I had several gut reactions when Jess asked me to contribute to her teacher blog. Immediately, I was flattered she would want my input and ideas on her blog. But that positive feeling quickly vanished and anxiety started to creep in. I’ve never considered myself a writer, and trying to eloquently reflect on my teaching is a real challenge for me. Add to this my inability to make a decision and I’m faced with what I could only describe as writer’s block right out of the gate! Jess, being the great friend and supportive colleague she is, gave me an idea for my first blog post, so I must thank her not only for asking me to contribute, but for giving me that little bit of extra support I needed to get started.
When I first started teaching, one of the most overwhelming aspects of my new career was having to create: a classroom community, lesson plans for reading, math, writing, science and social studies, rules with expectations and consequences, schedules and transition times, behavior charts, worksheets, homework. Although I had almost 3 years of graduate school and a year of student teaching under my belt, I still felt grossly unprepared. Where do I start? What if what I create doesn’t resonate with my students? How do I know that what I’m creating is going to work? I would spend hours drafting and editing, copying, pasting and then cutting, just to start all over again. As I talked to other teachers and visited other classrooms, I would marvel at what was being created throughout my school. But I also felt a bit envious that I hadn’t thought of some of it on my own.
“Don’t reinvent the wheel!” I remember hearing this from more than one professor in graduate school. The idea that you don’t always have to create something from scratch was new to me. My life before teaching was in an advertising agency, where reinventing the wheel was what made you successful. In advertising, if you go into a meeting with a client and simply reused an old pitch idea, you would no doubt lose the pitch. I must admit it took some time to get used to the idea that borrowing another teacher’s idea, or using another teacher’s lessons and activities was OK.
But I’ve learned two important reasons why sharing and imitating ideas can be a good thing in the classroom. The first is that it allows for more collaboration among teachers. There are many days I don’t see any other teachers except the ones that work in my classroom. We are so busy and very rarely get a chance to visit each other throughout the day. When we are borrowing ideas and materials, it provides a reason for communication and collaboration. The second is that borrowed ideas can lead to more consistently throughout the school. The students I teach thrive on structure, routine, and the expected. The more consistent we can be not only in our own classrooms but throughout the classrooms of the school, the more my students are able to process classroom expectations and consequences, content skills and concepts, and specific behavior management techniques.
So, my advice to teachers old and new is to be comfortable borrowing from your colleagues and allow your own ideas to be borrowed by other teachers. You’ll be surprised at how much more well rounded and more collaborative your teaching practice becomes.