“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb – Cooperation
How do we know when cooperation is the best strategy for success?
Working with other people is hard if you like to work fast. You have to slow down, compromise and wait for people to catch up to your pace. On class projects this can be a brutal experience. Going alone is so much faster and you’re judged by your own efforts, not the efforts of others. Yet, cooperating with others brings a measure of success that is much grander than what could have ever been created alone.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – along with United States educator Adina Goldstein from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a compelling conversation about cooperation, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
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Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions. Then join our Community of Educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:29
Well, welcome everybody to the Teach Different podcast. This week we have a great quote about cooperation, and it’s an African proverb. We researched to discover the author of this quote, but there wasn’t a discernible author. Most sources pointed to this being a spin off of an African proverb. I’ll share the quote in a minute.
Dan Fouts 00:58
We have a guest tonight, Adina Goldstein from Philadelphia. She’ll be introducing herself in a moment. For anybody who’s unfamiliar with our method, we’ll start with the quote, interpret it, and share personal experiences. Then, we will move to the counterclaim of the quote. This is the critical thinking part where we come up with an equally reasonable way of looking at the world that goes against the quote. We think this is a really important skill for students to learn. It encourages them to not become absolutely convinced of one way of looking at the world. They learn to understand and appreciate different perspectives. After that, we’ll wrap it up with an essential question. This is how the podcast works. Without further ado, here’s the quote. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We will say this quote a few times, and if everyone could remember to say it a few times during the conversation, so our listeners can keep it fresh in their heads. Adina, welcome to the show. Please introduce yourself. It’s wonderful to have you here.
Adina Goldstein 02:37
Thank you both so much for having me. I’m super excited. My name is Adina Goldstein. I am in Philadelphia, and a proud graduate of the Philadelphia public schools K-12. I’ve taught in the Philadelphia public schools for quite a few years. I taught middle school social studies and English at a neighborhood school in the neighborhood where I grew up, which was, honestly, one of the most incredible experiences I think I have ever had and will ever have. I’m currently working on an Ed. D., a Doctorate of Education at the University of Pennsylvania at Penn GSE. I am in the Teaching Learning and Teacher Education Department. I’m really interested in studying what teacher preparation looks like, and hoping to uncover some things about how teacher preparation can be an affirming productive, effective space, particularly for teachers of color. It’s obviously informed by my time in the classroom as a teacher of color.
Adina Goldstein 03:50 – Claim
The quote, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” is definitely one that I have seen before. Like you mentioned, it’s one that really speaks to me about collaboration. It speaks to collaboration and community, and when I think about it, those are two things that are so important in education. Collaboration is important, not just in terms of what you’re seeing in your classroom, and what you’re doing with your students, but how you’re engaging as a teacher. I was lucky enough to always be in spaces where my colleagues were really collaborative. I’ve always felt like the best lesson plans and the best responses to student needs come from dialogic engagement, talking to and collaborating with a lot of people. I was so lucky to be in a school where it was K-8. I could talk with many of my colleagues about a student, and they’d say, I remember them from when I taught them, or I taught them and they’re six older siblings, or I’ve known the mom for 15 years. That level of collaboration was just incredible. Being a first year teacher is a roller coaster ride for pretty much all of us, and I know I certainly wouldn’t have made it through that year without such a supportive team who let me observe them, and observed me, or looked over lesson plans, unit plans, and things like that. Thinking about the community piece is super important to public education in particular and is really important to me. In Philadelphia, an urban school district, schools are really centers of community. They’re really there for the community in more ways than just academic. Many of the teachers at the school where I was, grew up in the community and had lived there their whole lives. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” really resonates with me.
Steve Fouts 06:22
Do you agree that you can get farther with other people? That’s essentially what it’s saying. I’m trying to get a sense of fast. If you want to go fast, go alone. What does that look like? Adina, did you have teachers that you worked with who preferred to go it alone? How did you bring them into the fold, or how did you deal with those types?
Adina Goldstein 07:10
That’s such a good question to reflect upon. If you want to go fast, go alone, really speaks to me in terms of efficiency. I think that is something that many teachers have to prioritize. There were certainly moments when I wanted to get something done, and it was easier to just go ahead and do it myself. I think, particularly for teachers who are always juggling a million things, that the push for efficiency is not negligible, especially when you’re working with kids and things often feel urgent. In my experience, going slower together really does get you further, because I think teaching is all about context and relationships. I would not fault any teacher for going fast and alone to get things done. There’s so much urgency in schools, but if we’re looking to play the long game, and include the full humanity of all of the students involved, then going slower and together does get you further.
Steve Fouts 08:53
In the context of teaching, a faculty working together gets the students farther. You taught middle school. What do you think kids are going to think about this quote?
