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Posts tagged ‘Teaming’

Teams = “Cast of Contagious Characters”

I was reading Bernie Schein’s  If Holden Caulfield were in my Classroom when I came across the phrase “…there is no substitute for a cast of contagious teachers.” I immediately thought…what a great description for creative, effective middle level team teachers!

Contagious in their…

  • Love of and belief in the young adolescent
  • Belief that learning should be engaging, challenging, and fun
  • Excitement for the subjects/topics they teach
  • Conviction that all students can achieve at high levels
  • Desire to model life-long learning
  • Certainty that with their students they can build a team culture that is welcoming and inclusive

There is research that supports the concept of contagious emotions.  One definition I found is “a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.” This quote is attributed to  Sigal G. Barsade, a professor at the Wharton School of Business. In a recent article in US News and World Report,  Justin Ewers writes that “Two business professors, Sigal Barsade of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Donald Gibson of Fairfield University, found in a recent study that employee moods have a measurable effect on just about everything anyone does at work-job performance, decision making, creativity, turnover, teamwork, and leadership.”

Another study done at Harvard found “Happiness really is contagious, according to a new study released by Harvard Medical School. Happiness can spread through social networks like social contagion. One happy person can trigger a chain reaction that benefits friends, friends’ friends and friends’ friends’ friends.

Obviously, then, the team’s teachers’ attitudes, actions, words, and body language are going to have a huge impact on the team’s culture.  The next question might be…what can a team do to nurture a contagious positive environment for both their students and themselves?  Some things to consider:

1. Be crystal clear about your purpose as a team.You need to know what your contagion is!

  • Why will your students be better off for spending a year with all of you?
  • How is your whole (team experience) more than the sum of your parts (individual classes)?  (Aristole’s thought, not mine.)
  • How will you create synergy–“… may be defined as two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.” (Wikipedia)

2. Develop rituals that focus on the positive.

  • Weekly meetings with the entire team to build community and spotlight accomplishments (Avoid team meetings to chastise everyone —praise in public, discipline in private.)
  • Team teachers eat lunch together once a week to chat and laugh
  • Celebrate birthdays
  • End of the quarter celebrations of learning

3.  Set a team goal that everyone believes in–goals might focus on any one of a variety of things:

  • Add more interactive lessons
  • Increase technology integration
  • Improve advisory
  • Review lessons together to ensure higher level thinking skills are embedded

4. Help students assist others by adding service learning component–check out…

5. Ask yourselves before every lesson–would I want to study this topic in this fashion or read this text?  If the answer is no… find an engaging alternative! Don’t settle for mediocre curriculum and materials.

Sometimes it is hard to stay contagiously upbeat. Throughout the year go to Ted Talks or search RSAnimate on YouTube  and view one of their  videos.  The ideas will pump you up and send you back to the classroom  with a positive, can-do attitude.  Some of my favorites are below:

RSAnimate on Daniel Pink’s book Drive (motivation)

RSAnimate in Changing Education Paradigms

Sir Ken Robinson & Creativity

After School Writing Program

Tinkering School

Child Driven School

Promoting Student Resiliency

One of the major benefits of teaming is that teachers are able to work together to create an environment that supports all students. One of the challenges that many teams often face as they work to maintain a supportive team culture is violence in the school.  Mary Callan writes a thoughtful post for the Bright Futures blog on a recent study about violence prevention programs.  She reports the discouraging results of the study — violence prevention programs are not working in middle schools.  We all know that fear, whether from physical or psychological threats, impedes learning.  Obviously then, team teachers have to look beyond the school’s violence prevention practices to build the team environment that promotes learning.

Dr. Callan, a former middle school principal and current adjunct professor, wonders in her post if the anti-violence programs incorporate ideas from the research on the conditions that promote resiliency in children.  She mentions six factors that are imperative if we  want to help students develop the capacity to be strong in the face of adversity and the ability to bounce back from difficult situations (http://brightfutures4me.wordpress.com/):

1. Academic efficacy:  Every student needs to feel that they are able to learn.

2. Academic self-determination:  Every student needs to have choices and control over their learning.

3. Behavioral self-control: Every student needs to feel that they have the ability to control their behaviors.

4. Positive Teacher/student relationships:  Every student needs to have a positive relationship with their teacher.

5. Positive Peer relationships: Every student needs to have positive peer relationships.

6. Positive Home/school relationships:  Every student needs to have positive relationships between home and the school.

These six factors are certainly reflected in the major literature and research findings about effective  practices for young adolescents.  A team would not go wrong using these six factors as guiding principles for their work together. They center on developing students who are focused, responsible for their own actions and decisions, and able to interact positively with a variety of people.

Some folks may throw their hands up and shout, “But you haven’t mentioned academics!”

