October 6th, 2021

Educator Voice: For courageous collaborations between colleagues, start with an invitation

CoronavirusEducationEducator VoiceELAOnline Learning
Screenshot from #CampfireConvosEDU: Courtesy Sean Gaillard and Lainie Rowell

by Sean Gaillard and Lainie Rowell

In our profession, educators are often appreciated for things such as dedication and commitment, but a word that we don’t hear often enough is “courage.” After all, it takes a lot of courage to take on the responsibility of shaping our future. It takes even greater courage to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and make ourselves vulnerable by collaborating with our peers.

We can guess what you’re thinking, “How can I be expected to build a meaningful collaboration with colleagues given everything going on?” We get it. It has never been harder to take on a collaboration, but we are here to tell you that this could be the thing that reignites your passion for teaching and learning as well as improves your well-being. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate project or overly-complicated book study. Collaboration can be simple. It can be a conversation with a kindred spirit. It starts with an invitation.

Collaboration can be simple. It can be a conversation with a kindred spirit. It starts with an invitation.

Even through a traumatic event like the pandemic, teachers and administrators found the courage to leverage technology to collaborate via video conferencing, social media and other tools. Driven by our desire to serve our learners and our need for social connectedness, we realized we are not alone.

In the summer of 2021, we launched a four-week virtual summer camp called #CampfireConvosEDU with over 70 educators from all over the world. The goal: Connect educators who want to continue to learn and share while also providing support for the well-being of our peers. 

Our guiding questions:

  • How do we continue to learn while also focusing on our well-being?
  • How can we be as inclusive as possible?
  • What strategies and tools will provide the most flexibility for participation?

We ended up choosing Voxer as our platform because the app allowed sharing via voice, text, links and images. We also created a Google site filled with resources and articles to support the conversation. We wanted to honor the voice and well-being of our colleagues engaged in our chat series. Additionally, we invited others to serve as “camp counselors” to help move the conversation and to assist us in ensuring everyone felt heard. Check out to see an archive of the site including our discussion prompts.   

What became #CampfireConvosEDU is by no means the definitive educational collaboration, but it did ignite meaningful conversation and sharing amongst educators all over the world. What we noticed in the course of this four-week series is that our Campfire Convos engaged and empowered participants to take next steps for new ideas in another challenging school year, and we drew a number of lessons about the power of courageous collaboration. 

The collaboration continuum

We think of collaboration as a continuum. On one end of the spectrum, we have the “divide and conquer” approach. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the shoulder-to-shoulder, we-are-in-this-together strategy. To be clear, sometimes individual effort is appropriate or necessary. In fact, your team may move back and forth within the spectrum during a particular collaboration. 

Tips for getting started

There are many ways to establish a meaningful collaboration. It is essential to remain open to the idea that we are better together. New ideas and insights from others make us stronger in supporting our learners. Collaboration also gives us an opportunity to embrace the role of learner as well. Educators constantly encourage students to learn through collaboration. By following the same collaborative mindset with our peers, we have an opportunity to create a teachable moment in collaboration for our learners.

It is essential to remain open to the idea that we are better together.

Here are a couple tips to help you get started in a collaborative project.

Think big and start small

We already have many opportunities to collaborate in the schoolhouse. There are committees, PLCs, school improvement teams and even Professional/Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) on the digital front. We believe that those examples can serve as platforms for even deeper and meaningful opportunities for collaborations. Consider taking on smaller collaborations that can grow over time and be open to the messiness that may occur as your team determines focus, goals and direction.

Remain open to unexpected names, faces and ideas

Consider the possibilities for collaboration within your own school, department or district, and don’t let someone else’s title, position or years of experience serve as a barrier to a collaboration. If you share a similar passion or vision in an educational area, then the collaboration will transcend any titles or hierarchy. Also, don’t let geography stand in the way. (We live on different coasts.) Technology helps us remove that barrier!  

Forging new connections creates a culture of courageous action that is a must for all educators.

Sean Gaillard is an educator, administrator, author, keynote, and podcaster. Gaillard is currently principal of Moore Magnet Elementary School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Sean is the author of The Pepper Effect and contributing author of Education Write Now, Volume 2. He is the host of “The Principal Liner Notes” podcast.

Lainie Rowell is an educator, international consultant, writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. She is the lead author of Evolving Learner and a contributing author to Because of a Teacher. An experienced teacher and district leader, her expertise includes learner-driven design, community building, online/blended learning and professional learning.

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