Collaboration Versus Autonomy

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on this here blog…I feel like I’ve been reading that phrase a lot lately. What is it about the winter that makes us all burrow into our respective holes and hide for a few months? In my particular case, I think a lot of it had to do with being the only teacher at my school teaching a newly modified course. Our team has been re-writing the math 2 curriculum this year, and the first trimester was a great example of productive collaboration. It felt great. The second trimester, I was flying solo. And it wasn’t so great.

Not that I feel like I did a horrible job with the course. But, I didn’t do as well as I could have with the support of my team. I was less organized, less creative, and less on top of things in terms of assessing where my students were and what I should do next to help guide their learning. It was one big, trimester-long account for the Productive Struggle blog.

I did some awesome things that I’m really proud of. The transformations project was a blast, and the Mini-Feltron project went over really well. We did some fun explorations of collecting and analyzing data and looked at various ranked choice voting schemes.

But overall…the course was kind of blah. I did a lot of the same style of teaching. I didn’t branch out as much as I would have liked. I didn’t differentiate as much as I would like to. I didn’t give students a good balance of individual work time and group work time. I was doing the “one step ahead” thing way too often. It was hard to keep the big picture in mind.

It was just plain hard.

Collaboration is essential to my role as an educator. I am a far better teacher to my students when I work together with my colleagues to plan, to assess and to debrief. I really missed that last trimester.

And it’s not that I didn’t meet together with my fellow teachers. We did. My team rallied around me to do what they could to help me out. But I was the one forging the way, and it was up to me to say what I needed; which necessitated me knowing what I needed ahead of time–not always an easy task to accomplish.

I really wish I was teaching this class again this trimester, so that I could fix all of my mistakes. I am eager to teach it again next year in order to let my perfectionist brain relax a little. (though of course I will just make new mistakes…sigh)

This trimester I am teaching new [to me] courses, and I have a new team to work with. It is so nice to meet with them each week and discuss what we have been doing and what we have coming up in the near future. I really value this time.


I’ve found that I also value my autonomy as a teacher. I enjoy finding new ideas and trying them out. Especially when they involve giving students a challenging task to do, or giving them an opportunity for more individual practice on a skill. These are things that I like bringing to the table. Sometimes they aren’t received as warmly as I might like. This is okay. At the beginning of the year, I requested that one of our team norms be “saying yes” when someone decides to try something out in their classroom. I’ve found that some of my colleagues are more comfortable with this than others–and honestly, my perceptions of their comfort levels may be inaccurate as they are almost certainly clouded by my own baggage.

When I was working by myself on the course last trimester, asking others about trying something new wasn’t something I did. I just went ahead and did whatever I wanted to try out. I’m still doing that to a certain extent, but I do try to share what I did–in real-time–with my team so that they can use the ideas if they want to. It’s an interesting balancing act, considering both the innovative things I want to try out and the needs of supporting my team and allowing them to support me. I think it’s difficult to strike the right note, and in the fall my team somehow managed to do this almost effortlessly. It’s taking a bit more effort from me to meld together with my new team. But it’s far less effort than the going-alone thing I was doing last trimester.

And for that, I am truly grateful.

2 thoughts on “Collaboration Versus Autonomy

  1. Thank you for sharing this post with such honesty. I like to collaborate and then take it in my own direction. I love when what someone else is doing sort of gets your motor running and you find ways to soar off with it. Keep up the good work!

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