- Working together as a team, being a “we” is incredibly powerful.
- We can find creative ways to problem-solve and inspire our students.
- Finding ways we can collaborate to create interdisciplinary units can have a profound impact.
I’m a middle school teacher, so I’m always a “we.” The team of teachers I’m a “we” with ebbs and flows from five to eight teachers each year. But it has had at least a few consistent players for almost a decade. I’m a firm believer in the power of collaboration. And since we meet daily as a team, I have a consistent front-row seat to what it can look like. Various descriptions have included: “herding cats” and “hot mess express.” But for the most part, I’ve gotta say, our team is top-notch.Working together to create something special that makes kids feel special brings us closer together as teachers. Click To Tweet
On a daily basis, it looks like several very different teachers and personalities working together to manage everything from mundane daily business to creative problem-solving around the needs of over 100 students. And while it might not all feel like bucket-filling work, we do spend a great deal of time together laughing, supporting, and listening to each other. And this alone, I know, makes each of us a better teacher. Our constant belief in the power of “we.”
Creating Interdisciplinary Units
I’d say the most supremo, fabuloso thing we do that overflows my bucket and leaves a superbly lasting impact, the thing we do that requires the most “we” of all, is our interdisciplinary units. This is also known as IDU’s (and easily confused with a variety of other acronyms). This is when we all come together—our content areas and our very varying skills — to create something totally outside the box, interactive, engaging, and imaginative for our kids. We’ve done a variety of IDUs. But the one that we’ve taken most next-level is our CSI Whodunnit Mystery IDU.
This CSI IDU was brought to our team by a generous teacher from another team who did it at another school. We took the awesome resources she gave us and then set to work growing and evolving them into something of our own. It’s a week-long IDU that involves creating daily alternating schedules. We bring in outside speakers including lawyers, stenographers, and journalists. And we build a crime scene with DNA and fingerprints so realistic David Caruso would be proud. Our kids investigate, read witness statements, write articles, do science labs, interrogate suspects, and hold court. And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Planning and executing this IDU requires our team to take full advantage of our varying skills. And the end result, because of our teamwork, is something bigger and better than any of us could have imagined alone. Now, do we ever have conflict along the way, disagree, or drop the ball? Never. Am I lying about that? Absolutely. It’s tough working with a team—relying on each other and making dozens of decisions together. But it can be unbelievably powerful, too. I could talk far beyond a reasonable blog word count about all the lessons and activities that make this IDU awesome. (Another time, maybe…) But, mostly it’s not about the what, it’s about the who.
Seeing the CSI Unit in Action
We teach different kids every year—100 to 150 kids on our team, all with their own unique needs and personalities. And for the past seven years that we’ve done our CSI IDU, it’s our students who have made it feel like a huge success. In our toughest years. With our most challenging kids. When we are barely hanging on. When the academic, behavioral, and emotional needs have been so great we’ve questioned doing it. We’ve always pushed ahead, and we’ve never regretted it. And more than that, we get to see our kids surprise us with their engagement, amaze us with their work ethic and perseverance, and make us so proud.
I can literally remember the looks on specific kids’ faces when they figured out an important piece of evidence, saw the crime scene for the first time, got called for jury duty, or got presented a gavel and robe because they’d been selected as the judge. I can remember our team spending time every day of CSI week sharing stories. How a kid we never saw engaged in school was debating her group and applying to be a lawyer. A kid who never lifted his head in class was leading his group to sketch evidence in the crime scene. Kids who never smiled told us how much they loved interrogating the suspects. And kids who rarely came to school did not miss a single day that week.
We even did our CSI IDU during remote learning, carrying around laptops to show the kids at home the evidence, to help them participate in the court case, and be on the jury. And, they surpassed our every expectation. I’m not saying things go perfectly or that if you do an IDU life will be unicorns and rainbows. But, I am telling you, I’ve never seen anything like it.[scroll down to keep reading]
The Power of We
Working together to create something special that makes kids feel special brings us closer together as teachers. It challenges us to do things that are more than we feel capable of doing alone. And it makes us feel energized and inspired. I love the collaboration. I love the collegiality, and I love love love the black leather jacket I wear on interrogation day when I play the role of suspect extraordinaire, Serpentine Jabberwocky. The whole thing, as challenging as it is, brings an awful lot of joy. But the truly amazing thing is the kids. And the black leather jacket. But mostly the kids.
Now, I am 100% not saying to dive in tomorrow and create a week-long IDU from scratch. I do not want to be one of those people who tells you how amazing something is that you should totally try, who doesn’t also acknowledge how much time and effort and time and energy and time it takes to execute. And, did I say time? CSI doesn’t have to work for you. And costumes don’t have to be your thing (but, seriously, who doesn’t love a black leather jacket…?). And a week may be too long to fit into your curriculum map.
But working together to find a starting place, to figure out what could work, and how to make something big feel manageable because you’re doing it together? Working together to plan something creative that engages teachers and students on a new level? Working together to create something that invites kids—all kids—to a learning experience that feels a little bit like a different world? That is the power of we.
About Sara Jessee
Sara Jessee has been a teacher in Illinois for 16 years. For most of that time, she has taught Middle School, specifically 7th grade Lit. & Comp. and Language Arts. The fun, energy, creativity, and learning that come with teaching middle school make her love the work she does. Sara works hard to give students opportunities to engage with meaningful and diverse texts and help them become aware, informed, active citizens who add value to the world around them.
She has also been a middle school drama director for 10 years, and often writes scripts with the drama students who love bringing their unique, creative ideas from the page to the stage. Sara is also an assistant graphic designer with Teach Better, and she greatly enjoys working with a team of people who bring so much conversation, joy, and inspiration to the world of education.