My response…These capacities of a believing in one’s ability to learn, managing one’s own behavior, and dealing well with others are not addressed in isolation.  Of course, an intellectually stimulating curriculum based on high standards is the centerpiece of a team’s work. However, by looking at academic programming through the lens of these six factors of resiliency,  team teachers can collaboratively plan an instructional approach that helps develop flexible, strong, respectful, and academically accomplished students.

Fantastic Summer Opportunity for Middle Level Teams!

Nancy Doda talks with participants at MLEI

There is never enough time for teams to accomplish all of their goals during the school year:

  • Create interdisciplinary units that address critical standards across the curriculum
  • Collaborate to teach necessary study skills
  • Create an effective plan to incorporate literacy, numeracy, and digital fluency across all of the classes
  • Refine the advisory program to include hot topics like cyber-citizenship and cyber-bullying
  • Spend time to build your capacity as a high-functioning team

The Middle Level Education Institute held at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine provides the opportunity and the atmosphere for reflection and fresh ideas.  It is an uniquely middle level event where everyone in attendance loves working with young adolescents and desires to develop learning experiences that address their cognitive, social, and physical needs. Furthermore, participants never have to explain to others why they enjoy working with this age group!!!

  • Participants’ questions and concerns drive the program.
  • Large chunks of time are set aside for teams to work on their own projects.
  • Each individual or team has a knowledgeable consultant as a coach and go-to person.
  • Sessions model exemplary middle level practice.  This is not a “sit and git” type of professional development.
  • Technology is integrated seamlessly with a lot of Individual help for attendees wanting to learn more.

Join us this summer, August 1-4 for a professional learning experience you will refer back to all next year.  Visit our website at http://mleimaine.net/  

3 Graduate Credits Available


Mikaela at campusevents@thomas.edu

Jill at jillspencer51@gmail.com

Come with a mission and  we’ll help you fulfill it!    Look who’s on board to work with  you!


1. Your Leadership Team wants to tackle a challenging school issue.

Chris Toy

  •  consults internationally on developing leadership capacity
  •  teaches graduate classes in leadership and school law
  •  received A+ Administrator Award from NELMS

Bill Zima

  •  helped his school develop effective behavior plan
  • experienced with proficiency and standards-based learning

Nancy Doda

  • works internationally in the area of school reform
  • acknowledged as an expert on young adolescents
  • received Lounsbury Award–NMSA’s most prestigious honor


2. Your team needs to develop its plan for implementing RTI (academic and behavior).

Cathie Tibodeau

  •  worked all over New England as NELMS Teacher in Resident
  •  presided as NMSA’s president 2009
  •  consults nationally on math instruction and differentiation

Chuck Saufler & Stan Davis

  •  work across Maine and the country with schools to improve school climate
  •  acknowledged experts in bullying prevention and restorative justice
  •  help schools address cyber-bullying issues

Jill Spencer, Carol Duffy, Barbara Greenstone, & Nancy Doda

  •  over 100 years of combined experience with both print and digital literacy


3. Your team desires to reinvigorate your curriculum in order to engage your students.

Phil Brookhouse & Barbara Greenstone

  •  help teachers across Maine integrate technology  (MLTI)
  •  teach practitioners the basics of inquiry and challenge based learning
  •  are up-to-date in the latest innovations in digital learning

Mark Springer

  •  presents nationally on integrative curriculum and the democratic classroom
  •  coaches schools as they revise their curriculum and improve their instruction
  •  writes highly popular books on curriculum and instruction Watershed & Soundings

The MLEI Team would appreciate your help in spreading the word about MLEI–Please share with your social network via Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Thanks!!!!

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

8 Essential Issues for Teams to Consider

“Getting good players is easy. Getting them to play together—that’s the hard part.”  Casey Stengle

“Teachers responsible for the team must enter their work with clear commitment to a shared vision of what their team can become, and they must contribute their moral support, energy, and ideas for strategies that have promise of helping them move deliberatively toward realization of the vision.”  Chris Stevenson, Teaching Ten to Fourteen Year Olds.

Dr. Stevenson is a retired professor of education from the University of Vermont.  He has been a advocate for young adolescents and exemplary middle level education for many years. Below are some of his thoughts on teaming; they are described in detail in Teaching Ten to Fourteen Year Olds. Perhaps this outline will be helpful as a self-assessment for existing teams and a guide for new ones.

8 Essential Issues For Teams

  • Governance: how the team is organized for decision making
  • Team Identity: what the team stands for
  • Operating Procedures: daily, monthly, or semester calendar
  • Communication: how decisions are shared within and beyond the team
  • Recognition: how accomplishment is recognized
  • Curriculum: what is to be taught and learned
  • Accountability: how evidence about team effectiveness is collected
  • Teacher Efficacy: benefits to the adults involved

Governance: how the team is organized for decision-making

  • How will we decide?
  • What if someone really disagrees?
  • How will we make sure each of our voices is heard?
  • What will our norms be?

