Professional Development

Introverted Teachers Aren’t Sold on Push for Collaborative Time

By Ross Brenneman — January 27, 2016 2 min read
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Teamwork: Great concept. Many educators and organization extol the virtues of collaborative teacher time.

But constant collaboration might not be to everyone’s tastes. Michael Godsey, an English teacher in San Luis Obispo, Calif., wrote in The Atlantic on Monday that collaboration is not a perfect form of classroom instruction of professional development for all teachers, fleshing out an argument that several others have made as well:

[Teachers] finish various meetings with various adults and go straight to the classroom, where they feel increasing pressure to facilitate social learning activities and promote the current trend of collaborative education. This type of schedule and expectation for constant social interaction negates the possibility to psychologically ‘recharge’ in relative solitude, something that’s crucial to many introverts.

Godsey, speaking for the introverted, says that rather than improve practice, collaboration can be a distraction from time that some teachers would prefer to use on self-reflection (another practice with many advocates) and maybe there just isn’t time to do both. And OK: Students learn differently, teachers learn differently, too. Everyone should do what works for them, right? Well, Godsey says it doesn’t always work out that way:

[T]he district assigned to me a mentor to help orient me—he took me out to coffee, and we just talked about good literature and lesson ideas for an hour. The principal, visibly flustered that we didn’t observably ‘do anything,’ assigned me a new mentor who, among other things, encouraged me to divide my class into cooperative groups and then share the results with my department and administration.

Godsey’s essay (which is spectacularly linked, if you want to read a lot more background information on the issue), draws on a number of anecdotes and studies to hammer home the benefits of differentiated professional development that accounts for a teacher’s personality, and the risk of introverted teachers burning out.

There are a few things to consider here:

While Godsey defines introversion (and points out that few people are wholly introverted), it’s harder to pinpoint his definition of collaboration: Is it only meetings of professional learning communities? Department meetings? Faculty meetings? Mentor sessions?

If it’s all of those things, then yeah! That’s exhausting for people across the Myers-Briggs spectrum. As Hamilton Nolan has written at Gawker (in an essay deprived of the Pulitzer it deserved), most meetings are useless:

Carving a decree onto a stone tablet would ultimately be a more efficient communication tactic than holding ‘meetings.’ The biggest idiot in the room could simply consult the tablet with any questions. Everyone else could get on with their work. ... I submit to you that the true underlying purpose of most ‘meetings’ at work is not to inform people of things. It is to demonstrate to the company that the managers and supervisors are doing stuff.

Some meetings may be disguised as “collaboration” when in fact they are useless gatherings of people with better things to do; a December 2014 report from the Boston Consulting Group found this to be common. And as Peter DeWitt writes at his Finding Common Ground blog:

Not everyone understands what collaboration actually means. Unfortunately, too many people want collaboration to mean that they are right and everyone should follow suit ... it’s not about learning from others ... it’s about learning from them (in their eyes)!

Godsey’s (and others’) aversion to the amount of time spent collaboration may certainly be rooted in fundamental distaste for a practice that many find helpful. But it may also be inflamed by implementation that undermines what researchers would point to as best practice around collaborative PD time. (PD problems are so often implementation problems.)

But if the practice itself is sound, perhaps principals just need to figure out how to give introverted teachers some space. As Godsey writes: Having well-run collaborative sessions, then sending teachers back into classrooms where collaborative learning can also dominate, may leave an introverted teacher mentally and emotionally drained for the day, unable to breathe in an environment that extroverted teachers may very well thrive in. For those teachers, the best collaborators may be a yoga mat and Adele.

More on collaboration and reflection:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.