As I worked with high-school staffs exploring restructuring into Small Learning Communities, I noticed a disinterest or disbelief in the value of teachers functioning as a team. Working in a middle school where teachers were on teams with common planning time, I noticed that many teachers had never seen their teammates teach. At elementary schools I found teachers complaining that they had to attend a 2nd grade team meeting.
In my classroom teaching days, I had been part of two teams, one of four teachers working with 120 fifth and sixth grade students, and another where I team taught first grade with one teacher while we were on a team with seven K-2 teachers. My experiences with teams were very positive and I was intrigued at why the teachers I met didn’t share my positive experience or expectation.
One day I had a realization that shed light on my quandary! I had worked on a team, but most of the teachers I’d been meeting with never were on a team! While the meetings they attended were called TEAM meetings, they were really FRANCHISE meetings. Consider the difference. If you owned a franchise restaurant, you would go to franchise meetings where other owners might exchange tips and ideas…maybe make some bulk purchasing agreements…but, when the meeting was over you’d all go back and run your own business…each as an individual profit center. If the restaurants were a team, owners would be sharing profits and thus taking shared responsibility for each other’s success.
The teams I taught on were teams. While the students were assigned to individual teachers, we all assumed responsibility for the students as a whole. When one of my beginning reading students who had been struggling was finally successful, my team celebrated because WE had been successful.
Most faculties that I work with send teachers to franchise meetings…teachers holding a second grade franchise or an English franchise meet with similar teachers. They discuss curriculum, maybe look at student work samples, but leave the meeting only accountable for success of students in their own classroom.
Successful small learning communities, teaching teams, vertical or grade level teams will function quite differently when we design them as teams rather than franchises, and have them jointly assume responsibility for each other and all students.
What do your experiences suggest?