Effective Collaboration Means Recognizing the Value of Your Team

Holli Hanson, Executive Director

An exciting thing happened a couple of weeks ago: Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, a good friend of those of us at Abeo, was recognized as Washington State Teacher of the Year. 

As I bask in the joy of colleagues at Lincoln High School and in Tacoma Public Schools, I think about the great acceptance speech he gave at the induction.  His message: he is part of a an amazing team and is NOT even the best teacher in his own household (he points to his wife, Hope Teague- Bowling, also an extraordinary High School teacher). In this nod to his colleagues, Nate reminds us that one great teacher does not make a great school or even a great classroom. Team is so important, but is often is overlooked in our traditional education system. 

Yes, we emphasize collaboration but do most of us really know what that means in action? How does collaboration meet the challenges and demands of 21st Century learning? 

Lincoln's a great example. Yes, they have collaboration time. Yes, they have common planning times throughout the week. But those structures alone do not make it an effective collaborative setting. Collaboration means so much more than structures and protocols. Collaboration is about generosity, risk taking, being thoughtful and intellectual. It is about asking each other, and ourselves, to continually be better.  

As a coach I've worked with Nate for a number of years now. He is a learner and is always striving to improve his practice and be pushed. Many weekends and weeknights I've received emails or texts asking me for feedback on a lesson or an assessment.  Was he asking enough of his students and of himself? I was not the only one having this conversation with Nate; I am part of a network of professional educators at Lincoln, a tight-knit group of colleagues that share strategies, techniques and ideas. It happens day and day out, in the hallway, after school, during planning, even during class. 

True collaboration is at the heart of student success. The students in Nate’s class could not be engaging in the high levels of discourse he demands of them without first being challenged in Ms. Bockus’ English class to communicate through writing and to dig deeper to understand what the author is trying to say. Or Mrs. Ketelsen’s relentless push to have each student reach further and truly be intellects in approaching math. 

Collaboration is across roles: teacher with student, student with student, colleague with colleague.

When we really live the idea of team and collaboration, magic happens. Thank you Nate for recognizing and reminding us that your team at Lincoln and the students in Tacoma are the real winners in this.