Effective middle level teams make a difference. For over 30 years studies have shown that students achieve at higher levels, are more engaged, feel less isolated and depressed, and generally like school better when they are part of a team. This research also shows that the most effective teams have common planning time at least four times a week and use this time to plan in a collaborative manner. So…we know that effective teams impact students’ lives in very positive ways. The question then is…how do teams become effective? Are they born? Is an effective team created when the wise principal magically puts the just the right combination of people together? Or, do effective teams develop as a result of nurturing?
I vote for nurturing. A middle grades team is a living organism whose development is affected by its environment and the actions of others around them. When I think about ways to develop high functioning teams I am reminded of Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. He often suggests that clients look beyond their industry to others that share similar tasks. For example, a hospital emergency room staff looked at the way Indy car pit crews organize and work together to change tires and make repairs in seconds. The hospital staff observed general procedures in the “pit” that they could apply back in the ER. Using this strategy I went searching via Google to find out what characteristics professions other than education nurture in their teams. I located comments from the business world, a religious group, and psychologists on this topic. Below is a chart which summarizes what I found. It also has information from an education class at Stanford University.
“Characteristics of Effective Team.” http://www.stanford.edu/class/e140/e140a/effective.html
Eikenberry, Kevin. “Nurturing effective teamwork.” The Sideroad: Practical Advice from the Experts. http://www.sideroad.com/Team_Building/effective-teamwork.html.
Foster, Gary. “ Five essentials to nurturing a effective teams. ChurchLeaders.com: Lead better every day. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/140063-five-essentials-to-nurturing-effective-teams.html.
“Positive psychology at work.” Psychology for business. http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/articles_alternative2.htm
“The 7 Traits of Highly Effective Teams.”World-Wide Success. http://ww-success.com/blog/index.php/2007/01/17/the-seven-traits-of-highly-effective-teams/
There are trends that show up across professions:
- Shared responsibility
- Clarity of purpose and roles
- Positive and nurturing atmosphere
- Good communication
- Responsive leadership
These key characteristics exemplify the manner in which effective teams operate. It needs to be an ongoing school goal to develop the capacity of team teachers and team leaders in these areas. A team that collaborates well is able to develop instruction plans that support students across the curriculum. These plans might include organizational skills or a coordinated approach to literacy or building a supportive community with their students or all of the above. When there is not an explicit plan to help teams build their capacity for working as a collaborative force, this powerful structure may fall short of its potential for making a huge difference in students’ academic and personal lives. This capacity building does not need to be an expensive proposition. Most schools can plan and implement an ongoing professional development teaming initiative. Here are a couple of ideas:
1. Include physical team building activities in faculty meetings and spend 5 minutes processing what went on. What did you do to successfully solve this challenge? How might we adapt and apply these lessons to our work in teams? Check out http://www.teachmeteamwork.com/ and http://www.teampedia.net/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page for ideas.
2. In the fall, each team should meet with the principal to have a conversation about team goals for the year.
3. Have each team share procedures and/activities they are using which they find to be really helpful. Once a month a different team shares an idea at a meeting.
4. Provide team leaders with specialized training in facilitating meetings and dealing with difficult people. There are many websites that give good suggestions. Read them together and then do some role playing and processing. Visit:
Ask them to clearly state why students will be
better off on their team rather than in
several separate classes.
7. Model strategies like consensogram, carousel, and think-pair-share that encourage everyone to be part of the discussion. Be sure to mention that these strategies all transfer to the classroom as well as working well in meetings.
If a school is going to be organized in teams then it just makes sense to help them become collaborative, problem solving entities that are able to nimbly and successfully address students’ needs.