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Archive for April, 2011

Recalcitrant Teammates–What To Do!?!

Being on middle grades team can be the best of times or, unfortunately, the worst of times.  When teammates click and are both congenial and collegial (Read Roland Barth’s article on this topic),  a team is unstoppable in helping their students learn.  However, when one teammate is unwilling or unable to work collaboratively,  the enthusiasm and effectiveness of the other members of the team is often eroded.   Collaboration slowly grinds to a halt and students suffer.

Build healthy relationships with teammates just as you would with students.  It takes time and a genuine interest in order to forge these relationships.  Taking a few minutes to check in with each other at the beginning of common planning time is well worth the time.

Assume positive intentions on everyone’s part. Sometimes a conversation can clear up underlying issues.  You might try this activity as a team (I think I first heard about this strategy from Chris Stevenson, a middle level guru.):

  • Gather everyone together in a neutral space–off campus if possible–snacks and libations make for a relaxed and non-threatening situation.
  • Ask each team member to list 3 behaviors they would really appreciate from their teammates.
  • Then ask them to list one non-negotiable item about team work–that one thing that really annoys them.  For example, I used to hate it when teammates brought work to correct to common planning time.  It was obvious that we didn’t have their full attention for team matters.  I especially hated hearing sarcasm about kids or a teammate’s ideas.
  • Compare the the lists of 3 behaviors and look for commonalities.  Write those items down and agree to use them as your working conditions.
  • Then look at your non-negotiables together.  It is important that folks remain very respectful during this conversation.  Practice your paraphrasing skills and ask your teammates to “please tell me a little bit more about your thinking” !
  • The combination of the non-negotiables and common behaviors identified from the lists of 3 become your best working conditions (BWC).
  • Revisit and reflect on how you are doing as a team in adhering to your BWC regularly.  I observed a leadership team that took time at the end of each meeting to reflect on how they did.  They were one of the highest functioning teams I have ever seen because they paid attention to their process. They made sure everyone had voice, was treated respectfully, and that each decision was made in a thoughtful manner.

Six Types of Difficult People

Sometimes, unfortunately, conversations do not solve the problem. Relationships on middle grades teams can be tricky, especially for the team leader. Often our colleagues are also our personal friends outside of school. Collaboration can stress these friendships.  Turning to  experts in the field of dynamics in the workplace is helpful.  One of my favorite sites is BlueSuitMom.com.  One of the pages on this site is entitled Dealing With Difficult People” by Laura Benjamin. She identifies 6 types of difficult people and offers sage advice on how to deal with them:

The Bully–Hostile/Aggressive

  • Don’t back down, but be respectful.  I disagree and here’s why…. You may have to rehearse find a friend who will play the bully and practice what you might say.
  • Do something unexpected which disrupts the rhythm of the conversation. Knock a stack of papers waiting to be corrected over or go get a drink of water. Disrupting the flow of the conversation with an unexpected act makes redirecting  the discussion easier.
  • Don’t hold a grudge–as soon the person shows respect, put forth a friendly comment.

The Constant Complainer

  • Ask for specifics. You’re saying that Sally and Joey never do their homework and are impossible to work with.  Well, let’s assemble some statistics on their missing assignments in all of their classes.
  • Direct the conversation to problem solving. OK, we have the information on Sally and Joey.  Now let’s look for patterns–are there specific types of assignments that don’t come in like writing or texts based? Then we can narrow the problem down to something specific.
  • Don’t agree with them just to get them to stop complaining–that will only validate their behavior.  Go back to asking for specifics and suggestions for how the team can work to resolve the problem.

Ms./Mr. Silent/Unresponsive

  • Use the same open ended questioning techniques you use with students–why? how?
  • Use wait time (again just like with students) — don’t fill the void with your chatter or solutions.
  • Be direct about how your are interpreting his/her silence. You seem upset with the direction we are headed….
  • When s/he does contribute, be attentive.

The Over Promiser, but I Never Deliver–Super-Agreeable

  • Build a genuine relationship with this person so s/he feels valued.
  • Be sure the team divides the work up evenly; don’t let this person over commit.

