iLEAD Lancaster 3rd Grade Team Models High-Level Collaboration

Collaboration drives productivity and fosters healthy relationships, motivation and engagement. For the 3rd Grade Team at iLEAD Lancaster — Zenaida Morales, Lara Lim and Francesca Bolivar — successful collaboration has helped learners and facilitators solve problems, inspired greater self-reflection and made the work enjoyable.

Collaboration Secrets

In their fourth year together as a team, Morales, Bolivar and Lim believe their consistent communication is at the heart of their successful project-based learning culture.

“We each use our gifts and bring something special to the table,” Lim said. “We work together regardless of the project or task.”

Morales said, “We approach it with the attitude of how we can help and support one another.”

“We are all equals,” Bolivar said. “When we find something, we share it.”

Focus on Engagement

Virtual learning has made this more challenging, according to the three facilitators, but together they have continued to brainstorm, share and experiment with better ways to engage all learners.

Morales, who recently facilitated a professional learning workshop titled “Creating Engagement During Distance Learning,” said she and her team are continually searching for ways to engage learners. This includes encouraging learners to come to morning meetings, taking breaks from technology and participating in ongoing relationship-building activities.

“This team talks every day, especially about engagement,” Morales said. “We get each other excited to constantly try new things.”

Lim said she and the team feel that during distance learning, their learners miss the hands-on learning in the classroom. In an effort to meet their needs, the facilitators have created physical scavenger hunts and other activities that require learners to leave the screens and technology, even just for a few minutes at a time.

“We’re always about ways of getting them to do,” Lim said. “And although we write a lot online, we also have them write on paper just to break it up a bit.”

In addition, Morales said the facilitators continue to make it a priority to learn about their learners’ families and lives. “After a morning meeting, we will stay on with any learner who wants to chat,” Morales said. “It’s still possible to build authentic relationships with our learners, even through Zoom.”

Better Projects, Learner Work

As a result of their collaborative efforts, the facilitators feel their learners are producing higher-quality work and developing valuable skills.

One recent project that exemplifies this team’s efforts is a civics-oriented project where the learners were asked “How does government affect me?” Their secondary question was “How can I use persuasive writing to create positive change?”

The 3rd graders learned about the three branches of the United States government while assuming roles as members of Congress. The learners had to produce an art piece for each branch of government, as well as propose a new law related to technology. Each of the three classes proposed a different bill. One required citizens to go through a fact-finding process to avoid posting false information online while the others proposed free internet access for all people and free learning applications for all students.

In an effort to make this project even more authentic, Bolivar said each learner also wrote a persuasive letter to the school board about iLEAD Lancaster in connection with the charter renewal. One 3rd grader was chosen to present their position to the school board as well.

“We are always looking for our learners to have that completely authentic experience,” Bolivar said. “These relevant and public opportunities absolutely increase the learners’ leadership skills.”

External Collaboration

Another success for the team has been their ability to form effective partnerships with the community to provide necessities and opportunities for their learners. After giving supply kits to all learners at the beginning of the year, the team turned to the crowdfunding tool DonorsChoose to restock the supply kits at home for the second semester. Each of the three facilitators had their goal met within the first day and were able to once again supply their learners with dry-erase markers, paints, cards, notebooks, paper, play dough, folders and more.

“We made sure that we had the same lists so all learners would have identical supplies,” Bolivar said.

Lim added, “We are training them to have their computers and kits with them at all times no matter where they go.”

Going Forward

The team said they will keep supporting one another and continue to learn, ask questions and look for new ways to be successful. They said they believe their strength is in collaboration and can’t imagine how educators could do any of this alone.

Lim said the team regularly returns to their why. “For us, it’s about how we can grow our classes and our school,” Lim said. “We remind one another daily to reflect how we can work collectively to build up all learners while working smarter together.”

Morales said whether they are rotating their classes among one another, presenting to each other or collaborating in other ways, they always use the language of we. “We always use ‘the team and I’ or ‘the 3rd grade project,” Morales said.

Bolivar concluded, “We view 3rd grade as 3rd grade, not ‘my class.’”

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