“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
This is a quote from the recently completed television series, Game of Thrones. Some version of this quote shows up four times in the books the show is adapted from. All of the references are in connection to Arya Stark, the youngest daughter of one of the main noble houses, who spends much of her story arc as a lone wolf fighting to survive. The words, first spoken to her by her father, bring her comfort and strength to survive.
The Golden State Warriors are headed to the final round of the NBA playoffs for the fifth year in a row. No team has done this in over 50 years, when the league had fewer teams and fewer rounds in the playoffs. The team motto the last five years has been “Strength in Numbers.” No team wins without a little adversity and having lost the league’s best player a couple weeks ago, the rest of the team has stepped up in his place and continued to win.
On the basketball court, in the game of thrones, and in the classroom - the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. There may not be many lines of dialogue from Game of Thrones I’d want to use as inspiration for educators but this is one of them. After watching the series finale last week and a day later seeing the Warriors clinch their trip to the Finals I was reminded of these words and the power of community and collaboration.
On a personal note, it’s been a tough school year for me and with a few weeks left we’re nearing the end. Beyond our record snowfall and consequent snow days earlier this year, with other personal and family struggles included, it's been difficult to find a good teaching rhythm. This quote serves as a mantra that encapsulates my value of community and collaboration that are needed for me to survive and thrive. I wouldn’t be writing this without the support of my pack - at school, in my professional network, and at home - but I'd like to focus on what this phrase means for me as an educator.
At School with Colleagues - The Pack Survives
My first year teaching I was at a small school where I was the only teacher teaching Biology and Anatomy. Not only did I have typical first-year teacher struggles, but I didn’t have the support of my peers with whom I could collaborate and share ideas. It was harder for me than it needed to be and my students did not learn as well. No matter how long I’ve been teaching, my students learn better when I discuss, learn, and grow through conversations with my peers.
I’m not perfect. I’m not always the best collaborator, but I understand I'm a better teacher when I work with others. My students benefit from new ideas and strategies. Collaboration isn’t always easy, but as a teacher my job is easier when I work with others. Most often we aren’t the only teacher teaching a subject or grade level. Sometimes we are a lone wolf, based on our subject, but twitter can be a great place to connect and collaborate with others in our district, region, or around the world. Why wouldn’t we work together? Why recreate the wheel?
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Teacher collaboration, like any other workspace collaboration, can be a blessing and a struggle, but the time developing bonds that make it effective is necessary. In my current role, I support teachers in implementing research and information literacy skills into the curriculum. I literally can’t do my job by myself. But teachers need time to collaborate and they need time to grow departmental and cross-curricular connections that improve vertical and grade-level alignment. The pack needs to be nourished through professional development and the time it takes to implement to grow and be healthy. That’s for another post.
In the Classroom - The Pack Survives
We can look at the classroom pack from multiple angles. On a broad scale, students benefit from a feeling of community in the classroom and from feeling connected at school. The need for building positive relationships with students built on trust is a necessity in the classroom. On a more individual level, we also want to develop collaboration skills in our students. Collaboration is an anchor standard for CCSS ELA speaking and listening.
Collaborating with diverse partners really stands out to me in the standard above. As adults, we struggle working together at times, yet we ask students to collaborate and don't necessarily teach them how to collaborate. When we are able to discuss different ways to collaborate and why different styles might be important to choose for different tasks we can better set up students for success in collaboration. Below is a starting point for discussing types of collaboration with students.
Whether we take the broader classroom community building approach or a more specific approach focusing on building collaboration among students (and they often would go hand-in-hand), how are we creating environments of support within our classrooms that inspire team building over competition?
The Pack Survives across the State and the Nation
There is great strength in unions. Like the Warriors slogan, Strength in Numbers, public educators across Washington state survive together. We’ve seen a number of large districts and teacher unions locally and nationally on strike more recently, fighting for school, classroom, and teacher resources and pay. Not every state has teacher unions, but research shows we are stronger together.
I’m blessed to be part of this Corelaborate cohort of bloggers. I’m blessed to have this platform to write and share these words and that you’re reading them. I’m blessed to work with our Teacher Leaders across the state who come together to raise and share teacher voices and experiences that call out the need for Common Core and College and Career Readiness. Part of preparing for our future is helping our students identify their packs and making sure they are ready for “when the snow falls and the white winds blow…”
I'm left sitting here with questions about how this would look in practice and what impact could be made if we truly prioritized a "strength in numbers" approach across the school, classroom, and nation. What would our schools look like if we collaborated for the success of all teachers? What would our classrooms look like if one student not meeting a standard meant the whole class hasn’t met that standard? If one union gathered the support of us all?
I don't have answers, but I do have a pack that can help me find answers.
What’s your pack? Let's run together.
While you're here be sure to check out other great blogs from the Corelaborate pack posted during the month of May:
Superhero Swap - Honoring Diversity Everywhere from Ali Reykdal
The Love U Get from Irene Smith
Learning By Doing from Jodi Crimmins
PD on the GO! from Dyan Fast
Unpacking the Delinking State Test Bill (HB 1599) from Mary Moser
- Building Relationships
- Common Core State Standards
- Teacher Collaboration