10 Things to Keep in Mind When Collaborating With Others

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.

ONE. Compromise

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.

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Scarlet and Sonia on vacation.

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.

3319673304_53ea643fedPerhaps 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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I am asking a student questions about her salsa during our annual 3rd grade salsa taste-testing event.

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.


TEN. Distance

 

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.

 

5 Classy Listening Lessons

Have you ever had a conversation where you felt like the listener was not paying attention? Is there anything less classy than bad listeners? Listening is not natural. Teachers should not assume that their students come equipped with good listening habits. I ALWAYS begin every year with teaching listening skills.

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Listening Is a Partnership

Almost before I tell students my name, I am explaining the top three listening strategies. These are a mantra that we say to ourselves all year long: Stop moving, make eye-contact, and smile. In addition to the mantra, I teach the students the importance of being able to repeat the message you are listening to back to the speaker and ask good questions to clarify meaning and show that you care.

First, Make it a Mantra: “Stop moving, make eye-contact, and… smile;)”

Stop Moving

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Listening takes loads of practice.

Don’t “Freeze” because that is silly and uncomfortable. Kids like the idea of “freezing” because it allows them to stop with feet in the air, weird expressions on their faces, etc. In fact, I have witnessed students standing or sitting perfectly normal get into contorted positions when they hear the word “Freeze!” Then they laugh, fall over, do everything but listen. Just stop moving.

Get set to listen. This is the opposite of freezing. Students should sit down, put down their scissors, pencils, papers, etc., and turn to face the speaker.

One of the things I do in my class for management is I teach everyone to Listening GIF-downsized_largestand at attention. This is great for getting my line nice and straight. I also use it when kids are listening to the announcements. [They are less distracted by things in the room, and my room can be pretty distracting! I have a 9-inch pleco swimming around a 75 gallon fish tank, for crying out loud!] To stand at attention simply means heels together, standing straight, shoulders back, chins up, and I also teach the kiddos to look straight ahead without smiling or even “focusing” on anything. In fact, their gaze should be a little out of focus. They are tin soldiers, waiting for action… passive… lifeless. If this sounds horrible, don’t worry, I only do it when we line up. During the announcements, we stand this way because rather than making eye-contact, kids are putting all of their energy into their ears. They try not to look at anything in the room.

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In addition to the giant pleco, there’s 7 jeweled cichlids in this bad boy.

Now, this attention business is NOT conducive to listening to someone. An alternative reason that I teach standing at attention is so that I can teach the contrast of “At Ease”. Students are instructed to separate their feet shoulder-width, put their hands behind their back (holding them)–this forces their posture to relax and shoulders droop a little; Then can now move their heads around, smile, and make eye-contact. The “Ten Hut” is like saying “Freeze”, but there isn’t the silly element. On the contrary, it is super serious. Then we relax, so that listening is comfortable and focused.

Stillness communicates that you are taking in the information. You are a carefully held container under a spigot in the desert, collecting valuable water that you don’t want to spill.

Eye-Contact

You know what this is and how powerful it can be. Some school thoughts, though…

  • I teach the students the importance of locking each other’s attention through the eyes. We practice with our turn-and-talk partners. I have the students move as little as possible; They should just turn their heads or pivot, slightly. Eye-contact is a hand-shake of vision. It is a commitment to listen.
  • In the classroom it is impossible to make eye-contact with every single student at the same time. I teach my students that they should be looking at my eyes so that when I turn toward them, our eyes meet. I demonstrate, and whenever I give instructions, I survey the room, looking students right into their eyes.
  • paying attentionIf the communicator is directing the listener’s attention to an object or place, the listener should look at what the speaker is referencing. In this instance that place or object is like the eyes of the speaker. It is all about connecting. If you keep looking at the speaker when he/she wants to show you something, you become “disconnected” from the message.

    This is what impressed me so much that I had to write this blog. My students were sharing last night’s homework with their turn-and-talk partners, and the listeners were riveted to the task.

Elyse Rycroft teaches “Whole Body Listening” in “TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM”. She suggests students use not only their eyes, but turn toward the speaker. Listen with your ears, your eyes, your nose, your cheeks, etc.

Smile

After really serious speeches about posture and eye-contact, this one is a relief. And, it is supposed to be. They all laugh when I keep the same serious tone while instructing everyone to “Smile!” I act like I am angry at anyone who does not smile effectively. This gets everyone cracking up. It lightens the mood and does exactly what I want to teach: Listening should be inviting information into your brain. You will be more likely to accept something if you are smiling. You project onto the person you are listening to the idea that this information is nice.  

Smiles foster warm/fuzzy feelings. I don’t’ think I need to explain this.

