Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Collaborating with Teams!

Collaboration is a wonderful thing - it's good for the students and it's good for both you as the media specialist and for the classroom teacher. We are often more enthusiastic and creative when we have a partner to work with and share the task of completed a project. When I was working on my undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education and during my Master's Degree for Library and Information Science, collaboration was like the coveted gauntlet; held high and gleaming for all to see, the  epitome of a perfect teaching scenario.

In the real world of an elementary school, planning time for collaboration is minimal. At my school, classroom teachers do have a 50 minute planning time during their specials (Art, Music, PE) and a duty free lunch. This may not seem like a lot, but based on my experience at other schools, this is a rare gift. However, I do not have a planning period and my 30 minute lunch is often more like five to ten minutes because the library never closes. If we're not having scheduled lessons, and even if we do, we have a steady flow of traffic from students coming in to use the computers to finish up projects or checking out books. Teachers are using their lunch breaks to come and look for books or as a tech question. Parents drop by throughout the day to ask for help choosing books for them to read aloud since they're the mystery reader for their child's class that day - oh wait - they really mean it's in five minutes. We're busy. Very busy. And dedicated eating and planning time gets pushed aside. Coordinating my open times on the media center calendar with the grade level planning times is almost impossible.

So, how do I ever get any collaborative planning done? It's not easy. Snippets of time after a lesson or before as students get settled. Passing in the hallway. Emailing back and forth. Sharing an idea on Facebook because we're friends in real life and online. Before a faculty meeting and sometimes during (shhh...). We  find whatever time we can and that works. Kinda. It's not great, but it's better than nothing.

And then everything changed.

I'm sure you're wondering, "What happened? Did your school day get longer so everyone gets a planning period at the same time?" Um, no. Nothing drastic like that. What happened is that I learned something. I learned about Microsoft Teams and everything changed.

Both my media assistant (officially she's a paraprofessional, but I've always hated how that sounds - is she only partly professional?) and are working with about 15 other staff members to earn Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) certification. We're in a very large and very supportive school district and fortunate to have trainings such as this one offered to us on a regular basis. And get this - the trainings are usually FREE! I know! It's pretty amazing, right?

Our district is a "Microsoft" district versus a "Google" district meaning they've invested in the suite of Microsoft tools. We've been using Office 365 for a couple of years now (even all the students have accounts). Teams is a part of the Office 365 package and let me tell you, I love it. Seriously, I love it.

Why do I love Teams? It's an amazing way to collaborate. Plain and simple.

My first MIE class was on Teams and one of the things the instructor pointed out was that it was a great way to have conversations with co-workers without clogging up your email inbox. My email inbox is out of control, so that peaked my interest. Then the instructor talked about how she has different teams set-up, based on different projects.

Lightbulb moment!

What if I set up teams for each grade level - including a team for our Target (advanced learning) teachers and for the project I'm working on with the Guidance Counselors? And then, what if I invited all the staff members for each team to join the teams I'd set up? And THEN, what if I posted a cute, welcoming message reminding them  how much I love collaborating with them, how my job is to make their job easier, and how I hoped they'd share ideas of things they wanted to try or had even just read about. AND THEN, what if I said how I'd use the teams group to share ideas I found for upcoming standards or new books I'd ordered that would support what they're teaching.

Well, let  me tell you - and I am not exaggerating about this I promise - within an hour of sending out the invites I had four people respond. FOUR! Now, maybe that's not impressive to you, but to me it changed everything.

I began having collaborative conversations with the teachers. We shared ideas. Booked time on the media center scheduled. Shared files that would help with the lessons we were planning. The more conversation we had online, the more ideas kept flowing! in the few weeks that I've been using Teams, I've had more productive  collaborative planning than I've ever had.

Teams is amazing not only because you can have wonderful conversations and share documents, but it's all "in the cloud," and you can edit what you typed in case you want to add that one extra thing you just remembered. All without clogging up your email inbox.

But what's even better? It's like a giant file folder or binder that you don't have to worry about misplacing or having a super important paper fall out or get crumpled at the bottom of your school bag. Because it's all in the cloud, you can refer back to it today, next week or even next year! Think of how much easier planning will be from now on if you can just search the team conversations and pull up what you need? Not that you want to always teach the same thing each year  - I always have to tweak things and sometimes previous lessons just don't work with a certain group of students - but having the Teams conversations allows you to add in notes, make reflections, add files during the summer break when you find something awesome that would make your lesson even better.

Teams is now my go-to collaborative tool. I'm not ending the "stolen moments" planning of the past, but Teams offers a richer opportunity for planning and it's all in one nice and neat spot that you cannot lose. Unless the internet implodes. And if that happens, we've all got a much bigger problem on our hands. :)

If you aren't using Teams yet, I highly suggest giving it a try. I'm by no means an expert, but I'm happy to help you in any way I can. I'll be adding some tutorial videos to my YouTube "Tech Tips" playlist to help you out as well.

I hope you find Teams to be as useful and life changing as I did. If you did, please share your experiences!

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