In many of my presentations and work sessions I discuss the importance of teaching as a “team sport’ and the critical role of collegiality in teaching. Often if I ask participants to assess the current degree of team, I’ll get a comment like this:
Our department is a strong team. We are always sharing.
We plan collaboratively each week.
While sharing is a great start for building relationships that can lead to teaming, it is far from the shared responsibility of a real team.
Here is how one website defines sharing
… to have or use something at the same time as someone else:
…to divide food, money, goods, etc. and give part of it to someone else:
….If two or more people share an activity, they each do some of it:
…. If two or more people or things share a feeling, quality, or experience, they both or all have the same feeling, quality, or experience:
…… to tell someone else about your thoughts, feelings, ideas, etc.:
Contrast that to this definition of a team….
A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project.
Team members (1) operate with a high degree of interdependence, (2) share authority and responsibility for self-management, (3) are accountable for the collective performance, and (4) work toward a common goal and shared rewards(s). A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.
When a grade level group is sharing, they identify common resources and strategies for the delivery of a unit of study. They may create common lesson plans and assessments. But, teachers are individually responsible for the execution of the plan and the results.
When a teacher shares concerns about a struggling student, colleagues offer up ideas for working with the student. They share past successes they have had with a particular strategy. But, the teacher with the concern can choose whether or not to use any of the strategies and is under no commitment to report back to the group on progress.
If this was a grade level TEAM, plans being designed together need to be successful, executed in each classroom and members are available to assist each other in making that happen. They hold each other accountable. Student assessment results will be examined by team members and the results belong to the team.
School leaders need to consider how they build teams into the work of a school. A middle school principal interviews teachers for team positions. She stresses that the opening in her school is teaching math on a 7th grade team where you are assuming responsibility for math, English, science, social studies and more for 100 students. She adds that you are on a math department team where you are accountable for math success for all students grades 6-8, across the school. In addition, each teacher is on a school wide team addressing a whole school concern like wellness or community service.
What would be the impact of a high school principal meeting with the math department and asking them to study the most remedial math students at each grade level? He requests a department plan for increasing the success of these students. He returns frequently examining student assessments with the department and encouraging their teamwork. Teachers instructing these students are representing the department in the delivery of the plan. All department members might spend some time instructing in these classes to understand student needs. The TEAM is responsible.
Our students deserve a TEAM.