situation calls for us to bring our best game to our co-planning while also thinking deliberately about how to help others enjoy the session we are planning. Something about that goal brings out the fun in the collaborative process--and I suspect it's because we're involved together in what Donald Murray famously described as the "hard fun" of writing. We are challenged, we're "in the zone" with our thinking, and we have confidence that together we can figure out an effective and enjoyable plan of action.
(2) Each week, I invite as co-leaders a different group of 2-3 faculty who I know to have some expertise and experience in the topic for the upcoming workshop. The faculty I co-lead with are doing this on a voluntary basis as well, and because we are in this together, we become peer mentors to each other as we plan and teach together. I know that I learn from them, and I've found each of these colleagues also to be receptive to what I bring. Most of us haven't worked together before, and yet there is always synergy when people are sharing strong ideas, asking questions, and working together to design a workshop that will put us all in the spotlight. Working with teacher leaders and learning how they think is like having backstage passes to do a jam session with rockstar professors. Author Peter Bregman said it well: "Solving problems with other people is more fun than solving them alone." As he explains in his chapter "The Nintendo Wii Solution" building the fun of collaboration into our work makes us more productive and effective, because we're more likely to do the work--and do it well--when it's fun.
What About You?
Happily for me, my teaching collaborations will continue into this academic year as we keep the momentum moving forward with the Pedagogy Perspectives workshops. How about you? How often do you get to talk with peers about their best teaching ideas, where they came from, how they use them, and how they've adapted them over time? How often do you get to do this through the process of creating something together? Treat yourself: you can create opportunities to co-teach with others--even if you only get to work together for a class period or two. Your thinking and teaching will be richer for it, and I'm betting you'll start to think creatively about other ways to collaborate, too.