Team Identity: what the team stands for

  • Statement of beliefs
  • Team name
  • Team colors
  • Rituals & traditional activities
  • Expectations and standards

Operating Procedures: daily, monthly, or semester calendar

  • How will team meeting be run?
  • How will we make sure we are addressing each student’s needs
  • What about homework? Helping students with organization?
  • How will we begin the year so that each student has a good start?
  • How will we get to know the parents quickly and in a positive fashion?

Communication: how decisions are shared within and beyond the team

  • With each other
  • With other teams
  • With special ed?  Guidance?
  • With allied arts?
  • With administration?
  • With students?
  • With parents
  • With community?

Recognition: how is accomplishment is recognized

  • Academic achievement
  • Outside of school achievements
  • Sports and extra-curricular activities?
  • Traditions we want to start
  • Student voice

Curriculum: what is to be taught and learned

  • Where can we collaborate?
  • How will we make sure we are not assigning big projects & tests all at the same time?
  • Which standards overlap our different disciplines?
  • Student questions—where do they fit in?
  • Should we try an interdisciplinary unit?  What? Why?

Accountability: how evidence about team effectiveness is collected?

  • How will make sure we are looking at each child’s progress?
  • What will we do if a child is not achieving?
  • How will we use test scores to help us meet student needs?
  • How will we be knowledgeable about the team culture—that bullying or harassment is not going on? That students are gaining confidence as well as competence?

Teacher Efficacy: benefits to the adults involved?

  • How will we build trust among us?
  • How will we collaborate?
  • How will communicate with honesty?
  • How will we stay focused?
  • How will we celebrate our triumphs—large and small?

Create Effective Teams with Some TLC!

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.


Advice on nurturing team development.


“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:

Team building activities are transferrable to the classroom and advisory.

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:

5.  Make very clear what the expectations are for the teams. 

Model strategies for including everyone in discussions.

Ask them to clearly state why students will be

better off on their team rather than in

several separate classes.

6. Practice together the 7 Norms of Collaboration from Garmston & Wellman. http://csi.boisestate.edu/Improvement/7%20Norms.pdf

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.

Helping New Teammates With Classroom Management

Classroom management is probably the biggest challenge for a new teacher. When I was co-teaching an undergrad course we used students’ questions to help shape the curriculum.  Their number one question was how do I manage my class? And…who doesn’t remember his/her first day of teaching and the trepidation  felt as one faced a homeroom full of young adolescents? Many of my students hauled lobsters.  They were tall, muscular, and just a little scary.  They also weren’t enthralled with being in school in September when the fishing was still good out on Casco Bay. Turns out they were terrific kids; I just didn’t have a clue what I would do if they refused to work.  Fortunately I was on a supportive team, and they gave me some very good advice.

One in five teachers leaves teaching within the first three years.  A major contributing factor is discipline.  Even former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee admits to having class management problems as a young teacher.  A cohesive team will coach a beginning teacher as s/he learns the ins and outs of teaching beyond knowing the content.  Brainstorming  ideas for ensuring that lessons go smoothly other than “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving” benefit the experienced team teachers as well as the neophyte.  Someone’s else’s strategy can be morphed to fit another’s particular situation.

I was reminded of the power of shared problem solving and coaching  while reading the March/April edition of  NEA’s  magazine and came across the  feature article “Help“. The question related to working with students who refused to do their work.  One of the contributors (Howard) to the column suggested four words to remember: Proximity, Praise, Prompt, and Leave.  I’m just going to quote Howard because I think his advice is succinct and very useful:

  • Proximity. Move around the room and check work of all students (not just special ed). Notice who is stymied or not attending. Approach quietly. Whisper. Establish eye contact.
  • Praise. Note something the student has done: “Hey, you made it to class today.” “You have the first part of the problem figured out.”
  • Prompt. Briefly tell the student what to do next (less than 20 seconds): “Line up the value places in the problem.” “Six times eight is 48.” Don’t bring attention to what the student hasn’t done or mistakes. Tell them you will be back shortly to check.
  • Leave. Don’t “hover and smother.” Move to another student. Keep your comeback appointment.

Imagine how helpful it would be to a new teacher if a teammate suggested this strategy and then said, “You know I think I want to fine tune my use of this approach.  Why don’t we both work on implementing it and take time to chat about our progress two times a week.  Maybe we could even visit each other’s classes.”

Mentoring a new teammate is an important aspect of teaming and a superb use of common planning time. To paraphrase an old saying, a team is really only as strong as its weakest link.  If things are going badly in one class, everyone else’s will be affected.  Attitudes, problems, histrionics that start in one class often follow the students the rest of their day.  Working together as team to create healthy, supportive climates in each classroom benefits everyone–students and teachers.

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