When collaboration goes wrong, it can be toxic for learning and classroom culture. We are all familiar with the scene: a group of students that is supposed to be completing a collaborative project has splintered off into dysfunctional factions. Maybe it's one student who has sullenly separated her- or himself from the rest of the group, or maybe the group has become two non-communicative teams with separate visions. Sometimes these conflicts lead to resentments that have the potential for long-term damage to the classroom community.
Valentine's Day creates a lot of excitement for students, and of course, there are plenty of teachable moments around the day. You might cover the history of the holiday, some V-Day-themed math, or a fun, heart-shaped art project. The opportunities are endless. But Valentine's Day is also a great time to talk with your kids about compassion and caring.
Can a school have a positive culture and climate when its special needs students are not strongly included in the mainstream of all of its activities? This is a question that is not posed often enough in the social-emotional and character development worlds, but it is asked constantly in the offices of Special Olympics International (SOI). Within SOI, Project UNIFY is tasked with creating programming that brings differently-abled students together in various forms of shared activities and purposes, focused on the mainstay of SOI, sports.
Worried about the shrinking presence of empathy in our schools? I know how you feel.
With classrooms operating more like grade factories, it's hard to make the case for school-driven empathy. Faced with an endless cycle of memorize, drill, spit back and test, teachers have become the wardens of a new educational reality that pits the head against the heart. Even if educators manage to skate past the dizzying array of standards and value-added evaluations, they must still contend with this fundamental divide: academic rigor, with its unflinching emphasis on measurable success, seems strangely at odds with emotional intelligence, a soufflé of moods and feelings. Which leaves many to wonder -- can empathy feel its way back into the classroom?
"Nearly a quarter of American adults did not read a single book in the past year." I was eating an apple when I read this this and I gasped and the apple piece got stuck and I ran around trying to find someone who Heimlich me and dislodge it. Although it came out, I'm still symbolically choking on this fact. It terrifies me.
All of us have had major classroom disruptions that try our patience and push our limits. These incidents can threaten our sense of control and generate fear of looking weak to other students. We fear that other students might do the same thing if we don't take a strong stance. Couple these feelings with the possibility of taking the disruption personally, and we have a recipe for disaster. It's important that we divide our response into two parts:
Over the past few weeks, I have learned deeply. My students were paramount teachers as I was privileged to share a part of their interior worlds, their "private logic" that is a culmination of accumulated beliefs, experiences, values, thoughts and feelings. This inner world is often kept tucked away unless an environment is created that allows for feelings of safety and an untainted sense of belonging. When any child or adult enters into a space that accepts, inspires and affirms their "ever-changing personhood," we have finally found the key that unlocks the door to extravagant learning! What is that key? That golden key is connection, nothing more.
Blogger's note: This post focuses on the importance of integrating collaboration into classroom practice. In my next post, I'll talk about strategies for successful facilitation of collaborative work.
A Learned Skill
Sharing my rough writing with others is a miserable experience. I know that outside input is a crucial part of revision, yet I squirm uncomfortably as those I trust make comments and probe with questions. Inevitably, I begin to feel resentment grow as I am forced to reevaluate passages that I thought were clear.
If collaboration feels this challenging for me with those whom I trust and respect, it must feel even harder for my students because:
I often make a point of dividing them into heterogeneous groups that include students with different skill levels.
The projects I assign require agreement and coordination between all the members of a group.
I expect the final products to be polished and ready for a wider audience.
As I uttered the last syllable of the searing Holocaust passage in Night by Elie Wiesel, where Yuliek plays his violin amidst a sea of dead and dying men, and Beethoven's concerto concluded on my laptop, a sigh sounded from one of my sophomores. Basie was a tiny figure shrouded in a hoodie, sleeves pulled over his minuscule hands. He never said much before, but now pushed his hoodie slightly off his eyes and mused about how art infuses beauty into even the most depraved situations.