It is late Friday afternoon in the summer, and I feel compelled to write a blog post. I spent the day working with colleagues on curricular plans for the upcoming school year. And it was really fun.
I am lucky to work in a school that provides small grants to teachers who want to work together in the summer on curriculum. The past two summers we have worked on course teams to plan the year ahead. The conversations ranged from big picture essential questions to smaller scale day to day planning. These gatherings were important in building a culture of collaboration, where teachers of the same course agreed on what to teach. When moving from a culture of autonomy to one where we recognize that we can make our courses better by learning from one another and pooling our resources and experiences, those work sessions were necessary. Now, collaboration is the norm in my department for the required courses and done informally for electives.
This year, we organized our grant work around the themes of PBL and History Labs. We came together having done some common reading. We started by discussing our thoughts about the readings. Then, we broke into working groups to create plans. Each teacher chose what he or she wanted to work on. Some worked on electives alone and others worked on core courses in pairs or threes.
I worried that it would not be organized or structured enough. I was concerned that we would not be efficient, not get enough done; what happened instead was amazing. We worked, shared, digressed, took breaks as needed, worked some more, digressed, and shared. At the end of the day, we all had plans that we are very excited about. Having people in the room working on related but different tasks provided healthy feedback and great fellowship. The odd thing for me was that it did not feel efficient as we were working, but when I look back at what we accomplished I am really impressed.
It did not feel like work. That’s the bottom line. That’s what I wish for my students when they begin working through the PBL unit on the Renaissance that we planned today or the History Lab on the legacies of Jefferson and Hamilton or the PBL unit on immigration. When I worry that students are not being efficient, I need to remember that productive does not always have to be efficient. I need to remember my summer grant work and measure where they are at the end of the day, not every minute.