I have been frustrated lately by the idea that Department Meetings (or PLC’s as they are called now - more on that in another post) are about “collaboration” when they are, in fact, about conformity. As is so often the case, we don’t think much about the words we use. There are some forms of collaboration where consistency can be very important. In animation, for instance, characters must look the same from scene to scene no matter what animator is working on that scene.
But there are other kinds of collaboration where it is the sharing of ideas, and a shared vision, that matters, not consistency of action in the form of nearly blind conformity. Teaching is one of those fields.
I am all for collaboration... if it doesn't lead to mindless conformity. I have collaborated with other teachers on inner-disciplinary units, and on inquiry units within the Language Arts Department, but in every case, teachers later put a unique spin on what the team collaborated on. Because teachers are individuals dealing with students who are individuals. We are human teachers teaching human students. We are not robots in robot factory making other robots.
And no matter how great collaboration can be, there can be no collaboration unless individuals think for themselves individually before coming to the table and while they are at the table collaborating. And there should still be room for the insight, creativity, and autonomy of the individual teacher to do what will work for his or her students. To say collaboration is always better than individual vision is to dismiss nearly every novelist who has ever written.
Of course, the other problem with demand collaboration as conformity is that it flies in the face of the "individualized instruction" we are asked to do:
With all of that in mind, I’d like to offer this model I’ve been working on to show the difference. I’m still working on it, so feel free to make suggestions....
Conformity vs. Collaboration
Forcing ideas on a whole group, whether they fit each person’s needs or not, for the sake of a “consistent” gradebook.
Sharing ideas, creating lessons, projects, and resources together that can be used in different ways by each teacher
Consistency of activities
Consistency of outcomes
One size fits all instruction and assessment
Individualized instruction and assessment using everyone’s best ideas and thinking
Enforcement of identical lessons and assessments without regard for the needs of individual classes and students.
Pooling ideas and developing them together, but using them with autonomy in your own classroom.
Individual and community creativity
Going through the motions, covering material, calibrating assignments, and checking off boxes
Thinking hard about where your students are and where you would like them to be and coming up with creative ways to take them there
Limiting human potential and distrusting individual creativity