I’ve recently begun communicating with a couple of teachers from the other side of the world. This has been very exciting, but also attitude-altering in several ways. I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned at the outset of attempting to foster these new relationships with international colleagues.
I begin with the most basic and obvious. Clearly, for any collaboration to get off the ground, there must be give and take. An airplane needs both aerodynamic wing design AND speed. Without the one it is a very fast weird-looking car, and without the other it is little more than a model of a plane. Speed pushes the air around the wings so that the craft lifts off of the ground. Hopefully, you get the picture, but if you want to go down that rabbit-hole, enjoy. I’ll see you later:)
TWO. Active Listening
This means seeking to understand. Because we are only using text, and my collaborative partner comes from a totally different *everything from me, I must be a super sleuth to find context for concepts. One thing I try to do is “un-think” much of my expectations, as well as not assume that my partner knows American educational habits. This past week I had Monday off due to snow. Then, Friday there wasn’t school for students because of Professional Development. Do my international teaching friends experience these conundrums?
*In addition to all of the concrete differences and experiential differences, there are the attitudes and mindsets that will be different. Are days off considered “off” to people in other countries? Perhaps time away from school is full of more work than being in school.
THREE. Give Up Google
Don’t have a stroke Alice Keeler, but not everyone in the world uses Google. I do, and I love it. In fact, I spend more time in my G suite than my house. (Right now, I’m typing this in Google Doc, planning to copy and paste it into WordPress.)
This may be hard to imagine for some, but what if there were something better than Google? Right now, America is the most powerful and largest tech market, but it isn’t the biggest. China and India dwarf the U.S.A. Were those countries to develop a system that worked better and was even more easily accessible, Google would be Lincoln Logs next to Legos. As collaborators and educators, we would do well to have an open mind and try out whatever our partner wants to use.
All that being said, there is the whole if you set it free and it comes back to you business. I did suggest Google to my pen pals. One person is familiar with Google, and her students use Drive. Another person’s students don’t. With this second collaborator I will be using ePals program to connect my students with hers. We will see how it goes.
FOUR. Swallow Pride
This will read funny after what I just said, but when I found out a collaborating partner from another side of the world didn’t use Google very much, I thought, “Great! An opportunity to show you how awesome, useful, and helpful it its!” I did not email this sentiment, however. Instead, I thought about what the goal of our collaboration should be. Did this person sign up to have her students pen pal with mine, only to have me preach at her about the benefits of Google? We both expect to grow and learn through the experience, but I don’t want to turn off my partner by acting or even dreaming of tech superiority.
You arrange to hangout with someone. The new friend suggests riding bikes to a park for a picnic lunch. Do you insist that the two of you drive? “It’ll be faster. The lunch won’t spill or cool off. It’s more convenient…” For you, maybe. If you insist on driving, you could drive your friend away. Even if the new acquaintance agrees to be driven, and the lunch doesn’t spill or cool off, your fragile new relationship could.
Perhaps your partner has driven a car before–Maybe they have a Ferrari sitting in the garage that you’ll be able to experience if you allow the friendship to blossom naturally.
FIVE. Keep it Consistent: “Rotisserie Relationship”
Keep it moving. Try to stay on top of communication. Maybe even agree on frequency. Do you expect to hear from each other once a week, every other day. Might you be setting yourself up for failure hoping to correspond every day? Take turns and practice a comfortable, reliable back and forth.
SIX. Adjust the Temperature
When cooking marshmallows over a fire, there are three ways to do it.
- Grab a raw marshmallow from the bag and plop it in your mouth. You might be too impatient to wait. Or, maybe you just prefer raw marshmallows to gooey, sticky ones.
- Thrust the marshmallow right into the flames of the fire. It will light up like a torch. Let it burn for a few seconds. After blowing out the flames, you plop the carcinogen-crusted half-melted marshmallow in your mouth. These have some yummy melted marshmallow, but the papery skin sticks to the roof of your mouth and tastes burnt, which it is. And, the center is still raw.
- You know how this one goes. The experienced, patient person waits for the fire to burn to red-hot embers. He finds just the right stick and wittles the end while he waits. Once the cooking conditions are just right, the master marshmallow melter delicately develops a rich brown color on all sides by slowly spinning the fat white column over the heat… checking often for discoloration. The most important thing to know is that it isn’t the flame that cooks the marshmallow; It’s the heat. Embers are hotter than flames, but they take time to develop.
SEVEN. Don’t Pile On
Personally, I have too much to say, in general, clearly;)
I have to work at taming myself to 1 or 2 ideas per communiqué. This is not my strong suit, but I have found that too many ideas can smother a relationship. If you put too many sticks on a fire, do you know what happens? It dies out. (I’m still thinking about those marshmallows.) Fire needs to breath. It is best to add just a few sticks at a time. Let them catch. Then add more. Or, when adding a lot of wood to a fire, be sure that there is an air vent; a place where oxygen can reach the heart of the fire.
When participating in a conversation, try to be masterful about it. Add thoughts that have to do with what other people are talking about. Only tell one story and limit the details. Give listeners the opportunity to ask to hear more. Don’t hog the mic. And, never drop it. Inevitably, it will definitely land on your metaphorical foot.
EIGHT. Be Humble
This may exist as “Eight” in the list, but can be woven in and out of every sentence of this blog. In other words, it is every number.
Humility can be your savior. Back to the “Driving to the picnic” analogy: How would your partner feel if he or she only owned a bicycle, and you show up in a Ferrari? You may as well rev your engine and run over the partner’s pet dog on your way to your picnic. Hubris is killer.
NINE. Questions Show You Care
Always include questions. Again, only a couple; don’t make your correspondent feel like he is taking a survey. It might work well to volunteer your own answer to the question that you asked your new friend. I recently told my pen pal about having to take a “snow day” because of inclement weather. Then I asked if it snows where she lives. A better question, now that I think about it, would have been, “What kinds of things might cause you and your students to close up shop and not have school for a day or more?” Yeah, I think I’m going to go type that into my next correspondence.
And, now that my list is just about over and you have come to the end of this blog, I will practice what I preach by asking you:
- Which of these ideas resonated with you and why?
- What experience have you had communicating with people from other countries?
- How did you get in touch with these individuals? (Others might be interested in starting a collaborative project, so provide some specifics, including links, please.)
- What do you plan to do with the information that you just read?
I ask you these questions because I care; more than caring that you read this blog, I care about people collaborating effectively. I care about people making friends, working together, growing as humans. I care for humanity… evolving to be better.
This is related to “Don’t Pile On” (no. 7). Make sure that there is enough space for your partner to provide suggestions.
Relationships are like a simple game of catch. Is it fun to toss a ball to someone who is 2 feet from you? No. The further away, the better.
You start off close, but with mastery, you move further from one another. There will come a point when the distance becomes too challenging or ineffective. And then, you make adjustments. This space can be applied to time, proximity (you are not going to email the person sitting next to you), and ideas (tossing the same thought back and forth gets boring).
Okay. All done. Now, back to “Questions Show You Care”, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this… Well, on part of this… Okay, just tell me nice things… No, really, I want to read your thoughts, whatever they are. Just frame them nicely, please. Thank you.