Collaboration is one of the most frequently used words in education and, in some ways, the least taught. As a former teacher, new teacher coach, and professional development facilitator in a US school district for over two decades I learned that I had a credential in my subject but I didn’t have a credential in how to collaborate and work with other adults. The work we do in our field requires us to know how to effectively teach inside our classrooms and communicate to others outside our classrooms. Both skill sets matter for us to improve student achievement and wellbeing and to create school cultures that are humane and inclusive.
Over the last decade my focus in my consulting work has been around adult to adult communication in schools. How do we stretch ourselves at our learning edges to become our best adult selves at school? How do we communicate well with one another in service of our students? This article series will focus on how we can stretch ourselves around five essential areas of professional behavior: knowing ourselves, suspending certainty, taking responsibility for our interactions, engaging in reciprocity, and building resiliency.
One may notice that stretching ourselves is what we have been doing now for months and actually years. Educators worldwide have been dealing with COVID and other professional challenges. We fear asking anymore of anyone.
It is at this most challenging time that building our adult to adult communication skills is even more critical. Yes, the demands are ever increasing. We still have within ourselves an ability to act in ways that align with the goal of having our schools be humane and respectful places to work.
Our ability to collaborate and our willingness to engage respectfully with one another matters for the health of the school and the collective well-being of all within it. We can and must intentionally ask ourselves how to live respectfully even in the midst of the challenges we are facing.
Cambridge Dictionary says Reciprocity is “behavior in which two people or groups of people give each other help and advantages; a situation in which two groups agree to help each other by behaving in the same way or by giving each other similar advantages.” We need to think about our work in schools including this type of behavior with the other adults as part of one’s everyday work responsibility. It isn’t just doing one’s tasks or role; it isn’t just doing “one’s job” or going into one’s classroom and working with students; it is also to be a value add to the other adults in the school.
Engaging In Reciprocity
|WHAT IS IT? || |
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
Willingly moving oneself from isolation and separateness to a connection to and concern for community.
Honoring individual team members and valuing each person’s gifts and contributions to the community is critical for a workplace that is grounded in a shared future.
Demonstrating a belief in the worth and dignity of all individuals with whom one works by modeling supportive and productive team behaviors: active listening, thoughtful questioning, offering supportive suggestions, using verbal and nonverbal behaviors that exhibit respect, and more.
Adapted from Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work – Jennifer Abrams, 2021, MiraVia Publishing.
Things you can consider as you work to engage more effectively as a collaborative team member:
Do Inner Work To Contribute To The Whole
Being an effective team member requires us to be mindful of our body language and non-verbals, build our skills to do active listening, asking questions that others want to answer, learning how to apologize, and allow space for all voices to be heard. We all must do the inner work and manage emotions and energy and do the outer work of being mindful of our body language and choosing respectful wording.
Learn To Effectively Work With Cognitive Conflict
When we are stressed, we often don’t engage in challenging conversations in the best of ways. As Timothy J. Clark states in The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation (2020), a team needs to work with more intellectual friction and less social friction. Building your ability to discuss issues rather than individuals is key to staying cognitive in your conversations.
Be 100% Responsible For Your Responses
You are 100% responsible for how you respond to others and that includes how you ask questions, how you share disappointments, and how you share concerns. Asking, “How might I communicate my perspective humanely in a kind, supportive, and non-aggressive manner?” is a question we all need to be asking ourselves.
Understand “We Influence I” And “I Influences We”
The old adage often repeated in schools is that there is no “I” in team. That’s a myth. Individuals matter. When recognized and valued, individual points of views and diverse ways of seeing the world contribute greatly to the fabric of the collective and the shared future of a school. And the group as a collective also needs to be seen as a value-add to each team member’s work.
Honor Others’ Dignity
Mutual respect is something we live out loud. Engaging in reciprocity means we show others that we believe in their worth as human beings and we honor one another and what we each bring to the table. We need to create environments in which everyone is acknowledged, feels a sense of belonging, and is treated justly.
As we work on engaging as our best adult selves, we need to consistently focus not just on the content of our meetings with others but also on how we are doing in our interactions. We can ask:
- Do I know where my strengths and weaknesses as a group member are and do I work to address my weaknesses?
- Do I monitor my behavior in a team meeting so I am a value add to the meeting and not contributing to any social friction?
- Recognizing that cognitive conflict and intellectual friction can help a group move forward, do I monitor my behavior so I am not contributing to any unnecessary social friction?
- Do I understand that group structures, norms, and protocols which support cognitive and psychologically safe discussions, and do I willingly participate in those protocols with awareness and skill?
In my following articles I will look at four other essential areas where we can stretch ourselves at our learning edges and become even more effective professionals in our adult to adult communication. Our students look to us to see what being an adult looks like. Let's model for them being our best adult selves. References
Abrams, Jennifer. Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work. (2021).
Clark, Timothy J. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation. (2020)
Formerly a high school English teacher and a new teacher coach, Jennifer Abrams is currently a communications consultant who focuses on adult to adult communication in schools. Her publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigeerational Workplace: Communincate, Collaborate and Create Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked - the Whos, Whens and What Ifs and Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her newest book is, Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work.
Internationally, Jennifer presented at PTC, TTC, EARCOS, NESA, ECIS, AISA, AMISA, CEESA and Tri-Association conferences, and at schools across Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America and North America. More about Jennifer’s work can be found at her website, www.jenniferabrams.com.