I met with my team on Thursday night–one of our last nights as the Voyagers, or at least this version of the Voyagers. The night was a blast, filled with good food, even better friends, and satisfying tears of happiness and gratitude, celebrating our teamwork and collaboration over the past year.

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Collaboration and teamwork is somewhat of a buzzword in education, something that a lot of people preach, but few actually do to the extent it is intended to be done. I can honestly say that my team collaborates, but what I’ve learned is there’s so much more to successful collaboration than what the books say. Yes, we have our norms, our agendas, and our methods for problem-solving through disagreements. But there’s more to it. I think that the most successful teams have an unwritten (or maybe even written) vulnerability norm, one that allows everyone to come as they are, to share their ideas in pure form, and to be critical of ideas with only the most positive of intentions. The vulnerability norm is the foundation of a great team, because it is the beginning of the path that connects a group of people and leads to a sense of belonging, safety, and unconditional love.

On my team, there is a vulnerable synergy–one where we share ideas openly, criticize them kindly, and make fun of each other relentlessly. We value each other’s strengths, and we actively try to complement each other’s weaknesses. We push each other’s boundaries and take pride in collective successes. We are individuals, but as one unit, we are, all together, greater than the sum of our parts.

Too often, we try to confine collaboration to processes and protocols, when really, the heart of collaboration is unconditional love and a sense of belonging, and that doesn’t even mean it has to be all mushy gushy. True collaboration means that all members are able to come as their rawest and most vulnerable versions of themselves, and I think that’s especially important in our line of work. If we practice this in our team meetings, it will certainly bleed through to our students without even trying.

So I sat at our dinner the other night, crying the ugliest cry that had ever been cried, not only to express my gratitude to a team that taught me what it means to be a teacher. I cried so hard because I was unbearably grateful that I had the opportunity to feel so sad, and that I will have the opportunity to miss a group of people that I love–because that means my last few years spent with them has been worth something. It’s been so valuable that I don’t want to leave it because it has helped me grow as a teacher and as a man.

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The best part of it is, though, when we establish those connections–when we feel that sense of belonging–those people in whom we invested our experiences become a part of us. We emulate them in different ways, and while we grow to miss them, they never truly leave. I suppose, in essence, true collaboration is not just important for the moment in which a team is collaborating; true collaboration is long-lasting and far-reaching, because it is a catalyst that helps create the most current versions of ourselves. Collaboration, no matter your profession, setting, or context, is critical to who we are as human beings.

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