Thursday, 12 April 2012

Teachers' teams: the challenge, the how-to!

Those who've been following me in the last couple of years already know how much I believe in team working. I'm a very social person in my private life as well, but in my job I'm definitely committed to team building, working... and teaching.

That's partly due to the fact that I became a professional teacher when I was very young. At the time, I felt I needed some kind of support and it was normal for me to turn to the more experienced teachers: and it worked perfectly, because it soon become a give&take relationship - they shared with me what I lacked (experience), I shared with them what they were sometimes losing (enthusiasm, fun, pupils' understanding, love of ICT, curiosity...).
Now, 15 years later, commitment to team working, especially in international projects, is just part of who I am. I think I've a good experience of my own by now, and I've been trying to share it during the past years.

The eTwinning world is at the moment concentrating on School Teams as well, and some colleagues asked me how to build a team in their schools in order to work on EU projects. Now, I can just share some tips coming from my personal experience. But remember, every school and every context is different, so ultimately it's the the individual teacher that knows what works best for him or her.

So, here's what I know:

1) at the beginning of a new experience (including eTwinning) there's nothing wrong in working alone. If you don't find anyone willing to work on a new project with you, don't assume you did something wrong: it's just the novelty that can be scaring. Once you've worked on a new project for a while, when your students and their families are curious and involved, other teachers will be as well.

2) Tell the others what you're doing and why, and how much you'd appreciate their contribution. That means you'll have to want them for real, so you should offer them a role in your project idea. You can't just ask them, say, to register in eTwinning, join in your project and then "we'll see": offer them a role and a responsibility and see what their answer is. Remember, they are considering joining in something new and they need a good dose of daring for this: now, you can't expect them to jump into the unknown. The more specific you are in explaining what they could do, the more likely they are to say "yes".

3) Start with one or two colleagues: a small team is easier to manage (just think of the difference in planning a meeting for three and for thirteen). Decide who does what in the project, and then let the others free to do more if they want.
Hint: international projects+eTwinning are addictive: once you get them in, and they see where they are and 1% of what they can do, they'll be more than willing to do more than they are expected.

4) Be prepared to share your ideas. That's the hardest part of it. Once you're in a team, "my" ideas actually become "our" ideas. I know this will be controversial, but since a person's ideas are his/her most precius property, I say, be careful. Good team mates will always recognize the value of your ideas and will own them to you - and of course you'll do the same with theirs. Sharing doesn't mean stealing. Never. 
So, choose carefully the people you want in your team. People you trust enough to share your ideas with.

5) Be prepared to work more (usually with no extra money). Projects and team working require adequate planning. Which means extra hours for you, but also better (often very better!) results. Up to your priorities.

6) Never ever force someone into the use of ICT, or into eTwinning, or into anything. They want to have a look and see what they can do from the outside? Fine. Remember you're not recruiting soldiers for your army. If you force or trick your colleagues into something they're not prepared to, it's most likely they'll end up hating you, your project, ICT, eTwinning... you name it.

7) Market it! Let the other teachers, the School Principal, the families, know what wonderful work you and your colleagues are doing. Think and talk of the future: what you will do next month, next year. Your team mates will start thinking of a "next project", new ones may be willing to give it a try, and families will expect it (which will probably make it real).

8) Support it! You created the project, you let the others in, now you'll have to support the project during the hard times. Long silences from the foreign partners, websites not working, personal problems of the involved teachers... your project will have its occasional dark spell, and it will be your duty to keep the spark alive. It won't be difficult. You just need some creativity and your students will do the rest.

9) Laugh, learn and enjoy. The only reason why the extra work, the efforts and the committment are worth it, is that both teachers and students learn faster, and have fun. If you're not enjoying yourself, there's something wrong: so work with the students, do your best, and next year dump that team!

10) At the end of the project celebrate your success, and then start all over again (but with more colleagues, more ideas, more students!).

That's what I learnt through the years. And - more recently - through the chatting and discussing with Monika, Mariella, Elena, Antonella and Paola. Thank you ladies. We are not in the same school, but we do make a very good team!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

US and EU: teachers meeting "the Other"

During the past decade, more and more teachers in the EU have been involved in international projects.
The Lisbon Process, in its effort to create a new knowledge-driven economy, set the basis for a lasting change in education and training. The knowledge triangle of research, education and innovation is the core of the whole process: and lots of educators, of all school levels, found these three elements in international cooperation.

Students from all over Europe had the opportunity to meet, study/work/play together, and even live together, thank to Erasmus, Grundtvig, Comenius, eTwinning. National barriers have been overcome - and prejudices with them, at least that's what we hope.

Now, after more than ten years, we got addicted to meeting "the Other". And we want more.
Personally, as a teacher, I just got curious. I wanted to know what was going on in the US, and I tried to contact teachers, or better, teachers' nets, living and working there. And once again, I couldn't help thinking how fantastic the web is. I found what I was looking for in a matter of minutes.

I started with a couple of great communities, Teacher 2.0 and Classroom 2.0. I met and chatted with lots of teachers from all around the world (literally!), I took Steven Hargadon's teacher 2.0 online workshop ...and yes, I'm a teacher 2.0 !!!

If you've never heard of this online workshop before, do give it a try: it's simple, clear and very useful.
At first, if you're already familiar with the web, you could feel it's easy for you - but in fact it's extremely interesting for both its content and its structure. And it could be a precious resource for eTwinning Ambassadors, teachers' trainers, and all of the educators involved with training others about the web and its opportunities.

I'm still an active member of these communities, and, as it always happen online, one place led to the other, one person led to hundreds of others. My Professional (or Personal? not so easy to draw a line) Learning Network is expanding day after day. And I love this!

Then, at the end of 2011, I found on the eTwinning Desktop some info about the Transatlantic Educators Dialogue (TED), sponsored by the European Union Center and the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This programme is supposed to "build bridges" between teachers in the EU and in the US, by having them reflect on their perception of "the Other" - and of themselves of course. The aim of these teachers' meetings is to better realize how we see others, and how others see us in the classrooms and schools of different countries.

"TED is an online platform for educators in the United States and the European Union to collaborate in an online format to explore and examine how other countries, and in particular, their own country, are represented in their classroom and other schools in the U.S. and the E.U."

When I was accepted in the course I was thrilled. And I am thrilled now, three monts into the course.
It's the first time I actually have the opportunity to talk about such delicate topics - personal and National identity, prejudices, approaches to teaching, students' and teachers' assessment, youth culture, immigration, and so on - with colleagues coming from so many countries.
I'm realizing how things work (or don't) in different realities, and I've lots of new ideas, suggestions, doubts, and hopes.

As I always say, the best way to learn it's out of your own experience... but learning from someone else's experience definitely ranks second. I've never had so many people, experiences, stories and identities available - and willing to share.

One of the best part of this course is that we work with colleagues on a chosen subject and we present our ideas and our perspective on that subject during the weekly online meetings. That's great, since we have the opportunity to work together with new colleagues, present our ideas and listen to the others' different points of view, experiences, doubts, beliefs.
I've had the opportunity to work with Gaelle Farout, and to discuss identity and otherness with Annamaria Donnarumma and Lorena Mihalec. It's a discussion and a reflection still in progress, and I hope it will last.

I'll write more about this great experience, so stay tuned for more :)

And thanks to all the great people who keep helping, supporting, and inspiring me in my job!