A Tribute to the Most Fun I Ever Had Working with a Partner

December 10, 2009

I have been working for more than four decades, including almost twenty years in creative positions in the private sector where I was, among other things, a newspaper editor, art director for a weekly shopper, and production director for two radio stations. In each of those jobs, I had opportunities to work collaboratively with other creative folks.

When I became a teacher, colleagues kept telling me that there was another teacher in the district I should meet. “You two are so much alike,“ they’d say. “You’d really like him.“ “He reminds me of you.“ But although we graduated from college around the same time and went through the same teacher education program, we didn’t meet until both of us were tapped by our district to join the team developing the district’s dropout prevention initiative, Mike at the middle school level and me at the high school.

I remember when we were introduced at the first team meeting. We laughed when we heard each other’s names because people had been telling him that he should meet me too. And honestly, it didn’t take long until we realized that our colleagues were right; we were meant to work together. It was creative and collaborative magic, and it’s something I hope every one of my students gets to experience sometime in her or his career. There is the contrived collegiality of forced or pre-selected groups (Hargreaves, 1994). Reality ensures that most of us will have to experience this in school or at work, but there is also the serendipitous synergy of true connection.

For almost a decade, Mike and I worked together as The Academia Nuts, presenting dozens of teacher in-services and conference sessions around the counry, speaking as keynoters as well. We covered a wide range of topics including many related to dropout and burnout prevention for students and teachers. We developed numerous curriculum resources including The Decades Project, a series of research-based, high-interest integrated language arts/social studies materials. Our book of themed journal prompts and writing ideas, Nuts and Bolts: Two Hundred Days of Ideas and Inspiration, was selected as a notable book by the National Education Association.

Mike was chosen as a Disney Teacher of the Year, and our work together continued until life intervened and our paths diverged. I became a teacher educator who, because of my experiences as an Academia Nut, clearly understands that people are not fungible and that true teaching and learning partnerships cannot be forced. There is a difference between compliant cooperation and creative collaboration, and I use what I learned from my experience working with Mike to inform my teaching.

My friend and colleague asked me to write him a letter of recommendation recently because he’s applying for a master’s degree program. So here it is, public acknowledgment that any program would be fortunate to have Mike‘s wit, inquiring mind, comprehensive knowledge of history, creativity, curiosity, and caring spirit. If they’d like to laugh, well, that’s a plus, because he embodies the Acadamia Nuts‘ spirit represented by our slogan, “Serious About the Joys of Learning.“

Have you ever experienced creative synergy—the joy of working with someone who is not necessarily like you, but whose intellectual energy combines with yours to help you accomplish more than you could have alone? If you haven’t, don’t give up just because your group/partner experiences haven’t always been successful. Keep seeking kindred minds.

Synergy is the highest activity of life; it creates new untapped alternatives; it values and exploits the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between people.
• Stephen Covey


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