The Power of Collaboration

As a middle child, some might say that I was born a collaborator.  Certainly I was always the one trying to get everyone to share ideas, listen to one another, and “play nice.”  However, I believe I fully recognized the value of collaboration when I became a teacher.  In my first year, I worked with several veteran teachers when planning my lessons; their years of experience brought a level of expertise to the table that I could not match, but in return, I could offer a fresh perspective and new ideas.  Together, we were definitely more effective than if we had worked in isolation.

Janice Schwarze

Janice Schwarze

Since then I have been fortunate to have been involved in many collaborative efforts – both formal and informal.  As a teacher, I worked with three other classroom teachers to create an interdisciplinary program for freshmen that allowed students to collaborate and see how different disciplines relate to one another.  Of course, as teachers in the program, we collaborated every day to design units that would interest and challenge students, and as a result, we each grew as professionals and added many tools to our toolbox.

Knowing the power of collaboration, when I became department chair, I involved teachers in important decisions in areas such as hiring, curriculum development, and master scheduling.  Each one of my teachers brought a lens to the table that I could not, and together we were a high-functioning department.

Last year, I teamed with another English department chair as well as the science and social studies department chairs at the two high schools in our district to plan an inter-disciplinary approach to the implementation of Common Core State Standards.  We invited teachers from many different departments to unpack the speaking and listening standards and decide how these standards would become a part of everyone’s curriculum.  Together we created common rubrics that are used to assess students’ speaking and listening skills, and teachers across the school collaborate to create lessons that enable students to communicate effectively.  There was buy-in from the teachers because they have had a voice from the beginning of the process, our work is effective because of the many perspectives that were considered when creating documents, and students see the importance of the skills because they are reinforced in ALL classes.  Without a doubt, this was one of my most challenging yet rewarding professional experiences with collaboration, and I encourage you to watch this short video to see for yourself how powerful teamwork can be.

Currently I am experiencing yet another form of collaboration, this time with leaders across the country, as I serve as the CEL Program Chair for its Annual Convention to be held at National Harbor, MD from November 23-25.  Because of my own positive experiences and my desire to empower others to collaborate effectively, the theme of the convention is “Leading in a Collaborative World.”  Speakers such as Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Jim Burke, and Sarah Brown Wessling will share their expertise on literacy instruction as well as their experiences with professional collaboration.

While I am confident that these keynote speakers will be well-received by convention attendees, the heart of any CEL Convention is the breakout sessions.  Therefore, I invite you to submit a proposal for the 2014 CEL Convention.  Proposals are due April 1; you can review the CALL for proposals and access the proposal application.

Whether you present at the convention or not, please mark your calendars to join literacy leaders from across the U.S. and Canada from November 23-25 at the CEL Convention and see firsthand the power of collaboration.  After listening to our keynote speakers, attending our breakout sessions, and engaging in conversations with other attendees during our breakfasts, lunches, and social hours, you are sure to leave the convention with many practical strategies.  Perhaps more importantly, you will become a part of a great community that will continue to support your efforts as a literacy leader long after the convention ends.  I hope to see you in November, and in the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at

Janice Schwarze
Associate Principal of Curriculum and Instruction
Downers Grove North High School, IL
CEL Program Chair 2014


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