Many schools I have worked in have asked teachers to create with their students Essential Agreements for their classroom. This has spilled over to asking grade level teams to create similar Essential Agreements for collaboration or team meetings. Occassionally (which is a generous use of the word) single subject teachers are also part of this conversation. In all cases, what typically happens is that ‘rules’ are created along the lines of:
- Be on time
- Focus on the discussion at hand
- Be prepared
- Be positive and open-minded
- Respect other people’s ideas and running temperatures
- Care for each other’s well being
- Keep a sense of humour and positive perspective
- Communicate openly and be willing to voice concerns
- Seek help as we need it
- Model behaviour for our students and keep students at the focus
I have been part of these discussions and creation of agreements and for the most part this is a quick conversation that is dealt with on day one and rarely (if ever) reviewed over the course of the year. Their purpose is to unite a group of very diverse, talented, individuals into a cohesive unit, providing guidelines for the group on how they will essentially treat each other in the coming year.
While this is a fine idea, I am not convinced that this is actually all that productive. The lists generated are basically rules so they are going to need enforcing – by whom? Or they are so general (Be prepared! Be positive!) and subjective that they are often open to (mis)interpretation by different members of the team.
What if we spent the time discussing what we believe, instead?
I was looking through Twitter and (like a Magpie) was drawn to some simple graphics that were posted by Nicky Bourgeois of Conceptual Co-Teaching – belief statements created by Nicky and EAL teacher Beth Q Dressler on the following big ideas:
These big ideas were used as discussion springboards so the teachers could articulate what they believe in. Why they do what they do. What they value. Think about that for a second. How powerful for teachers who are working with the same group of students to have this kind of discussion. For each person to share their beliefs about learning and to come together to create a shared statement that will best support and encourage student growth, autonomy, and learning. In most cases, we work with teachers with a similar mindset but we still come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. And regardless of diversity being a good reason for employing this sort of strategy or initiating this kind of discussion between team members, I believe it is important that every teacher be able to express why they do what they do.
Here are the belief statements created by Beth and Nicky in response to these six guiding questions:
What do your students bring to school?
How do you position yourself?
How do you illuminate big ideas?
How do you allow the unexpected to happen?
How do you build together?
How do you respond to your learners?
If you were fortunate to attend the recent IB Conference in Hyderabad, you may have seen Nicky and Beth presenting their Conceptual Co-Teaching framework based on their reflections on working together. I didn’t go, so instead
stalked questioned Nicky on Twitter about the evolution of this process and through our conversation, Beth joined in with this:
As much as I would love to see this process/protocol adopted, I absolutely agree with Beth that it must be more than just a procedure we tick off our to-do list. She says it brilliantly:
“Discussing beliefs raises the conversation and has more impact”
And isn’t that why we are here?
I have been a Homeroom teacher for 15 years and a single subject teacher (Art and Technology Integrator) for 4 years. As a specialist, I would love to be part of this conversation with the other teachers who work with the same children as I do. I think it would be empowering, I think I would learn a lot about what others value, I am sure I would have my eyes opened to different ways of thinking and doing, and most of all, I think it would be amazing for the kids to be guided by educators who had taken the time to discuss and figure out what their driving force is, why they do what they do.
What do you believe?
Why do you do what you do?