Thirty Years Later, Good Collaboration Still Requires Well-Prepared Individual Students (and Educators)

Through our daily habits and pleasures, we claim our own territory, make our own moments, and choose our own identities. Becoming a “good” student or a “good” teacher just means showing up again and again for the things that matter. — Jennifer Fletcher in Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response (208)

Just a little short of thirty years ago, I was taught several “cooperative learning” strategies via our small school’s informal yet thoughtful approach to professional development: Have experienced teachers share knowledge, skills, and wisdom. Old timers back then knew that good cooperative learning also requires good individual preparation and accountability. The same can be said for our mostly synonymous notion of collaboration these days.

Side note: Those early professional development experiences connect well with Kristina Rizga’s 2019 article from The Atlantic: “How to Keep Teachers From Leaving the Profession: After 38 years in education, Judith Harper thinks what teachers are missing is more time to learn from one another.” 

While I was thinking about the good, bad, and ugly experiences of group work for students and educators, I was reminded of some good points that Jennifer Fletcher asserts in her book Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response (208):

*Well-prepared students acquire habituated “virtues.”
*Well-prepared students often enjoy their schoolwork.
*Well-prepared students have regular routines for academic work.
*Well-prepared students have regular places for reading and writing.
*Well-prepared students take responsibility for their own needs and growth.

Fletcher’s list is good for thinking about well-prepared educators too. I wish I could send that list back in time to my new-teacher-self along with about half a dozen books to help me get more focused on what matters most for teaching and learning. 

Unfortunately, so much of our educator and student collaborative work looks like variations on speed dating with multi-colored sticky notes. Furthermore, we layer in quite a bit of what Cal Newport calls the hyperactive hive mind via technology applications to make it seem more engaging. But a lot is missing.

“Wait a minute, what does that really mean?” seems to be the question that I find most engaging and rewarding in moments of teaching, learning, counseling, mentoring, and philosophizing with others. On one side of great collaboration is the well-prepared person who has taken some quiet time to study the knowledge essential to the topic. On the other side of great collaboration are these responsive moments where we go deeper together.

Those two sides show up in modern classics like Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and even more so in ancient classics like the works of Aristotle, a really old, old-timer whom Fletcher has the humble wisdom to learn from so that she can draw out better conversations with her students and fellow educators.

Maybe some of our most important work is to prepare well enough so that we can be ready to draw out things that matter most and thereby help others slow down enough to appreciate them–quickly ready to slow ourselves and others down at times. A bit like speed bumps for better collaboration, conversations, and personal growth?

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