Highlighting and promoting School Teams has been the focus of this year’s eTwinning Spring Campaign. Many eTwinners believe that School Teams enhance teachers’ professional development and help one’s school move forward, but especially improve eTwinning in general and its teachers’ community. Here is my story.
In my school during the school year 2010-2011 we designed and implemented with the help of partners from Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Greece, France, Italy, United Kingdom and Poland an extremely successful eTwinning project entitled “Celebrating eTwinning Football Across Europe”. The school team that worked on the project in my school was made up of the teacher of Physical Education, the teacher of Art and two teachers of English as a Foreign Language. Following the success of World Cup 2010 in South Africa, the founding partners thought about a parallel to the Qualifications for the European Championships 2012 (Poland – Ukraine). 10 countries gathered together around a common theme: football. In order to form a European Football Team, each participating school chose its national football player and developed his biography in English, tackling curriculum contents and using web 2.0 tools to display them. At the same time, schools – that is, students, teachers, parents – got deeply involved in creating a project logo, the choreographies and outfits for the cheerleaders, as well as preparing the football matches that took place across Europe using the same eTwinning Ball, an original Jabulani ball. Its journey can be followed in its blog: http://etwinningball.blogspot.ro/
I knew from the beginning that I would need my colleagues’ help on such a complex project. Leaders need to do a lot of things if they want to see their teams excel. I think that what we did in our school was an embodiment of the power boat metaphor.
We started, in order to create our eTwinning school team and make it ‘tick’, by getting the right people on the power boat. I had an opportunity to assemble an experienced team of talented individuals, and then work with them over time to determine their best seats on the boat, then how to keep those places, as well as the direction we would sail the boat on the eTwinning waves. This way we built a strengths-based team, making use of many super powers teachers all over the world have. Fans of action, fantasy and science fiction films are surely aware of the successful film “The Avengers”, which premiered in April. The team in this film is made up of super heroes – individuals who possess super-human abilities and are dedicated to protecting the public. Have I uttered the word ‘team’? Yes, great minds think alike, and at the same time.
Author Annie Condron has helped me understand with her article here that these are teachers’ super powers:
- Teachers do have X-ray vision – you can’t deny the facts: you can see eyes roving onto a deskmate’s or classmate’s test, you can spot uniform infractions, you can notice a dozing pupil 30 metres away!
- Teachers have super gadgets at their disposal – just like Batman, you rock projectors, iPads and all things eLearning to live up to 21st century;
- Teachers know super memorization – you are able to memorize up to 90 names in a single day!
- Teachers know how to brush hair just by looking at it;
- Teachers are elastic – Physics can’t explain it, but teachers are constantly stretching themselves to do everything a crazy classroom requires: active methods, differentiated instruction, doing mountains of paperwork in a couple of hours, holding parent-teacher meetings with a smile on your face even if disaster approaches, researching ever newer teaching tools and techniques, and much more;
- Teachers can start fires – it is the spark of learning;
- Teachers are super patient;
- Each teacher is equipped with a hammer like Thor, and knows how and when to use it – this is simply called ‘keeping discipline’, and you are not afraid to bring down the hammer when necessary;
- Teachers can deflect distractors – that is, students who try to get you off topic;
- Teachers are able to create force fields around classrooms – a safe, protective classroom environment that welcomes students, no matter what they experience outside the classroom’s doors.
To all these, we added some more, but first let me tell you that what ignited us was the understanding that we needed to have a strategy.
At first, at the beginning of our voyage, we were all rather confused, with all our super powers, and what helped us to move on was grasping the fact that strategy-making was most of the times for most people in most situations about confused individuals eventually reaching common ground. So it was like creating a safari park.
Another metaphor here: the fenced territory – a common framework for everybody, teachers and students involved, simultaneously allowing for various degrees of freedom. And in this safari park collaboration stepped in. Living and working nowadays require us to handle a lot of information, which is really beyond what we can manage alone. Therefore working in teams becomes crucial to accomplish many tasks in less time and with more effectiveness.
Collaboration does work. There are countless success stories based on collaboration: The Beatles in music, Apple and Microsoft in corporate giants, the Wrights brothers in inventions, Warner Bros in entertainment.
It is not about competition, but about contributing – there are no losers or winners, only successful relationships, enhanced skills and group outputs. It was like that for us too. There was tension as well at times, just the right amount to get lots done. We ended up by adding up 4 more super powers:
First, the power of listening – genuine and fruitful relationships are built when the conversational space is filled with everybody’s thoughts and concerns, so we have practised this power of listening a lot.
One more super power is the power of empathy – trying to see beyond one’s own agenda.
Third comes the power of imagination – starting from the small but powerful image of being in this together.
Next comes the power of asking the right questions at the right times. It has worked for us. I am proud of my team’s work. We did build a powerful school team on this project.
We kept ourselves focused on critical targets, removing obstacles using our super powers, and we helped each other – as people with diverse talents and varied interests in reality – build trust in one another. When I decided to lead an eTwinning school team, I knew all the members of the team needed to be able to recognize each other’s strengths and take advantage of these strengths for the benefit of the project. I am fortunate to work in a school with gifted children and extremely dedicated teachers who are very competent individuals; moreover, these team members have complementary competencies, and to these complementary competencies passion and willingness to have fun were added. I think these are the various factors that have made our eTwinning school team work.
Obviously we have continually improved as a unit, debating and connecting all the time. Yet there were obstacles too. I do not mean family constraints, not even financial needs. It is something else. We started with a clear purpose, each of us knew what the goal was and what was in there for our students and ourselves. It turned out differently, and no matter how disappointing – to say the least – this was, it also taught us that it is OK to fail at times, and that negative feedback (as no feedback at all could be considered this way I presume) should be taken without being defensive, with the next project in mind ultimately.