How Two Teachers are Radically Collaborating

Hear from two teachers who are choosing to do the work together, even when it’s harder or takes longer

By Elsa Fridman Randolph

This is the first installment in a series of exchanges, which occurred on Slack, a messaging and archiving tool for teams, between Regan Drew and John Marshall of Riverpoint Academy’s Trep Studio. In this series, Regan and John will explore several themes related to being teacher designers. In this first installment, the team reflects on their collaborative process.

Teacher Designers: Regan Drew & John Marshall

Regan Drew and John Marshall run Trep Studio at Riverpoint Academy, an innovative public high school in Spokane, Washington. Riverpoint Academy was formed using the design thinking process and began with the challenge of re-envisioning public school. The school is structured around the belief that learning should be interdisciplinary, connected to the “real” world and project-based. There is no traditional schedule at Riverpoint. Instead of learning various subject matters broken down into discrete periods, students spend all day with the same teachers and take on real-world challenges. Using a design process to develop solutions, the students then work to implement them. Professionals from the community work with students in order to create authentic learning experiences as they dive deeply into subjects ranging from science and engineering to arts, the humanities and entrepreneurship.

Our school day and how we have structured that, helps foster this ability to “radically collaborate” — and yes, we have done it in the public school system. We are lucky. Each year since our school has been in existence, we’ve been iterating based on user feedback/experience.” — Regan

Regan has been a teacher for thirteen years. Prior to entering education, she spent four years in Marketing and Community Relations for the Seattle Supersonics and Storm. Over the past five years, Regan has focused on the integration of design thinking and entrepreneurship as a focus in her district and at Riverpoint Academy, where she has been teaching for the past three years. She is certified by the Henry Ford Learning Institute as a trainer in design thinking.

John has been a teacher and coach for twenty years. He started out teaching middle school English, social studies and science in Spokane, Washington, and has taught high school English and history in Spokane and Virginia. John is a National Trainer for the College Board’s English program, Springboard. He has taught at Riverpoint Academy for the past two years.

REGAN: We choose to do the “hard” work. Each day, on many things where it would be easier just to work on some things or make quick decisions on our own, we choose to do it together. This sometimes can take more time, slow things down (for the better, usually, I would add), or be frustrating. But we do it and we listen to each other, we watch and we learn from each other. Many people collaborate, but in our office, our desks face each other, we share materials that cover our desks, we have dual monitors that we can connect our laptops to and that rotate so that we can show each other what we are doing and thinking about.

John and I are together the entire school day — we do not separate our content, we do not separate our days, or even parts of the day. We meet with our student design teams together, we work together to speak the same language with our kids and be on the same page.

We committed to the belief that truly collaborating and teaching in an interdisciplinary way meant being in the same room, with the same students, at the same time, all the time. In doing this, we stretch ourselves and learn new things daily from each other about interacting with students — advice, expertise, decisions, influences, etc. Yes, this is harder, but it pays off big. We’ve had to force ourselves to stay true to this, but seeing the results encourages the process and it is easier now.

“We’ve had to force ourselves to stay true to this, but seeing the results encourages the process and it is easier now.” -Regan

JOHN: Behind all of the work that we do together is a deep belief that we are not out doing things “to” students, but doing things with students, and our collaboration shows this.

We have never really talked about this, but I think what drives us is that if we are going to ask students to radically collaborate then we better be radically collaborating ourselves.

It is difficult. It would be much easier for us to just separate the students and each take half of them and do our own thing. But we don’t get the best of us as teachers that way. I think your explanation of our desks is a great analogy for what we do every single day. We look and listen at and to each other, and while it is difficult, it is work worth doing, and ultimately it is really quite fun.

“We look and listen at and to each other, and while it is difficult, it is work worth doing, and ultimately it is really quite fun.” — John

I think that this idea of fun is worth talking about as well. We do a lot of playing at work, and sometimes we don’t always know why we are doing something. Which is weird in an outcome based education world, but some of our best results have come with just giving kids interesting things to play with, and seeing what happens.

We bring an interesting article, toy, plant, art supply to the table and say, “I wonder what would happen if…” and then we just do it. But the most important part of this is that we radically collaborate during and after this and talk about what worked and what didn’t work in a very organic way.

Our team meetings together with the student teams have been one of the most effective things that we have done. I initially wanted to do those individually by splitting up the students, if you remember. I was wrong. Those conversations that we have had with the student teams, and the “record keeping” we do while we talk with them has really paid off. I have learned so much about teaching and learning by listening to you in those meetings, and the students get to hear how competent design thinkers go about processing design thinking.

Connect with Regan and John on The Teachers Guild.