Just make a mark and see where it takes you.
This week we celebrated International Dot Day at Paint Lick Elementary. Based on the book, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, this day celebrates the themes of creativity, courage, and collaboration. Teachers had the students create dot-themed art, participate in dot-themed writing and math activities, wear dots, and think about what it means to make your mark and pass it on.
I listened to The Dot being read on Youtube Friday morning as I was getting ready for work and teared up as once again the books powerful messages hit me in new ways. In the past I thought about the message from the perspective of the teacher. I was inspired by the teacher’s impact on Vashti–how her encouragement and creativity moved Vashti to find the courage to create. This year, however, I thought more about the collaboration theme and how Vashti made an impact on her peers. I’ve been thinking about how after Vashti shared her gift she was able to get the little boy to start taking baby steps towards expressing himself as an artist.
What opportunities do we have as educators to share our struggles, journeys, and perspectives to the benefit of others? When we share our art, others benefit from not just seeing the finished product, but also the many drafts and processes that we go through. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I place such a high value on collaborative planning and teamwork. True collaboration like we strive for in a professional learning community isn’t just each of us pulling our own weight or stepping up and dividing tasks. It’s wresting with content learning targets, thinking of activities together that will help students master the content, and analyzing student work together. It’s allowing others a peek in our minds to see how we attack learning and assessment and looking into others’ minds in much the same way math teachers encourage students to “show their work.”
If each of us on a team takes a subject, plans it on our own and then shares our plans with our teammates it’s like going to the art gallery instead of the design studio. Yes, you can take that picture home and hang it on the wall (it certainly is a lot faster than creating your own) but what about getting the inspiration and courage to create? When we have lessons handed to us we save time, but wouldn’t we be much more savvy with the delivery of the lessons, understanding the content much deeper, if we work together to create them?
The master artist also benefits personally by sharing his craft. Artists who teach report that talking about their technique inspires creativity and helps them to focus on their own processes. Everyone benefits and gets better in team planning–even the person who serves as the lead for a particular subject. The leader will improve instruction in his or her classroom, the teammate’s and the school. If we have that practice school-wide, students will come to you better prepared. It’s a way we can guarantee a viable curriculum for all students no matter who the teacher is.
There are few that could argue with the benefits of collaboration. The major barrier seems to be time. I would argue that if we put in the time on the front end to collaborate when we plan, then we would save time in the long run. If we collaborate we will have lessons that reach students better, requiring less time on the back end through reteaching and intervention. It’s not just about having the courage to make a mark, it’s about being willing to share that mark with others. After you make a mark, see where it takes you. Then sign it.