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Teaming at the Middle Level: Focus on Student Social and Academic Growth

Recently I asked middle level colleagues to comment on teaming from their perspectives.  This post was written by Sandy Nevens, principal of Warsaw Middle School (Pittsfield, Maine), a New England League of Middle Schools’ Spotlight School.    Sandy is also the president of the Maine Association for Middle Level Education (MAMLE).

Sandy and several Warsaw MS teachers collaborate during a professional development event.

My fondest memories of team teaching take me back to my work on a five
core teacher plus allied arts interdisciplinary team. The units we
developed and the collaboration led to our reaching far beyond the
curriculum.  In my many years in the classroom, however, I have one
regret: that I never taught with another teacher on a two-person team.
Having read The Power of Two and the works of Mark Springer, Gert Nesin,
John Lounsbury, and many others, I recognized that power of two or three
person teams. In my work as an administrator at Auburn Middle School, I
was able to see for the first time, the power of two and three as we had
one two and three two person teams during my time there. These small teams
were new to the school as well, and they and I experienced the joys and
mysteries of exploring small teams. One team also piloted Expeditionary
and the democratic classroom. I “got” the advantages of teacher
to student ratios, teacher collaboration, and, most important, the
stronger bond between teacher and student when you have fewer students and
have them for a large chunk of time.

My last four plus years at Warsaw Middle School have given me an even
closer look at small teaming. Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield, Maine
has ten plus years of experience with two or three person teams. Warsaw is
a 5-8 middle school that began as a middle school with two large
interdisciplinary teams, but our present model of two or three person
teacher teams has been in place for eight years now.  Several factors make
the small teams especially successful as a model at Warsaw: all four
grades 5/6 teams are two person teams; all four teams teach the four core
subjects; and all four teams keep their students for two years. Each grade
5 and 6 teacher teaches either language arts and social
studies or math and science. Of course, teachers often co-teach a unit
and may also teach or co-teach a unit or lessons that may be in the
partner teacher’s domain, and this is the case with 7 & 8 teams as well.

In Grades 7 & 8 there are three teams, two three-person teams and one two
person team. In each three-person team one person teaches all math, and
one person teaches language arts. Social studies is taught on one three
person team by one teacher, and teaching science is shared by the team; on
the other three person team one teacher teaches science, and social
studies is shared between two of the teachers. On the two-person team for
Grades 7 & 8 one teacher teaches math and science and the second teacher
teaches language arts and social studies. It should be noted that all
teams are engaged in units throughout the year that may blur the lines
between the subjects taught and by whom!

The 7th & 8th grades teams also keep the same students for both grades 7 & 8 (looping).

There is a method to our madness, of course. Warsaw teachers have a solid
background in and understanding of the developmental needs of young
adolescents. The transition from child to adult begins and moves along in
these four years, and students benefit from knowing their teachers. In
four years at Warsaw a student will have only four or five core subject
teachers. The academic and interpersonal benefits are clear when students
begin two of their four years here knowing their teachers well, and their
teachers knowing how they learn without having to begin the second year at
square one.

FISH Philosophy

I imagine some schools may have an advisory program that is also within
teams; however, Warsaw Advisory (called FISH Groups after the Fish
) calls for all Allied Arts and Core teachers to have a Fish
Group of 11-12 students from all four grades. Eighth graders are in the
group with fifth graders, as well as sixth and seventh. These groups are
not grouped according to teams at all.  It is possible that a teacher may
have a FISH group with no one on it on his or her academic team!  This
configuration we believe serves two goals: to have one adult serve as
advisor to each student for all four years, and to have students mingle
with older and younger students, thus creating less of a barrier between

Parent-teacher meetings are either with the academic team or individual
teachers, and we schedule time for conferences in the fall and by

We also have a unique approach to our student portfolios in that they are
kept in each student’s FISH Group classroom, and students spend the year
collecting work for their portfolios from all of their classes. Students
are given time occasionally to add to and organize their portfolio work.
In the spring parents sign up for a time to have their child share her/his
portfolio with them. This portfolio sharing is conducted with the FISH
Group Advisor in the room, but it is the student who does all the talking.

Teaming at Warsaw is about relationships: teacher to student and student
to student!

Civil Rights Team Helps Warsaw MS build healthy relationships.

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