Teams need a goal, a personal team goal focusing on the students. Not the school goals, not the district goals, not the data driven goals–these are all givens and teams need to work within their framework. However, teams also need a goal that helps them focus their purpose for being a team. The most powerful teams not only ensure their students meet standards, but also help their students become better people.
In the Story of Alpha: A Multiage, Student-Centered Team—33 Years and Counting by Susan Kuntz, teachers reported they “were always on a mission.” Their goal was to approach learning through activity-centered developmental units. At Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield, Maine the teams model the FISH philosophy: Be There, Play, Make Their Day, and Choose Your Attitude (http://www.charthouse.com/content.aspx?name=home2). Ross Burkhardt in Inventing Powerful Pedagogy describes how he and his teammate Cliff Lennon developed a set of attributes they called Distinctions (acknowledgement, appreciation, commitment, communication, cooperation, respect, responsibility, risk, and trust) that served as guiding principles for working with their students. Their goal was to use these distinctions as a lens for all of their work.
These are examples of teams that have been together for awhile and have established their team culture. Newer teams might want to start with a simpler, more concrete goal that easily allows them to take positive first steps:
- We will all work on making our lessons more interactive so each of our students has a voice.
- We will agree to work together to build skills of collaboration among our students.
- We will model reading as a life-long pursuit by sharing with our advisory each week one book or article we enjoyed reading.
- We will model life-long learning by asking our students to teach us one new app for our phones or computers each week, and we will work to integrate into our units any learning apps they show us.
- We will know each and every one of our student well.
Here’s a quick activity for the team teachers to do together to work toward the last example–knowing each and every student well:
- If possible place individual pictures of your students out on a table. If you do not have individual pictures, put their names on index cards–one name per card–and spread them out on the table.
- Each of you needs a bunch of sticky stars. Place a star on each picture or index card of students you know well. You know how they learn, what they like to do outside of school, whether they have a pet, etc.
- Step back from the table and look at the pictures of index cards. How many have no stars? How many have stars from all of you?
- This simple exercise gives you a lot of data you can use to help the team meet the goal of knowing each and every student well!
- During common planning time, begin to strategize how to build relationships with these students.
The middle grades are a vulnerable time for many students. This factor is one of the main reasons for organizing a school in teams so that a small group of teachers can focus on a common group of students and their cognitive, social, and physical learning needs. Don’t waste that opportunity–be a team that inspires your students!