In my many years as an educator, I’ve come to recognise that we have some really archaic practices that we need to throw away because they help no one; there are a lot of practices that really make people disengage, and this is especially true with regards to professional development (PD).

So, as a fellow educator and as a person who has spent a lot of time collaborating and working with various friends on a number of professional projects online, I’d like to offer you a suggestion: Stop making people do group work in an environment where they are not aware it will happen.

Now, I’m not talking about separating people into forums of smaller groups to discuss issues and structures and actually create a smaller conversation that is, honestly, much more inviting and engaging. I am talking about forcing people to collaborate on a genuine project that, overwhelmingly, will mean nothing to us other than “Wow, this was a waste of my time. Glad I got that piece of paper to show I’ve put in some PD hours, even if it was worthless.”

When I sign up for an online PD, I’m expecting that it will cater to my needs as an individual taking a distance course; I won’t get matched up with people who aren’t even in my time zone, and I won’t be forced to rely on other people who have other life commitments (which, by the way, we can’t get rid of because it could be things like work or family or previous commitments that we made thinking we’d be studying for your PD a few hours a week) in order to complete the tasks. I’m free to complete the requirements within the deadlines while still at my leisure.

I don’t expect to have to, on short-notice, figure out how to do a full-fledged project with three other people scattered across the globe; I don’t expect to have to try to figure out how I’m supposed to quickly communicate with people on a collaborative research project outside of the PD forums (because sometimes PD is on really inconvenient platforms that literally have no group functionalities). I don’t expect to be made partially responsible for the work of others and whether or not they are capable of completing the assignment, something that can be hindered by a range of different issues other than our actual lives (lack of computer skills, disrupted internet, glitches in the online service).

The only thing I feel about these “group projects” is frustration and negativity. You’ve thrown us together without any advanced notice (not even in the first week so we could get ourselves organised, which you shouldn’t do as a teacher). Many of you fail entirely to consider time zones, regardless of where you exist. How do you expect people to feel less annoyed about doing this work when you’ve stuck them in a group without consideration for ability to communicate on short-notice, which is a key element of working collaboratively?

As someone living in Europe, it doesn’t make sense for me to work with someone in the US on such a minor project. Schools have started back up and people sleep. For hours of my day, I’m at work doing my job as a teacher; I come home, and I try my best to get through my online PD, to continue planning for my classes, to spend time with my partner, to take a break from work and relax (as I should be able to). When I go to sleep, they’re working. Our schedules, especially during the school year, are not compatible in the slightest; they are even less compatible when you don’t forewarn us about what we’re to do.

When I undertake collaboration with any of my friends, generally to work with them as a researcher and occasional script writer/editor for their podcasts or video essays, I make sure we have a planned schedule. We start looking at our lives weeks before we agree to do it; we make sure we know how busy we’ll be, how much time we can devote to the project, what issues might arise, and so on. We don’t just up and decide to do it without a plan and creating contingency plans for moments where something comes up. We figure out a deadline that, if we must, can move and what we can do if we don’t make it. There’s a reason for this.

It makes us miserable if we don’t. It frustrates us. It makes working together infuriating and impossible, even if we can work together under other circumstances. We start to feel like whoever is involved is unreliable, and we start viewing things negatively. We’re soured from that experience, and we start seeing things as useless, worthless, pointless. We see all the missed opportunities for growth and learning, even if that isn’t the immediate goal; we see how horrible the project that we create is, and we might decide to never show it (continuing that feeling of something being worthless).

So unless you want to plan these out in advance and communicate them to the participants, stop. You’re making it worse. It’s a box to tick and nothing more; people are doing something because they have to and getting nothing out of it.

And maybe that’s what the company wants, whatever. That’s capitalism for you. But maybe, just maybe, help make these box-ticking exercises more bearable for the people who are required to do them just to keep their jobs if you run them. Plan something earlier, let people know that a group project is part of the course, give people information and guidance.

Maybe pay a little attention to your environment. And adapt for it. Because if you’re an educator who can’t (or refuses to) adapt to the environment? And you’re teaching or mentoring other educators? You’re doing everyone a disservice.

Especially the students, even indirectly.

So stop burning us out and start planning better. Everyone’ll be happier, you’ll get your better reviews, and people will feel more knowledgeable on that aspect they spent time learning.

Signed,

An Incredibly Exhausted Educator