Princes or Princesses of Negativity

  • Avoid win/lose battles with them.
  • Appoint them the team’s reality checkers.  This is an important role if it helps the team attend to details it might miss otherwise.
  • Ask them to give specific examples rather than just making BIG statements.
  • Take time as a team to celebrate little successes (with yourselves and with the students).

The Expert–Know-It All

  • Do your research–estimates will only feed this person’s belief that everyone else is incompetent.
  • Help them consider other alternatives with statements that begin  I wonder if or We’ve looked at the issue from this perspective, what if we looked at it from the students’ or parents’ point of view?
  • Be respectful of his/her points and paraphrase to make sure you understand.  Help me understand exactly what you mean when you say..
  • Share your information, but avoid one-upping the person.

Be sure to read the entire article.  Benjamin offers more ideas and insights: http://www.bluesuitmom.com/career/management/difficultpeople.html

Other sites you might find helpful:

Dealing With Difficult People: 27 Secrets & Strategies  You Can Apply Today

5 Types of Difficult Co-Workers and How To Deal With Them

4 Types of Difficult Coworkers and How To Deal With Them

So You Think You Know Young Adolescents!?!

As a middle school teams  you are probably always short of time because there is so much you want to accomplish! However, if you have ten minutes during a common planning session you might enjoy matching your knowledge about the cognitive, social-emotional, and physical developmental characteristics of the your adolescents you teach with recent research.  Here in game format is a pdf version of a presentation on this topic.


Click on the word “adolesdev” above and you will be able to download a pdf file.

Here’s a sample:









Download the file (adolesdev) to find the answer!

Take time to reflect on the information in the presentation:

  • Which of your beliefs were validated?
  • What surprised you?
  • What information might impact your practice as a team? as individual teachers?
  • What additional information do you need?

For more information on the characteristics of young adolescents,  check out NMSA’s Fundamentals for Student Success in the Middle Grades at http://www.nmsa.org/Advocacy/AdvocacyToolstoUse/FundamentalsPresentation/tabid/793/Default.aspx.

Back-Mapping: A Way to Help Students Internalize New Learning

Nancy Doda (in white) at the Maine Middle Level Education Institute (http://mleimaine.net/)

Nancy Doda, an advocate for young adolescents who speaks and writes with great passion about student voice, has an article in the newest Middle Ground (April, 2011) entitled ” The Power of Empowerment: Having Faith in Students.”  The entire article is online at http://www.nmsa.org/Publications/MiddleGround/Articles/April2011/tabid/2368/Default.aspx.  It’s well worth our time to read this article and then reflect on her message in terms of our own practice.  I don’t have my own classroom any more, however her message is one that also applies to my current work as a presenter.

One of her points is that we must be intentional in providing time for students to reflect on their work if they are going to retain, adapt and use this new information in different contexts.  She suggests a strategy called back-mapping.  Nancy defines back-mapping in this way, ” …a process whereby we ask students to reconsider what they have learned and how they have learned it”.

Back-mapping is a reflective process where students identify which activities helped them learn new information and how these particular activities were useful.  If I apply this method to my own language arts classroom, my prompt might be something like the following: “We’ve just finished a unit focusing on the novel Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.  Our major over-arching question was ‘How does Mildred Taylor use literacy conflict to keep the reader’s interest and help us understand the characters more completely?’ Please think back over the unit and identify the activities we did that helped you deepen your understanding of literary conflict and character development.  Be sure to include how these activities helped to build your understanding.”

Nancy reports that teachers she worked with asked this type of question twice–once at the end of the unit and then again at the end of the year. The students answers demonstrated that they retained the information in great detail.  That’s an outcome we would all like!

Imagine if an entire team adapted this practice of back-mapping.  Students would become adept at metacognition, one of the key components of learning. Using this kind of thinking in the contexts of different disciplines provides students with multiple practices.  It would also help them internalize the importance of metacognition/reflective learning as a important component of being an independent learner.

This process could be written or visual or auditory and become part of the students’ portfolios. Taking time to add this critical step in the learning process will lead to deeper understanding  and retention of the crucial concepts that are the foundation of future learning.

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