The Imaginary Divide: Collaboration as a Path Forward

By Mark Anderson and Dafina Westbrooks

As teachers in the New York City public school system, we feel a strong sense of responsibility to our pupils’ success and that of our colleagues. We both share a common goal to incorporate best practices and techniques that provide our students with the greatest opportunities for achievement. That means soliciting ideas from our peers in general and special education in both district and charter schools. Collaboration and learning from each other is key – more important now than ever. While we’re proud to that New York City has launched an initiative of collaborative and facilitative programs for educators in recent months, the continuous divide and exclusionary programs that fail to encourage public charter and district schools is disheartening and the opposite of what teachers need.

With the expansion of testing, new evaluations, and new demands in a more technologically-oriented classroom, educators need to communicate more, not less. Much like our students’ learning, what works in one city classroom can be applied to another. Unfortunately, opportunities that facilitate discussion between district and charter school educators are extremely scarce. In a city and career dominated by such an amazing and inspiring range of backgrounds and unique perspectives, it has been incredibly disappointing that so few of us have been able to communicate with each other in a professional and structured setting. That is, until now.

We’ve witnessed first-hand how critical it is that we have a forum whose purpose is not only to educate us as teachers, that also helps us appreciate the hard work, ideas and experiences of our colleagues in different school settings. Although many of us work in buildings where several schools of varying types are sharing space – co-located with each other – we learned through our collaborative experience that there remains a lack of communication between educators. While we could gain so much through exchanging ideas with our peers, too much time has been wasted on the “charter/district” divide. We need to more programs that break down the divide between district public schools and charter schools and give teachers access to each other’s experiences. Programs that encourage interaction and engagement between educators such as the Education Leadership Collaborative at Coro New York and the Learning Partners Program at the Department of Education are great leaps forward.

Spending the past five months together with other educators in a collaborative leadership program, we’ve come to realize that that divide is fabricated. We all have the same goals; produce many of the same lessons; and commit our lives to the service of youth in this city. We’re building upon what unites us – not what makes us different, which we need more of in New York City. That’s the message we should be striving to craft for new and aspiring educators.

And what will we bring back to our classrooms? New techniques, innovative lessons, and a renewed sense of purpose. Our collaboration and professional development across the imaginary school-type divide has directly impacted our students with the best education possible. That’s why we believe that if more educators are provided the access to all-inclusive professional development and facilitative programs, we’ll see improvements reflected in our classrooms.

We take pride in being longtime educators in NYC’s public school system. Whether we work in a district or a charter school, we have a job to do – one that is made fundamentally better and easier when we have access to collaborative and inclusive activities. In a globalizing New York City, our students cannot afford not to have their educators working together. The demands of a 21st century education are not district vs. charter; they apply to all students. We owe it to ourselves, our students and our communities to strive for the best, and the only way to get there is through authentic collaboration and the exchange of best practices. We need to work with all stakeholders to include “collaboration” in the conversation about district and charter schools in New York City.

Danina Westbrooks is a 6th and 7th grade social studies teacher in an ICT/collaborative team-teaching setting at Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. She has served in capacities as both general and special education.

Mark Anderson is a special education teacher, coordinator and district representative at Jonas Bronck Academy in the Bronx.