teaching: Using Teams of Teachers Effectively

August 3, 2015

Some of the best NAF trainings I went to dealt with team dynamics, and how to work with other teachers in ways that didn’t waste time, were organized, and actually make a difference in the performance of students. The two most helpful trainings I went to were led by Michelle Swanson of Swanson and Cosgrove Consulting. Here’s a summary of my takeaways, and some of my thoughts on implementing these ideas.

Leveraging a team to support struggling students

Teaching can be a lonely enterprise, but it doesn’t need to be. As schools grow, the growing trend of using teams of teachers to collaborate and support students combats the overwhelming number of students in schools and classrooms. With the NAF model, academies are teams of teachers that can be leveraged to identify and support struggling or at risk students. There are four steps to effectively use a team to support students according to Michelle Swanson: identify the team, structure the team’s members and meetings, define “struggling” and how to notice the signs, and then create systematic supports for students.

1. Identify team members, and then look within your team to support struggling students.

2. Spend time structuring the team so that the work is centered on the students. Meet to identify students that need support, not to cover announcements that could be sent out in an email.

3. Define what the early signs are for struggling students. What are the red flags that show that a student may need intervention to succeed? Some possible suggestions for these signs: missing more than 10% of school days, semester course failure, GPA below 2.0, and negative in class behavior.

4. After defining what the signs are, decide on supports such as summer bridge programs, tutoring after school. mentoring, and having a teacher that advises students identified as struggling.

The idea is that all students are capable, and that a team of staff can work together to catch more students and help all students use their talents and seize all the opportunities possible.

Making team meetings as effective as possible

So many modern meetings seem to be all about releasing information that could be sent through email. They feel like a waste of time. As we develop more ways to communicate information, our meetings need to be necessary, student focused, timely, and use clearly developed expectations and norms to drive truly meaning work.

Here are some of Michelle's suggestions for making team meetings effective:
  • Don’t meet if you don’t need to. Information delivery can be saved for email, collaborative, student focused, action oriented work lends itself to meeting in person. 
  • Adopt a common meeting mindset. Value each other’s time, and create meeting norms and working norms to ensure expectations are clear. If we expect our students to be professional and learn life skills, we need to demonstrate those skills also. 
  • Make sure to use meeting goals and agendas that accomplish the larger goals of your program or department. 
  • Stick to an agenda, and hold everyone to predetermined time limits. 
  • Use systems like Google Docs to take information from the meeting, and turn it into action. 
  • Each meeting, take time to reflect on the effectiveness of the meeting. Review and revise the norms, and hold people accountable for them. 
  • Make sure everyone on the team has a role in the meeting and beyond their teaching. If someone can claim a part of the team’s duties as their own, they are more likely to be engaged. 
In the end, I think that these are great suggestions. I want to push committees, planning teams, and even my students to consider some of these solutions, especially with setting norms and making work time worth while. Who knows, maybe we could even use this for our staff meetings. 

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