When you are a music specialist – or art specialist….. or pretty much anything besides a regular classroom teacher it is sometimes hard to find really great opportunities for collaboration because in many cases, no one that you come into regular contact with is doing what you are doing.

If you are blessed enough to have a co-teacher of any kind, whether they are there all day, or just half-day…… enjoy the time you spend collaborating with them because it is a rare gift that in these days of constant budget cuts, may become extinct…. (which would really break my heart)  Over the last 13 years I have been blessed to work with 4 different music teachers.  Some of whom I worked with all day as we were both full time and others were only at my school for a half day.  Each one, like me, brought their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses with them into the classroom. As we worked together through the success of a  large production or  when we leaned on each other so that we could limp through a difficult day, I can honestly say that through the good days and bad,  no one has ever influenced my teaching more than these folks….. simply because we spent a good portion of our time together “talking shop”.

The reality is that our best teaching is not done in isolation and even if you are in a situation where you don’t have someone one your campus doing your same job, you simply must find another teacher   with whom you can share ideas and solve problems. Never underestimate the power of a team made up of all the “specialists”.  Some of my very best and most helpful instructional “pow-wows” have been with the art teachers, p.e. teachers, librarians, counselors, and homeroom teachers on my campus.  In fact, I depend on my team of “block specials” so very much!  They are my very favorite people and they make my job wonderful.
But –
I have to tell you, something that you already know.  Having a chance to collaborate with folks who live your subject area day in and day out just like you is a precious gift.  When you get to interact with a professional learning community of people who know your subject as well as you do, it is a thrill to be able to slip into “music” short-hand.  It is a relief to make a statement like… “This song highlights low sol -do.”  or, ” I found this great ostinato…”  and not have to translate for yourself.

Both types of groups, (my campus “specialist” team AND my music teacher pals)  are needed!  Otherwise I am missing out on an essential part of my professional development.

Today I was reminded of how powerful collaboration can be because I attended a planning meeting for our district music in-service.  In-service days are always at a high premium around here and there have been some years where we music teachers have only had a half day to plan with fellow music teachers.  Imagine our excitement when we were given the chance to plan for an ENTIRE day this coming August!  We divided up into teams to plan various portions of the day and today was the day that my group met to plan our part.

Can I just tell you that we had a BLAST!

I got to meet with 3 other ladies who even though we’ve never taught together we’ve known each other for years.  Initially we said that we’d plan our little section of the day in about 45 minutes……After all, it is summer…. AND we only had to plan 2 hours of an all day event….How long can it take?  Well, we arrived at 9:00 a.m. and were still happily sharing ideas and shaping the time we will spend together  at noon.  We finally decided to go to lunch and we continued to “talk shop” till after 2:00!

Now I must admit that a good chunk of that time we spent together was time spent catching up…. I hadn’t seen two of my friends since LAST August!  So there was plenty of catching up to do.  Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have been nearly as creative in my thinking about our “lesson” had I not had the opportunity to collaborate with these wonderful ladies.

The amazing thing was that even though we all had a pretty unified idea about what our goals and objectives were, our approach was quite varied and when it came time to choose repertoire, I was seriously impressed because although we’ve been teaching the same subject for all of these years, using the same TEKS and curriculum our bag of tools is as unique as we are.  As we were choosing songs, I was amazed at the number of songs I had never heard before! The best part was that we were able to gel the ideas together so that there was room for all of the best work.  When all of our ideas were collected, it was MUCH easier to prioritize because we weren’t limited to just the ideas we could come up with on our own.   Often you hear administrators and academic coaches talking about finding the “experts on your team”.  I think today was a perfect example of that type of planning.  We all brought our best to the meeting, and our August day together will be better for it.

I was so refreshed, encouraged and ready for a great start to a new school year that I was actually challenged to remember to advocate for my time with my co-teacher.  We NEED that time together so that we are truly on the same page…. If you are like me, that time of real collaboration is the first thing that gets set aside when life at school gets busy. Furthermore, I was challenged to be more diligent to seek the opportunities for collaboration outside of my own school, because experiences like I had today are like gold.  Today will “buy” me a whole lot of good teaching because the time was precious and worth every penny 🙂