The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other.
Recently I met with Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, coauthors of the brilliant Think Tank for 21st Century blog. I was complimenting them on their work, and was stunned to hear how they were virtual strangers when they began collaborating.
“Kim had responded to a tweet about a book I was writing,” Jan explained. “A couple weeks after that initial tweet, we chatted about how to get our ideas out more immediately and decided to do a blog together. We made the decision on Friday, Kim’s husband had tech experience and helped us over the weekend, and on Monday the blog was launched.”
Over three years later, the blog is stronger than ever, with a large national audience. Kim and Jan have written hundreds and hundreds of blog entries together. It’s been the catalyst for articles, books, presentations, and an enduring partnership. I marveled at how they could write in one voice in such a public way, even as they were just getting to know each other.
Kim said, “It all comes back to the norms we established at the start. When something is off, it can be awkward but it’s so important that one of us says, ‘I hate to bring this up, but look at our norms. This is the one we need to work on.” I asked to look at the norms, and they were a bit sheepish about their simplicity. But I thought they were wonderful:
1. Don’t ignore a nudge.
2. Be upfront and honest.
3. Don’t get too far into something without letting the other one know.
4. Talk through before if possible; if not, the one doing the work alone takes the risk.
5. We have to make it as safe as possible for the other person to disagree.
Jan added, “It’s a document that’s outside of us – it makes it less personal or threatening to have something not within us, but a touchstone beyond our personalities or the work. The norms remind us of what our collaboration is supposed to look like.”
I thought of the many meetings I’ve sat in at schools, groups that usually started with establishing norms. Sometimes these are even read at the start of every meeting, usually in a cursory way. “We promise to start and end on time, to give everyone an equal voice. . .” It’s no wonder when things fall apart that it feels personal. You can’t blame a lack of attention to norms if you followed them, starting and ending every meeting on time. Or they were so vague (“we will respectfully include everyone”) that they are of no use when deep conflicts arise.
Jan and Kim’s norms are all about communicating. Big breakdowns are avoided when little ones are acknowledged (“Hey – I’m nudging you with this idea, but you are ignoring me”). When is the last time you put some time into establishing detailed, specific norms about communication with any team or group? It’s important, time-consuming work, but the truth is even someone you’ve known a long time on staff might be a virtual stranger when it comes to collaboration. As committees are formed for the year and meetings get under way, revisiting and revising the norms of collaboration may be some of the most important work you do in the early days of the school year. Norms are what allow groups to gang up on the problem, and not on each other.
This week we look at organizing assessments. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
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Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan explain why It’s Not the Assessment, It’s How You Use It:
Franki Sibberson’s dilemma? How to file every evaluation so it is organized and accessible (since she never knows when someone might ask for it), while still finding a way to keep the assessments she needs every day at her fingertips:
Pernille Ripp encourages teachers to keep perspective early in the year with The One Great Idea Promise:
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Megan Skogstad shares lots of practical advice for Launching Student Data Binders:
Deb Gaby thinks of Growth Lines when it comes to baseline information early in the school year:
This week’s video is the second installment in Katie Doherty’s series on conferring with sixth-grade boys:
Are you required to use a reading or writing program that goes against your beliefs about teaching and learning? Gigi McAllister has suggestions for Staying True to Best Practices When Using Required Resources:
In an encore video, Principal Karen Szymusiak interviews Ana, a second grader, to learn more about her strengths and needs as a reader:
That’s all for this week!