Adina Goldstein 09:19
I’m thinking about my seventh graders, who are at a time in their social and emotional development where they’re trying on different identities and figuring out who their people are. I think what’s important is loyalty to your community and the people you’re going through your journey with. At my school, which was a K-8, most of the students had been with the same classmates since kindergarten. By the time they got to me, they had been with the same class for seven years. They really felt that loyalty. At my school, which was a combination of two schools, the older kids were some of the last ones who attended two separate schools. I saw that loyalty with them. There was no animosity between the students of the two schools when they combined. There was this extra layer of context that they all had for each other. I think middle school and high school age kids are thinking about how they need to work together in all aspects of their lives to accomplish things.
Steve Fouts 11:11
They’re used to that. You’re thinking they might agree with this claim because of their experiences working together with other students? I’m thinking of a sports analogy. Sports works well with this quote. Dan, what are you thinking?
Dan Fouts 11:33
I think the sports analogy does work perfectly here. There’s another quote we did much earlier by Michael Jordan, that “individual talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” It has the same spirit of, “you can go farther, when you go together.” I teach high school Adina. I have juniors and seniors, many of whom are on sports teams, in clubs and organizations, Scholastic Bowl, mock trial, and Model UN. A beautiful part of a school community is that kids get a chance to work with kids of different ethnicities and races toward a common goal. I would push the teamwork angle to get kids to share experiences about how when they worked as a team, they were able to achieve great things.
Steve Fouts 12:46
The prompt for this conversation would be, can someone share an experience where teamwork made the dream work. Support the truth of the claim, even if you don’t agree with it. Show where teamwork worked. It’s a powerful quote about what we can accomplish together. If we’re together, and one of us falls, there’s someone to pick us up. If we lose or get disillusioned, there’s someone to inspire us. When you’re doing it alone, you might be fast, but the minute you hit a roadblock, and there’s no one there, then what are you going to do? Can you always overcome all the obstacles on your own? That could be a tact to take to talk about the importance of teamwork. What happens when things get bumpy?
Adina Goldstein 13:48
Yeah, that really speaks to me too. I have been in conversation with a lot of teachers about burnout and about this culture of hyper productivity. I’m a millennial, and everyone says we’re super hyper productive, and in a really unhealthy way. I think I see that, especially with my students. As they’re getting closer to high school, there’s this push to do everything and be everything. But, to your point, Steve, going fast and going alone has no Plan B. There’s really not a lot of margin for error. If living through COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t exist without a margin for error. It’s not realistic, most of the time.
Steve Fouts 14:51
Yeah, interesting. The margin of error. I like that. If you’re alone, you better have your stuff together, because you only have yourself.
Dan Fouts 15:05
Another good example, to bring this down to a level that kids can connect with, is the experience of a class project where they have to work with students to do something of value. I’m sure you’ve had enough experience with middle schoolers and group projects. Some kids love to work in groups, others love to work alone, and they struggle trusting others. They’d rather do it themselves. But, when those groups create something together, it is really special. There’s no way they could have done this alone. They had to work on it together. You could ask, have you ever worked on a group project where you created something beyond anything you could ever have imagined as an individual? See what they say.
Adina Goldstein 16:13
Yeah, absolutely. I thought a lot about group projects as I was wrestling with this quote, because for so many students, group projects are very polarizing. As the teacher, I explain that there’s a good reason to work in a group, that I’m giving them more work than they could reasonably accomplish alone.
Steve Fouts 16:42
Let’s blow this up a little bit. Dan, read the quote again. I’m going to try a counterclaim. Let me divulge this, Adina, I’m one of these students who might agree with the counterclaim, but we’ll see.
Dan Fouts 17:02
“If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Steve Fouts 17:10 – Counterclaim
Individuality and efficiency. Efficiency relates to going faster. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Maybe you can’t depend on others. Experience has taught you that when you rely on others, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re not accomplishing things, and you’re getting frustrated. You’ve motivated yourself to do it, but you’re being held back by others, in a way. I think the counterclaim is that in some situations, going it alone may be the appropriate tack to take. I’m putting that out there for both of you. Can you come up with situations that fit that?
Adina Goldstein 18:37
Yeah. The first thing that came to mind when I was thinking of counterclaims was of students asking why the state makes them take tests alone. Make us do as many group projects as you want, but when we get to our standardized tests in May, that everyone’s telling us are so important, we have to do that by ourselves.
Steve Fouts 19:05
Perfect. That’s a contradiction students revealed. They’re being evaluated individually, so why shouldn’t they be thinking of themselves. If you want me to work with other people, then fine, we can try that, but in the end it all comes down to me. In the end, I’m the one who’s accountable. Dan, what do you think? Are we getting the counterclaim?
Dan Fouts 19:40
Yeah, I think so. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Sometimes you just want to go fast and leave people behind. It’s all about me. It’s about number one. It’s about individual accountability, and not having to trust other people for your own success. There are amazing rewards in life, when you can look back and know that you were the source of your success, and no one else. There’s a pride in knowing you were able to do it alone. It’s also lonely, though. I think you can achieve things alone that are valuable, as well as achieving them with other people. That’s how I would push against the quote. I would ask the kids to share something they accomplished alone, where they were only accountable to themselves and how that felt. Then I’d have them compare that feeling to the feeling of accomplishing something with others. Which one is better? Get them to weigh the differences.
