Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Case for Teaming in the Middle Level

The transition from elementary to middle school can be improved through the use of teams.

A Connected Curriculum
For good reason, the impact on student learning is always a significant component of any discussion in education today.   One of the key components of interdisciplinary teams is the ability to connect learning with real life by not compartmentalizing learning.  Teachers can make significant connections with what is being taught in other subjects.  By reading a book in Language Arts about the Revolutionary War at the same time Social Studies is learning about the Revolutionary War, connections can be made.  Science might incorporate lessons about the medical procedure used at the time or the topography of the land in the colonies or whatever fits the science curriculum.  Math can use examples from the Revolution and story problems that fit with the other subjects.  All of the sudden, the curriculum starts to come to life and the teachers and students can feed off of each other.  This of course is a significant part of teaming, but teaming can also have other positive benefits to a school.  In an elementary school, this can happen as a bi-product of the fact that one teacher has the student for most of the day.  In the middle level, this needs to be coordinated intentionally through teaming.

An opportunity to huddle
On a football team, after each play, the offense huddles up and calls the next play.  Some teams use a no huddle offense so the communication doesn't happen through a huddle but it still happens.  Imagine a football team with no huddle and they didn't call a play at the line of scrimmage.  They'd all just run into each other, some would be going out for passes, the linemen would be blocking down field and other would be in pass protection.  It would be quite a sight to see (Wisconsin fans-no need to bring up last week's Huskers at this point in the blog). Now imagine a group of teachers with one opportunity per month to discuss curriculum and their students.  This team of teachers would be disjointed and unable to really work as a team.  So we give teams an opportunity to "huddle" using common plan time.  Teachers are able to discuss interdisciplinary projects like described above.

Teachers are also able to create and implement plans with individual students.  By solving student problems at the team level, teachers are able to increase instructional quantity, which is the 4th largest influence on achievement according to Hattie's Effect Size.  How are they able to increase quantity of instruction?  By keeping the student in the classroom (and out of the office) and discussing the student during team plan.  Teachers can then discuss the student with the counselor, administrator, parent, etc.

What kind of team?
An argument can be made that the teams should be by department.  This works very well for planning common curriculum among all 5th grade math teachers.  This is essential for the curriculum side of teaching.  However, we don't only teach math, we also teach 5th graders.  Therefore, it is extremely important to have the opportunity to get together with the teachers who teach the same course and it is important to team with others who teach the same students.

Get to know your students
In elementary schools, students are in one class for a large part of the day.  They might leave for PE, Music, Art, etc. In high school, teachers are much more specialized in a subject.  How do we move from one teacher to 8 different teachers in a day without making the student feel that they are left out on an island? Teaming allows teachers to focus on the student.  We are able to transition the student into the future high school model without losing the 9 year old child in the "big school."  We can essentially create a small school within the school.  If you already have a small school, common plan is still important as you are able to discuss the student help them feel as a part of the school.

Teacher Job Satisfaction
School climate matters.  Teachers are in a profession where they see 100-150 people in a day.  However, these people are 9-15 year old.  It leads to a lonely existence.  By being able to have adult conversations, it advances professionalism and helps create an environment where you are not out there all by yourself.

A teacher is accountable for a group of students.  The social studies teacher is now connected to the reading,  writing, math, and science results for a student.  The students belong to the teacher.  The teachers work for a common goal when teaming is done right.

Teaming as a Luxury or Necessity?
Teaming is good for teachers and students.  It is not a luxury.  Our students need us in this time of their life more than ever.  Graduation rates are effected more by middle level educators than any other grade level.  Understand that they are not just a cog in the educational factory. They are at a time when they need someone looking out for them.  Someone to be their advocate.  Someone to love them at their most unlovable.  Teaming allows for positive and proactive measures to assist students in this time of need. Teaming allows for a group of adults, not an individual (hope you got a good one) teacher looking out for the child.
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