There’s a stage of social development that most kids go through somewhere between ages one and three where they engage in “parallel play.” At this stage, kids will play near one another, enjoy one another’s company, but are more “coexisting in play space” than interacting with one another’s play. One child’s play might influence the other, but they can’t really be said to be playing together.
At the risk of casting myself as developmentally arrested, parallel play is how I prefer to collaborate in my job. (We each do our own thing, have the chance to see how the other plays, maybe get inspired by what we see, and we can ask for things if we need them.)
Despite the work I do daily, I am a remarkably introverted person. I think of all of the quasi-social moments (adult to adult) in my work and how painfully exhausting those moments are… and how deeply, deeply awkward I feel when I’m not in teaching, coaching, or facilitating mode. Try to strike up a social conversation with me and I want to either (1) change the subject to talk about education policy or (2) hide under the table. Oddly, when I am in front of a classroom full of teenagers or even when I lead teacher or principal PD, I shift confidently into what, by all outward appearances, is a distinctly extroverted disposition. Though I almost always end up physically exhausted, those kinds of interactions are intellectually invigorating.
Where my introversion does emerge in my work is very specific: I do not like collaboration as it seems to be happening in the profession right now, with the emphasis on “group production and alignment” and what often feels like the sacrificing of individual innovation in order to appease the common. The net product almost never feels as satisfying as if I could have just worked independently with occasional advice and consultation of peers, then reported back to the group.
A recent article grabbed my attention because it pinged twice on my radar: It referenced teacher mentorship and introversion. The article from The Atlantic about how teacher burnout is more likely among introverts (the link is worth reading from to top to bottom), highlighted how collaboration is prized so vehemently in modern school systems and how incompatible and unsustainable these are for those of us who tend toward introversion… to the point that it drives some out of the profession altogether.
What it boils down to for me personally is this: for introverts, collaboration isn’t actually about doing work. Collaboration is a social exercise. For an introvert like me, such a social exercise is stressful and exhausting and inefficient. Worse, it feels like it allows no room for any innovative or creative impulses that don’t feel instantly palatable to the group.