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A few days ago, I wrote about various ways to collaborate with others using Google Apps for Education, or GAFE. Technology today allows for collaboration in so many ways, but it is important to remember that technology is not always the best way to collaborate.

Sure, it makes it easy for scheduling. Yes, it makes it easier when we can all edit the same version of a document. But one has to consider, why do we collaborate at all? There are some that collaborate for the mere purpose of ‘lesson planning’. Actually, I should say they collaborate because they can trade off weeks and exchange plans. That’s not true collaboration, that is work sharing. There is a difference, and the difference is HUGE.

True collaboration happens when we are willing to be open with each other on a professional level. Not everything we have to say will be rosy and filled with feel good moments, but they are necessary. True collaboration is when after someone calls us out on a practice, we don’t take it personally, and look at it for what it is… an attempt to get the best out of us, so we can give our best to our students. This is why it is important who is a part of your PLN.

Many people have started to use technology as a way to get out of meeting face to face. My intention the other day was not to perpetuate that, but rather to point out that using technology to collaborate has some benefits.

Some PLNs MUST meet in person. And by meet, I don’t mean just sit down and chat. Teachers should go into other teachers classrooms and watch them teach. Get out of your comfort zone. Of course, this also means that we must be open to having others come watch us. I can honestly say that we have had so many people come into and out of our rooms since going paperless, I rather like it. I no longer worry at all when it is time for the “formal observations”. To me, it’s just another day… I make the visitors a part of the audience. They get included, like it or not. Yes, I know we could do a Google Hangout of the class, but in truth, that doesn’t get the whole picture. Sure, it’s great. Kids love it. But as a teacher, I want to feel the room. I want to read body language, expressions. I want to feel the enthusiasm the students and teacher have, and that can get dulled when done digitally.

The overwhelming feedback has been good. Teachers are always reluctant at first of watching other teachers. We like to think that we are already doing the best we can do for our students. But once we get past that, we take things to a new level. Not only are we able to develop new ideas for ourselves, we are able to discuss ideas with the person we watched. True collaboration happens here.

Of course, this also forces those teachers who tend to just sit behind a desk as the students read another chapter, to themselves, then answer the questions at the end of the chapter… by themselves, to do something other than just sit. After all, no one wants to be known as that teacher. Do they?

Don’t be afraid to step into other rooms. To make it even better, step into rooms that are out of your subject area. There are teachers doing great things all over the world, and those great things are only known to themselves, and the administrator doing their evaluations. In order to truly grow as educators, we have to be willing to be open to new ideas, be open to change.

It’s not that unreasonable, when you think about it… in fact, is that not the very thing we tell our students they need to do in order to succeed? Should we not practice what we preach?