Active listening; kids can look at you like zombies. Forcing them to smile wakes them up. At “Meet The Teacher Night” one of my student’s parents told me that her son came home on the first day of school complaining about his cheeks hurting. Her inquiry lead to his explaining that his new teacher (me) has everyone smiling all day long. This gave me a laugh. The parent told me that she explained to her son that his teacher wasn’t being “literal”. I assured her that I was. You cannot smile too much! Smile until it hurts! The pain will make the information that you were listening to that much more memorable;)

Second, Put Information Into Your Own Words

  • Listen purposefully, so that you can retell the main points of the message to someone else.
  • Be able to summarize the message of the speaker back to him or her. This will help assess understanding. Did you get the message of the speaker correct? If not, then the storyteller can clarify or even add more detail to support understanding.
  • At the beginning of the year, this provides a fun reason to learn summarizing. You can play games where students practice recounting details of stories back to one another.
  • And, a good listener transitions very nicely into a good reader.
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Listening should be inviting information into your brain.

Third, Questions Show You Care.

Picture telling a friend a story about something that happened to you. It doesn’t have to be all that important. When you are done, your friend turns and walks away without saying a word. What?! That would be sooo rude! Why? We know it is, but can you put it into words? What if your friend waited a moment and then launched into his or her own story. That happens a lot, and sometimes it is no big deal, depending on the conversation. But, if you were telling a significant story about something truly important to you, you’d expect your friend to inquire just a little. There are few better or easier ways for a listeners to show some class and communicate a caring persona than asking poignant questions.

  • “How long were you there?”
  • “When did this happen?”
  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “What happened next? Or, after that?”
  • “Why did you do that?”
  • These kinds of questions show that you are interested. It flatters the speaker with an attentive audience.

Also, questions can clarify.

Fourth, Analyze the Difference Between Listening and Hearing

Hearing is passive, while listening is active.

Hearing is a park that everyone and anyone can visit at anytime. There are dogs barking. Kids are running around, screaming and playing. Bicyclists pedal through the middle of it. A couple relaxes on a blanket only to have a teenager trip over them while trying to catch a frisbee…

Listening is a birthday party. Specific people are invited. Everyone plays a game at the same time. Together, we all sing “Happy Birthday”. No one talks while the birthday boy/girl blows out the candles. Gifts, pleasantries, and well wishes are exchanged. There are no bikes passing through or frisbee catchers crashing the canoodling.

In the same way that you can take all of this listening thought and apply it to reading actively, for fun, you could turn it around and try using reading strategies on listening attentively.

  • Visualize what the speaker is telling you.
  • Identify cause and effect within the storyteller’s message.
  • Use questioning to deepen understanding.
  • Predictions make reading and listening fun and rewarding
  • Summarize the main idea.

Fifth, Assessment: Google Form (10 Questions)

My students loved this! I put together a ten-question, multiple-choice quiz using Google Forms that I read to the class. This was the first time that the kids signed into their Google accounts, so it took some time, but it was worth it. They had to access their Google classroom, and then click on the “Listening Skills Quiz” assignment. Once everyone was logged in and looking at the quiz, the fun began. I read the questions out loud to the class. I also read the answers. I told them that this was not supposed to be tricky. “I am assessing your listening, so listen up: I will tell you the correct answers. If you don’t do well, it is because you weren’t listening.” Their heads nearly exploded. Now, I did not just say that “The second choice is the correct answer,” mind you. I read the quiz with emphasis on certain answers as I circulated the room. If I saw kids wavering between two choices, I’d read it again and give an example. We laughed. The kids were successful. At times I did just say, “The answer to this one is the last choice, your welcome!” They loved it, and quiz-taking began with a super positive experience.

There was a student who did poorly. This was a clear indication that we needed to revisit some of the listening skills. I simply had the kid take it again during recess, and he did fine. This showed the significance of the assessment, however. Here was one child who wasn’t ready to move on with our listening “program”. Now, he is on board.

Post Script(s) for Teachers

  • Only have your students “listen” when they are able to do it properly.
  • Make listening significant. Don’t expect students to be listening to you all of the time. Students shouldn’t be hanging on your every word. In fact, one of theScreen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.40.37 AM questions that students struggled with on my “Listening Skills Quiz” concerned how often they should listen. I will need to adjust this question for next time that I administer the quiz. [Maybe I won’t, and use this as a teaching tool. We’ll see.] I make such a big deal out of listening; It makes sense that students would think it should take precedence over everything. But, this would be exhausting. You hear everything… but listening is work.
  • Have a bunch of ways to get the class’s attention. No matter how interesting your method, kids eventually tune it out (Daniels, n.d.). The clapping works, but gets old. “Touch your nose if you can hear my voice,” whispered a few times is fine once in a while. I started one that  makes kids look around and is fun to say: “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the windows, look at the door.” It gets them moving and looking. I then change it up “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the board… now look at me.” They laugh, because it wasn’t what they expected.
  • Give them time/empower them to be classy listeners. For example, don’t tell everyone to listen, and then start talking before they stop moving or make eye-contact. I usually pause and compliment smiles. This gets everyone’s attention and makes listening fun and attractive.

Sources:

Daniels, N. (n.d.). Listening Exercises for Kids That Actually Work [Web log post]. Retrieved September 9, 2018, from https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/listening-exercises-for-kids/#.W5Rq4ZNKjUI

Rycroft, E. (n.d.). TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM [Web log post]. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://proudtobeprimary.com/teaching-listening-skills/