As I downloaded memory cards full of photos from the last month, the word “collaboration” kept popping into my mind. The images of first graders working with seventh grade Buddies, third graders, Ilut visitors, each other and adults from throughout the community, were a great testimony to how the children have grown in their ability to share materials, exchange ideas, respect others contributions, negotiate, compromise and politely disagree with each other.
Collaboration doesn’t happen right out of the gate but strengthens over time as children grow to trust their environment and the people in it. Effective teamwork takes behind-the-scenes scaffolding that has been in place throughout the year. We learn how to be active listeners and practice the art of asking good questions. That doesn’t mean that we always exhibit these skills, but we continue to practice, model and reinforce them.
Collaboration is recognizing and respecting that each contributor has a different set of skills to bring to projects. It is understanding that some children may need a little extra time to formulate their ideas while others may need to monitor their airtime and allow other voices to enter the dialogue. Through collaboration we discover children’s strengths (and weaknesses) in organization, fine motor skills, verbal abilities, literacy skills, problem solving, critical thinking, spatial sense and other areas. The children are building a foundation of skills, both social and academi
c, that they will need in their tool boxes as they collaborate with each other for the next seven years at Brookwood and beyond. Here are a handful of ways that we have collaborated with others recently.
With the rain Gods not on our side for Earth Day’s outdoor community clean up, we switched gears and created Earth Day posters with our seventh grade Buddies. Each team brainstormed slogans, images and messages encouraging members of the community to reduce their carbon footprints.
Afterwards, we accompanied our older friends to the eighth grade Science Fair where we watched interactive presentations and heard proposed ideas such as carpooling to school, moving to biodegradable notebooks instead of metal spiral bound ones and using iPads as a more sustainable forum for schoolwork. Impressively, the first graders did not just listen to these ideas, but some were brave enough to speak up in a room full of older, unfamiliar students and ask questions such as, “Is your idea just for the Upper School or is it for the other grades, too?” and “Who do you need to talk to to make your idea happen?”
On Friday a group of third graders also stopped by to learn about the first graders “All About” Nonfiction book-making process. The older students are in the midst of the genre themselves and wanted to see our books and get some advice from our young writers. The pairs went off to read their pages, share their topics, field questions and talk about how the writing process is similar and different between grades.
Since Mr. Wilfahrt’s first grade class had already threaded their metal chess pieces, his students spent the morning guiding us through the process and instructed us how to properly sequence and screw the nuts and bolts together. Our students were appreciative for the support they received and we heard exclamations, such as “Matthew, you’re a great teacher!” Then the pairs went off to play some chess matches together. Competition was tabled as the focus was on teaching friends, pointing out opportunities and deepening their understanding of the complex, strategic game. It was about having the resilience to lose, the modesty to win and the courage and sense of sportsmanship to try again.
Another morning, students visiting Brookwood (link here) from Ilut, Israel, stopped by to teach us some new games. We discovered the patience and persistence that it takes to communicate with people whose primary language is not English. However, through slower speech, visuals and pantomime we were able to exchange stories and answer questions about our different cultures.
The Ilut students shared new experiences from their visit, such as trying roller skating, going to a Broadway play and stepping on an airplane for the first time. We then learned how to play two new games, one featuring numbers and the other colors. We had to think on our feet during these fast paced games.
Collaboration is not only a fun process, but it is at the heart of Brookwood’s philosophy. The New Face of Rigor explains, “We know also that it is not enough to learn to compete against peers in a host of challenges; instead, the student of today must learn to build and sustain the collaborative relationships demanded by the interconnectedness of our world…. We know that our students will someday be required to solve problems of currently unimaginable complexity, and that their own safety and the survival of our world depend ultimately on their having not just the intellectual acuity to understand those problems, but also the skills to work with others of diverse backgrounds as they tackle them, and the ‘conscience, character, compassion and cultural competence’ required to persevere.”
We are on our way!