Aggressive. Competitive. Cutthroat. These words are rarely associated with teaching and education — education is not a competitive field. If you were to interview a group of 100 teachers and ask them why they teach, you would more than likely hear responses such as, “I do it for the kids” or “I am just passionate about educating our next generation.” Teachers are not here for promotions or pay raises (although those are nice!). We are here because we love it.
However, many teachers and educators are working solo. Alone in their classrooms, they are creating lesson plans, designing classroom management strategies and finding the next great hook for engaging their students. Although this is great, one of the best kept secrets in the field of education is the power of collaborative teamwork.
Why Teamwork Is Important
When I began teaching, I worked at a school that had just lost more than half of its teachers. This was not a teacher walkout; rather, the principal had been given the opportunity to open a new school in the district and took many of the teachers with her. This meant that in an unforeseen event, I was now at school in which nearly half the staff was brand-new, including the principal. Although this might sound like a nightmare, it became a dream come true.
This group of new teachers was required to attend multiple training events together, and we began getting to know each one another and sharing ideas. It turned out that one of the other new teachers would be teaching fifth grade with me, so we decided to work together. I helped her set up her classroom, she helped me with mine, and we even decided to co-run the student council together.
Working with another teacher was the best thing I could have asked for as a first-year teacher. Teaching is hard! They say it can take up to three years to really nail classroom management, not to mention learning all the ever-changing curriculum, learning how to communicate with parents, understanding district and state guidelines, etc. By teaming up, the two of us were able to share the responsibilities of this job together, and we made some amazing things happen. We designed entire social studies units, created book studies and worked together to solve behavior issues with students.
Two years later our school was able to hire two additional team members to teach fifth grade with us and we shared our philosophy of collaborative teamwork with them. If one team member created a worksheet for a math lesson, it was shared. We assigned parts of projects to one another and met weekly to do all our lesson planning together. By the end of that first year, we were officially dubbed “the Dream Team” at our school. We were together for six years and our students thrived.
When I moved out of the classroom and into a position as a full-time faculty member at GCU, I was once again blessed with amazing collaboration. A year after starting at GCU, I became part of a team chosen to teach one class exclusively; University Success (UNV-108). It was our job to make the class an amazing experience for students as they started their GCU careers in the College of Education.
The team consisted of four full-time faculty members, and we began collaborating daily. We requested that our desks be moved close together so our collaboration could truly be organic. We created new classroom assessment techniques, we brainstormed ways to help struggling students, and we made it a mission to reach each and every student who came through our seven-week course.
A few years later, we added a fifth member to our team, and that only enhanced our level of collaboration and commitment to students. I am blessed to say that I have been a part of another Dream Team for seven years now!
Having a team is everything for an educator. In your first few years, you will feel lonely, scared, stressed and anxious. Being in a classroom with students for six hours or more is lonely. Even talking to a spouse or partner about your job can feel isolating because, unless they are educators themselves, they cannot truly understand what you are going through. Having someone to share your concerns with, vent to, and share crazy lesson plan ideas with is the most encouraging thing you can do.
Here are some recommendations for how you can connect with other educators, at school or even virtually:
- Eat lunch! Many educators skip lunch to work. It is great to stay on top of things, but this short break could be your opportunity to connect with another educator.
- Volunteer. If your school has clubs, a PTO, or other extra-curricular activities that need teacher volunteers, sign up for one! Chances are there is another teacher there whom you can connect with. You can even share ideas during the events you are hosting if time allows.
- Find a mentor/be a mentor. If you are a seasoned educator, find a teacher new to your school and reach out to them. Chances are, they are looking for a connection, too. Listen to their ideas and foster their creativity. If you are new, find a mentor teacher for yourself. Look for someone who has knowledge to share and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be intimidated. If you bring another teacher a coffee or snack, they are almost guaranteed to welcome you into their classroom.
- Social media teacher groups. Social media was not around as much when I taught, but I know that having an online group can be greatly encouraging. If your school is small or you are having trouble connecting with someone in person, go online. Find a group that is supportive and don’t be afraid to reach out. Even just joining a group and not posting right away can be encouraging. Note: Be very careful about not giving away personal details online and always check your school/district’s privacy policies.
- GCU alumni groups/PLN. Reach out to your classmates or past classmates. If you are still in school, start a group with other students in your class. Now you have support through school and into your first years of teaching. If you are a GCU graduate, we have lots of support for alumni!
Earning your teaching degree can lead to an incredibly rewarding career helping prepare the next generation of leaders. Check out all the teaching degree options at Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and get started on the journey to find your purpose.
Approved by an Associate Professor for the College of Education on Oct. 21, 2022
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.