If you're new to this blog, I'll start with a little context. I flipped my high school English class for two semesters before looking to Twitter to find people to help me. I talked to a few English teachers (there weren't many around then) and had some great conversations. But none of them seemed like a match - either personality-wise, or with the classes they teach, or what they were looking for from their flipped class. I still work with many of them, and have learned a lot through their sharing on Twitter and on their blogs. Here's the blog post I wrote after our first conversation.
So here are Rules For Finding a Collaborative Partner.
1. The first rule of finding a collaborative partner is that they have to be the right person. I had to meet and interact with lots of people before I felt like I found someone with whom I could work. And with Andrew, from the very beginning, it just felt right. That's almost impossible to quantify, I know. But there was an ease to the conversation, and an obvious chemistry when we started recording videos (as cringe-y as I find watching them now, it's still there). As we started working, it became clear that we also were a match in personality and classroom contexts that fit...and those things were just as important as the work we produced together. We only completed a single video before we started talking about non-school stuff (first conversation: "What music do you like?". Very important).
2. The second rule is to try to produce something and assess the way each of you work and approach the work. At FlipCon, we observed that nearly all collaborative partnerships have the basic dynamic that Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams do. Jon is more type-A and organised, Aaron is more care-free and improvisational. I'm Jon, and Andrew is Aaron. Without me, we might not finish anything. Without him, I would get bored and/or never take risks on things that might not work. Now we're actually pretty similar in most ways, but that one difference means that we get a lot done that neither of us would ever do on our own. We want the same things: intellectual engagement, new and exciting ideas, projects that become bigger than we would have committed to alone, and to have fun. I know that I would eventually get frustrated if I was working with someone who was more driven than me. And Andrew would be frustrated if he was working with someone who wasn't open to being flexible and changing products every now and then.
3. The third rule is to have your students and PLN assess the work you've done and listen to what they say about the success of the product and partnership. We had Crystal Kirch and Karl Lindgren-Streicher help us pretty early on, and it made a difference that they were solidly supportive and thought our work was interesting. We also got attention quickly from some of the people we most respected - Jon, Aaron, Brian - and they loved what we were doing. Now, I have done enough collaboration to know that if people are uninterested in what you're doing, it's not always because you're uninteresting. But if the collaboration chemistry isn't right, and other people sense it too, then it's probably not going to last.
4. The next rule is that you have to have time for the collaboration, and when you don't, that you make time for the collaboration. At the beginning, we probably spent about 15 hours a week together. And during the school year, we spent about 3 hours on school days talking, reflecting, and planning. That doesn't include emails and other textual communication. We planned for nine classes together, and wrote all new curriculum, so it took a lot of time. Plus, there were lots of classroom issues and school issues and...well...issues. We needed that much time, and whenever we had an article to write or other professional obligations, we needed more than that. Most other years where we were teaching classes we'd taught before, or in schools where we were more established (both of us were at new schools), or with less insane workloads (6 new preps and 310 students for me), we would have needed far less time.
5. The final rule (for now) is to be the collaborative partner you want, and be prepared to compromise and discuss when that doesn't happen. Like in any relationship, we have to put aside the things we want sometimes to do what's right for the other person. Each of us sacrifices for the other, and if we weren't willing to do that, there's no way we could still be friends or collaborative partners. There were times that we wanted to kill each other, so we developed a set of rules so that we wouldn't actually commit murder from across the country. Seriously though, do you know how easy it is to hang up the phone, turn it off, and shut the laptop cover? It's much easier than walking out of a room to avoid an argument. I won't share our rules in their entirety because they don't make sense out of the context of our relationship, but here are a few, with explanations:
- Friends first - we put the friendship and the other person's emotional health above the work.
- No shutting down to avoid an argument - shutting down can be emotional or technological. Even when it's uncomfortable, we stay and fix it instead of running.
- No self-criticism - we're both convinced the other person is smarter, better at everything, and that we are getting the better end of the deal in this partnership. And we don't allow self-deprecation, even as humour.
- Cheryl always spells things correctly - this is mostly because Andrew uses too many z's (like in realize, instead of the right spelling - realise) or like missing the u in colour or humour.
I'm going to write some more posts in this vein, as there is a lot to say about collaborative partnerships, and I've learned from someone that it's better to have short posts with one main idea than one post covering a million ideas.