Steve Fouts 21:22
Some people are motivated by doing things solo. If they fall down, they’re going to get back up. They’re not going to blame anybody if they don’t succeed. It may incentivize them to do it alone, I’m probably revealing something about myself here as a teacher. When I started teaching on the west side of Chicago, I didn’t have any support. This was my first year teaching, so I wasn’t expecting any. I went at it alone, and I had some dark days that first year. What teacher doesn’t? I got through them, and it was me that got through them. That knowledge provided inspiration for me. I felt like I could overcome anything. When I look back at that time, I realize my growth was stunted. It would have been helpful to have a team, people checking up on me. I don’t regret it.
Adina Goldstein 23:07
Wow. They’re is something so rewarding about knowing you did it yourself. We have to make room for that. We’ve all had accomplishments, and we should celebrate those by giving ourselves a pat on the back for what we have achieved.
Adina Goldstein 23:52
To complicate this even further, how does this proverb fit into the overarching goal? I definitely think there were times when I wanted to go alone and fast. Maybe there is an urgent student situation, or let’s be real, sometimes you’re really disillusioned with the systems you’re in. Like Steve was saying, sometimes these systems are not supportive. I could send emails and make calls for years to try and figure this out, or I can do what I can do in the four walls of my classroom right here. Right now, for whatever it’s worth, I definitely chose that at times. The question I posed to myself is what’s the goal? Is going fast ultimately better for my students? Is doing it alone what the students need? Did they need something immediate, or would it have been better to go slower, but go further? I think that’s going to be context dependent, which complicates this whole thing.
Dan Fouts 25:44
That’s a great point. The word control came into my head as you were speaking. I think a lot of people end up going alone, because it’s something they can control. It gives them a sense of purpose.
Adina Goldstein 26:00
We’re told that so often as teachers, right? Focus on what you can control in your classroom.
Dan Fouts 26:06
Yes. When you have to go with other people, you lose that sense of control. That can be scary, especially in situations where you don’t feel supported. It’s harder to relinquish control. There are so many connections here. This is what happens with these conversations. The deeper you get into them, the more you see. Can you imagine kids bringing up their family situations here?
Adina Goldstein 26:47
Dan Fouts 26:49
Whether they feel supported within a family versus them having to do stuff on their own and not feeling supported? Depending on your class, you might have kids revealing some really sensitive stuff here.
Steve Fouts 27:03
Adina Goldstein 27:06
Yeah, absolutely. Pivoting just a little. I’m also thinking back to our conversation of group projects, and thinking about risk analysis. If I do this all by myself, I have that control, and I know it’ll get done. I was that kid in school, who was anxious about my group letting me down. What if my group lets me down? I need to do everything. For example, I’m not a very artistic person and the project is a poster. I can get it done with some sad stick figures and get a B-, but what if the artist on our team really comes through and we can get an A? Now what do I do?
Steve Fouts 28:22
Good example, very contextual. I really like how you put it earlier, Adina, when you were talking about what’s best for the students. One approach to asking questions about whether you should go it alone, or work as a team, is about being other oriented. What is your goal as a teacher? Why are you here? What do your students need at any given moment? It’s one way to demystify this and try to take it out of the internal world of the teacher making the decision. What am I going to do about this today? It kind of personalizes it and depersonalizes it at the same time. You’re doing this for other people, so just pick what fits for them and go with the program. I thought that I was coming to school every day because I cared and I was passionate. That’s all I felt mattered at the beginning. I’ve come to realize that’s so misguided on some level. It’s tough. Once you get in the mode of not relying on people. Man, that’s a heavy weight to lift.
Adina Goldstein 29:57
It requires a ton of self awareness.
Steve Fouts 30:00
Adina Goldstein 30:02
Because you really have to be honest with yourself about your own limits.
Dan Fouts 30:05
Well, we really unpacked this quote. The more you unpack, the more you see that you didn’t see before. Speaking for the group here, I’ve grown a lot talking about this. I know more now than I did 30 minutes ago. I definitely want to share this quote with my students, sooner, rather than later. I think this is really important. I teach seniors, and this would be a good one for them to think about as they are about to graduate. Where do they see themselves in the world? Should they be thinking about working together or working alone?
Dan Fouts 30:58 – Essential Question
We like to end with an essential question. Often the kids will come up with the best questions during the discussion, and you have to write them down as you hear them. I like to ask the students what is one question you want answered during this conversation? They come up with amazing questions. Here’s one, how do we know when cooperation is the best strategy for success as opposed to going it alone? How do we know when cooperation is the best strategy for success? Well, that’s something to think about.
Dan Fouts 31:51
Adina, it was great to have you on the show. Your thoughts were fabulous. You brought a really interesting insight and perspective to this conversation. We wish you best of luck in your graduate program and the research you’re doing on the teaching profession.
Adina Goldstein 32:10
Thank you so much for having me. I’ve learned so much from our conversation, and I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity.
Steve Fouts 32:20
Awesome. Take care.
Dan Fouts 32:23
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join our Community of Educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time on the Teach Different Podcast, take care!