How much do you really know about the work of your colleagues? How often have you paused during your day, week or month and thought about what another class is doing and how they are doing it? When was the last time you inquired in the practice of your colleagues? If you are anything like me (or the old me) it wouldn’t be very often.
We are all too busy with our students to wonder about another class and their inquiries. Sometimes just getting through the day is hard enough and there is no time even for chat over lunch in the staffroom. I used to be like this. Sure I would sit in planning meetings and collaboratively plan unit of inquiries. I would often provide copies of my worksheets to team members in case they were interested in doing the same with their class, and I would always ask how they were when we passed in the hallway. But when I went back to my classroom I was there planning alone. Thinking through my week alone, finding resources suited to my class alone, with the door shut, alone.
Then three things happened. First, I resigned from my job as grade level coordinator in order to take extended maternity leave. Secondly, I signed a cover teacher contract just in case I needed a days break from my maternity leave (!); and thirdly, our Elementary school building was knocked down and an amazing brand new, open learning environment was built in its place.
After a long stretch at being a full time mum, I felt ready to ease back into work and I am so glad I did. I love being a cover teacher at my school. Not only do I feel that I am a better teacher for the experience, but my respect for my colleagues, both teaching and admin, has increased immeasurably. Every day when I walk in to a new classroom, or return to a known one, I am consistently blown away by the practices of our staff. I take endless photos (I always ask permission from teachers) of displays, work books, students at work, as I want to remember it all and implement ideas in my own classroom when I return to a full time position. The professionalism, enthusiasm and expertise shown by the teachers is truly exciting to see and I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to work in their rooms, even if just for a day.
But then it hit me. I am getting this amazing opportunity but is any one else? Do they know how amazing their colleagues on the floor above are? Does the Year 2 team know about the cool X-ray light box up in Year 4? Have the Year 5 students been to pet and feed the vast array of animals down in the Early Years Centre? Do the homeroom teachers know how the admission process works? Have class teachers seen first hand a World Language lesson? I have and there is great learning happening – but does everyone know?
I have been trying to spread the word as best I can. Particularly my unwavering wonder and respect for all Early Years teachers who, in my opinion, are the hardest working teachers in any school. But it’s not enough.
The design of the new Elementary building has helped greatly. No classroom door, shared sliding doors between classes, internal windows, shared learning spaces, curved walls….. it truly has made a significant difference. Teachers can now “see” in to each others’ room as they wander the hallways and this naturally facilitates inquiry. However it still is not enough.
I heard a rumour that years ago at my school they held a “Job-Swap” day. Teachers were randomly allocated classes across the whole school, Early Years through to Secondary, and for one day, literally walked in the shoes of that teacher and class. I love it! Bring it back I say. Not only would this foster an understanding of a typical work day, it also forces teachers to mingle, to go in to buildings they may have never been, to talk to staff they have never met. A Job-Alike day is a great idea and although it would take careful planning, the benefits would surely outweigh any possible difficulties.
Simple ideas which require less organisation are rotating rooms for grade meetings; vertical “stage” meetings; whole school “speed date” sharing; 5 minute grade or teacher sharing at the start of a staff meeting of great experiences that occurred in their room that week; collaborative planning not only units of inquiry but your whole program; weekly email round ups by admin which celebrate and highlight the achievements of the week just gone and upcoming events; using a cover teacher to release a number teachers for small amounts of time during the day so they can visit other rooms. Basically any idea that promotes sharing the amazing work happening across in classrooms and across the school is welcomed.
We encourage our students to be creative, share their ideas, be risk-takers and life-long inquirers however are we living examples of this? How does your school promote staff sharing? Do you have systems in place or is it incidental? When was the last time you wandered in to a colleague’s room and actually “looked” at the walls and asked questions about their practice?
I promise you, it is worth spending the time, even once a week. And make sure you bring a camera.