Synergy is the interaction of elements that, when combined, produce a total effect greater than the sum of the individual elements. In short, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In mathematical terms, 1 + 1 = 3.
Our world is filled with examples of synergism. In music, different instruments with good tone sound even better when combined in an orchestra. In sports, Karl Malone and John Stockton, both good players individually, flourished beyond all expectations as teammates. Synergy functions even in families, as individual members fulfill their responsibilities, problems are avoided, and the home functions well.
It turns out that synergistic relationships are also effective among information technology (IT) teachers. One marvelous example is what is happening right now at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio.
Shaw is a Title 1 school. The student body is 99 percent black with many of the kids living in single-parent households and regularly dealing with non-school problems that would challenge any adult.
Founded in the mid-1800s, Shaw possesses some powerful assets: a talented faculty devoted to preparing students for life and careers; alumni that are fiercely loyal to the school; and a strong sense of honor and tradition — in June they celebrated their 141st commencement ceremony.
The school is also home to a world-famous marching band, “The Baddest Band in the Land,” that performed at the ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The bandtrip was heavily supported by alumni, who helped with expenses.
On top of all that, Shaw has two other powerful assets: IT instructors Shanti' Coaston and Monique Davis. These two IT aficionados are caring teachers who prioritize the success and welfare of their students. Together, they form a dynamic duo that is making a difference in the lives of their students.
Two for the show
Coaston and Davis are co-instructors for Shaw’s IT class and, like any championship combo who know and appreciate one another’s strengths, they accomplish more together than either could do alone. Incidentally, both were recently nominated for Ohio Teacher of the Year.
“They are two hard working ladies,” said Larry Ellis, Shaw’s alternative school principal. “In a nutshell, what they do with the students is phenomenal. They grabbed the tech program and took it to another level.”
Working together has taught Coaston and Davis to read each other well. Although they only teach one period together a day, they talk on the phone numerous times and spend hours collaborating after school.
According to Davis, they have even started finishing each other’s sentences. “We’re like yin and yang,” she said, perfectly complementing each other’s teaching styles. “For example, I can’t speak well in front of others, while Coaston revels in doing it off the cuff with no script.”
Davis currently teaches students with intellectual disabilities. She grew up in the area and is a graduate of Shaw, where she ran track and field, winning honors as a High School All-American. Davis describes herself as an “extroverted introvert,” although she says no one would notice since she is so animated with her students.
She enjoys dabbling at writing poetry and short stories, as well as making wine — her specialty is Green Apple Rising. Away from school, she is also a chihuahua wrangler, chasing after her two puppies, Coder and Data.
Coaston, another Ohio girl, is a self-proclaimed homebody who enjoys peace and quiet — which is unusual since she has been officiating high school and college basketball games for the past 20 years. She did step-dancing in college and has since coached a youth team to nationals. She is also an extreme couponer. Her greatest feat, thus far, is the purchase of $100 worth of merchandise for a mere $5.
The tireless twosome followed different paths into IT instruction. Davis enjoys gadgets and tinkering and acknowledging the pervasiveness of technology in daily life — she makes it a point to integrate tech into all her classes.
“Tech is becoming the way of the world. It’s in everything from people’s basic needs to their most complex,” Davis declared. “Technology is a part of doctors’ offices and even applying for benefits and services online. You need to know something about how it works and how to use it.”
Coaston was a U.S. and world history teacher until a few years ago, when an assistant principal tapped her on the shoulder to ask if she would be interested in teaching computer science. Since she loves to learn and figured computers would be fun, Coaston immediately said yes and was soon on her way to professional development classes to hone her skills.
Clearing teaching hurdles
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