If you’re doing teaching right, you’re doing it with others. Teaching was once an individual endeavor, but we’ve learned how more effective we can be when we work together.
Some teams of teachers, however, are more effective than others. You know that from your work as a school leader. Do you know what makes one more effective than another? Let’s take a look and perhaps it can help inform your work as you seek to design more effective teams.
Three Elements of Effective Teacher Teams
- Purpose: The reason for bringing teachers together is to improve instruction. It’s easier to improve your work if you’re a part of a larger effort with others. Being a part of the team puts you in a culture of reflection, preparation, and continual improvement. When teachers come together without clarity of purpose, they often struggle. It’s a good thing to have the purpose clearly stated and visible to maintain the focus. When it works, everyone knows the purpose of coming together and they are energized by it.
- Selflessness: If each member of the team is committed to serving the interests of everyone else before their own, the team will be exceptionally successful. When a group of teachers come together committed to the school’s goals, to the success of all of the students, and to seeing their colleagues do well, everyone prospers. Since selflessness is not the default state for humankind, this can require some work. It’s well worth the work, though. It’s true that there’s no ‘I’ in team, both literally and figuratively. When the individuals work for the team, the team also works for the individuals.
- Professionalism: As the leader, if you want to have teams of teachers who work well, make sure to include an emphasis on professionalism. When educators (or any profession for that matter) behave in accordance to the highest standards for people in their field, you can begin your work at with high expectations. Professionalism guides the behavior of individuals when no one is observing, watching, or inspecting. If the school’s leaders can build a consistent culture of professionalism, they won’t have to spend nearly as much time checking up on what their teachers are doing. People are quick to roll out the old phrase, “you have to inspect what you expect.” While that’s true, it’s also true that your school is too large for you to be inspecting everywhere all of the time! We are counting on our teachers to behave in a professional manner even when we aren’t there.
There are more than three elements of highly effective teacher teams, but if you get these right, you will be off to a good start. In conducting school visits across the country, I’ve seen the best of teacher teams… and I’ve seen those who need a makeover. That “makeover” is most likely to come from a source outside the team… you, the school leader. If you’re deliberating on how to make one or more of your teams effective, consider these elements– purpose, selflessness, and professionalism. Spend time with all of your teachers or just one team at a time. Develop lessons and strategies to effectively teach the elements and you’ll be on your way to seeing the team produce results. Once you have results, it’s an easier path to understanding.