September 14, 2018

Mini Musings - Breaking Down Silos

A common conversation in education nowadays centers around the concept of “breaking down silos.” Teachers are encouraged to spend more time together, to plan together, and to collaborate with their colleagues across disciplines and grade levels. An administrator might say: “Get into other teachers’ classrooms and watch them teach.” Another will suggest: “Share all of your curricular documents and get familiar with others’.” The intention is, of course, for teachers to put their heads together to problem-solve, to generate lessons together, and to make explicit interdisciplinary connections. It turns out that changing teachers’ work habits is harder than it sounds. I’ve lived within the silo, and its walls don’t readily dissolve.

The silo of one’s classroom or teaching discipline is a rather comfortable place. As a teacher I have often sought the quiet refuge of my room between a busy schedule of classes. I’ve been reticent to vocalize my ideas in divisional meetings, and reluctant to share my plans within my own department. I mean, what if what I had to offer wasn’t good enough? I’ve even heard colleagues in various settings talk of their lesson plans as “intellectual property” they’d labored to create; sharing was out of the question. Not so at The McGillis School.

After a few short weeks with our teachers, I can confidently sing their praises. They are constantly collaborating, designing dynamic and engaging lessons, sharing ideas, giving one another feedback, and -- not surprisingly -- having a good time together.

When I joined the McGillis community this summer, I did so thinking that I was entering a healthy, collaborative learning environment. Each day has affirmed my expectation. Every learning space within our Middle School is a humming hive of activity. Trading one cliché metaphor for another -- the silo for the hive -- is appropriate in this case, as our teachers truly know how to work together. Whether it be within the O.E.E. department, our Integrative Studies teams, our world language wizards, or our math magicians, McGillis teachers are constantly collaborating and learning from one another.

The benefits of our collaborative culture are tangible for students and teachers alike. In fact, when I first visited McGillis last spring, a student noted: “I’ve noticed that our teachers are really working well together this year. I mean, they’re always hanging out, and they all seem to know what’s going on in every classroom. It’s a little weird, but I like it.”

I like it too. What a joyful place to learn and grow!

Tim Campbell

Middle School Director