“We Got This” – Learning as a Team Sport

The model of “teaching as a team sport” has moved from the sidelines into primetime in recent years. Teachers are teaming up across disciplines to offer courses that address concepts and content from multiple perspectives. Faculty work with instructional designers, librarians, media specialists, and industry or community partners to design and facilitate their courses, instead of doing it entirely on their own. In some cases, undergraduate students lead small group discussions or activities while faculty float from group-to-group. This idea that there’s no “I” in “TEACH” is hitting the mainstream, and I think education will be stronger because of it.

All of this fits right in line with my theoretical and lived understanding of teaching, that it’s better when it’s collaborative. I’ve co-taught a few college courses, and I know that the end result was better than if I had taught on my own. The thing is, I’ve thought about this mostly from the perspective of the teacher instead of the learner. Now that I’m a low-residency student, I’m seeing this play out from a different angle, and realizing how critical community is for both teaching and learning.

I had long imagined that pursuing a PhD would be an insular experience where I would have to live in my own head and go it alone for several years. I worried that enrolling in a low-residency program would only enhance the isolation. For a shameless, off-the-charts, capital “E” extrovert, this straight terrrrrrrrrified me. Before applying, I went to an information session about the program, and asked about this specifically. I was assured that there would be multiple layers of support and interaction built in, that the experience would be highly engaging, and that it wouldn’t feel like an online program. I was skeptical, but I gave it a chance anyway, and I’ve never felt less alone in my life. (Actually, if anything, I could probably use more alone time.) Just kidding, C16! (Well, mostly kidding…)

Anyway, they say it takes a village to raise a child – and I’m realizing that it must take an entire country, made up of cities, surrounded by villages, to produce a PhD candidate. I have a faculty advisor who checks in with me regularly, keeps me on track, and (lovingly) calls me on my nonsense. Another faculty member directs our year-long seminar and guides our weekly discussions. Every assignment I submit has a separate faculty reviewer who offers feedback and suggestions for revision. Our librarians and writing support experts reach out on a regular basis to check-in and offer support. I also belong to an incredible dialogue group that challenges my thinking and encourages me to keep going, an accountability buddy who lights a fire under me when I need it most, and an entire cohort striving for the same goal of making it through this program. Every student ahead of me in the program and every alum I’ve encountered has offered support – and meant it. The amazing staff who make our program happen answer questions at every turn and greet us with open arms – literally – every residency starts with a hug. All of this is helping me thrive and keeps me going in the program. It’s also illuminated my learning in ways that going it alone wouldn’t. On top of all of this, I have an incredible family, professional network, and social circle rallying around me (and putting up with me whether they want to or not) every step of the way along this journey. I truly could not be doing this without any one of these people in my life, shaping and inspiring my learning in ways they’re probably not even aware of.

Early in the program, our dialogue group came up with a phrase that’s stuck, totally solidified our shared identity, and moved my thinking about learning in a new direction: “We Got This.” The idea behind it is that if one of us wins, we all win. Thinking about learning as a team sport has been a total game-changer. It makes me want to succeed, not just for my own academic and career advancement, but because if I succeed, we all do. I want my dialogue group-mates to succeed as much as I want that for myself, because as I’ve gotten to know them, I’ve learned that their ideas will change the world for the better – and that’s a world I want to live in. It’s not just about self-actualization, it’s about us-actualization. I want to see you live up to your fullest potential as much as I want to myself, because if you become the best version of yourself, we all benefit.

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A charm I keep on my keys to remind me to stay positive, do at least one thing every day to get me closer to my goal, and focus on wins – big and small.

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