What Makes Teacher Teams Effective

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

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

teamwork helping others

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.



Teamwork Makes The Dream Work: Getting Teams Right In Schools

Teamwork makes the dream work.  TEAM:  Together Everyone Achieves More.  There is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM.’

All of these are true.  All of these are great!  And all of these are only a beginning to getting teams right in our schools.  Sometimes as leaders, we know to our core that when our teachers work together we have better results, but we don’t invest the time to help them learn how to work together.

Yes, we all want our faculty and staff to work well together in a number of different teams, small and large, criss-crossing each other and covering the needs of all of the students and parents of the school.  We know that when we can get it right, teamwork will, as the saying goes, make the dream work!

Here’s the problem:  between some and many and of the teachers at any given school aren’t great at working in teams.  (Instances vary from school to school.)  Sometimes even those teams that appear to be working together aren’t always what they seem to be.

To a degree, many teachers find working as a team to be a bit unnatural.  What they find natural is to be in charge of their own room, their own students, their own curriculum, and their own results.  The truth is, many of the teachers who feel this way actually do deliver good results.  What do you as the leader say then?

Many faculty members, depending upon the school, are the opposite.  They gravitate towards working in a unit, dedicated to a cause, knee-deep in the data, and focused on the goals.  Even those individuals only work well with others when the “others” are the right ones.  I’ve visited many schools where grade level, department, or special interest teams have lots of good teachers but come together and create a deficit, not a strength.

If school leaders want teachers to work together well as teams, they should invest the time to help them do so. 

This is hardly rocket surgery 🙂 but nevertheless, there are many leaders who are using hope as their best strategy for their teachers working together.  They’ve put them together, assumed that they’ll figure it out, and despite attending meetings with the team regularly they have yet to establish how it works when the administrator isn’t in the room. 

teamwork quote

The goals that a school administrator has for her teams should be framed on what they do when you aren’t around.  Yes, you’ll need to spend some time when you are around for a while to shape, model, and norm, but the goal should be to develop fully functioning teams of teachers who improve instruction through their collaborative work and professional learning. 

To assume that all it takes for teams to work is an invitation to meet, a location, and a commonality among members (same department, same grade level) is wishful thinking at best.  Working together as a team is like any other relationship.  It takes time, it takes work, and it isn’t always sunshine and cotton candy. You know right now the difference between effective and less-than-effective teams of teachers.  If pressed to do so, you could name your most and least effective teams pretty quickly.  What is even more important as the leader is to also know why each is ranked at that particular end of the spectrum.

This week, we’ll be exploring teams in schools:  what works, what doesn’t work.  How to design a build a great team, and how to support your team leaders in their role.  Today’s column is here primarily to remind you as a school leader of three things:

  1.  Teamwork can make a positive difference in your school’s performance;
  2. While many teachers enjoy working as a part of a team, there are still many others who find teamwork unnatural and would prefer to do things on their own;
  3. If you want your teams to run well, you’ll need to invest time in their design and their progress.




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