I recently had the opportunity to attend a Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) conference led by Rick and Becky DuFour. If you are not familiar with the DuFour’s work with PLCs and ever get a chance to hear them speak, take advantage of that opportunity. The information you take away will change the way you teach (plus, they are extremely entertaining speakers).
It would be impossible to share all the amazing information presented by the DuFours, but one thing struck me more than anything else during the two-day conference – there is no shame in teachers admitting that they can’t do it all by themselves, or perhaps better said, it’s okay to admit that someone else in the building may do something better than you can. Everyone has teaching strengths and everyone has areas that, though they may not be considered weaknesses, are not as strong as those around them.
Let me give you an example from my teaching career. When I taught 5th grade, I taught with a man named Bryan, someone who was stellar at teaching writing. In discussing common writing assessments and sharing student samples with each other, I was consistently amazed at what he could get his students to produce. By comparison, my students’ writing was not nearly as descriptive. While I didn’t consider myself a bad writing teacher, it was obvious Bryan was better. The proof, writing samples from both our students, was right there in front of me. I was faced with a choice – go back to my classroom and try to hide the fact that my teaching methods were not as effective as they could be, or swallow my pride and learn from my friend. So I went to him and asked, “How are you getting your kids to write like that? What exactly are you doing?” And to Bryan’s credit, he shared with me his expertise. He didn’t think to himself, Wait, if I share my strategies, my secret will be out and I’ll no longer be the best. No, he realized that teaching is not about hoarding a “secret formula” so that his test scores would be superior to mine. He understood that our job was to work together to reach all of our students, not simply the ones on our individual class rosters.
One of my favorite concepts regarding teamwork comes from an excellent book called High Five! The Magic of Working Together by Ken Blanchard, Sheldon Bowles, Don Carew, and Eunice Parisi-Carew. In it, the authors beautifully illustrate this concept regarding teamwork – collective skill transcends individual skills. It is more important to build the skill level of the team than it is to have a group of skilled individuals who work by themselves. When teachers share their skills with the rest of their team, the entire team benefits. Then, if a highly skilled teacher leaves to go to a different school, the team can still function at a high level because the shared skill does not leave with the teacher.
I think a real-life example of this concept is currently playing out in the National Football League. Peyton Manning, the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, has not played this season due to injury. Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, a future Hall-of-Famer. Yet as I write this post, the Colts have a record of 0-10. For the past decade, the Colts have been consistent Super Bowl contenders, but with the loss of one highly skilled player, they have not been able to win a single game. Now, while this is not a perfect example, since Manning’s skill as a quarterback cannot be fully taught or shared with his teammates, I think it illustrates the point that if a team is only as good as one of its members, how good a team is it?
We all have strengths. I encourage you to share them with those around you.
Note: For any Colts fans out there, please know that I’m not trying to bash your team or kick them while they’re down. After all, I’m a fan of the San Diego Chargers, and we’ve all seen how bad they’ve been this season.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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