-by Krista Taylor
Late one summer night, my teaching partner and I were working frantically at my dining room table. The school year was long over, but as part of my summer work, I had agreed to restructure a major assignment. I had four days to go from a big idea to a finalized document.
I called Beau seeking sympathy. His response was priceless: “Let me help you with that. We have different strengths; it’s what we do. We’re a team.”
Beau had no obligation to assist me, but we are a team, and that’s a powerful concept.
Collaboration is a critical component of the successful functioning of modern education. Teaching in isolation behind a closed classroom door is no longer an effective model. The demands of accountability, increased rigor, and meeting the needs of each student, require teachers to work together.
Collaboration is not just a buzzword. Documented gains result from well-conducted collaboration.
“The low-income districts and schools that have demonstrated the greatest improvement in student outcomes are generally characterized by deep collaboration between administrators and teachers.” (Anrig, Greg. “Why Collaboration is Vital to Creating Effective Schools.” The Washington Post. May 2, 2013.)
While there are many forms of collaboration, the longest term, and perhaps most impactful, collaboration comes through teaming.
Gamble is a “team-based school.” We have all kinds of teams: departmental teams, vertical teams, co-teaching teams, building leadership teams, grade-level teams, and community teams that share a common group of students.
And while two (or more) heads are better than one, effective teaming is neither a simple nor an easy process. Simply being part of a team is not the same as collaborating. True collaboration, true teaming, is working together to effect change.
Bruce Tuckman identified a common process that teams cycle through as they become highly functional. It is important to note that these stages are not a linear progression; rather, teams can regularly revisit any of the stages, often triggered by a change or disruption.
Stage 1: Forming.
This is often thought of as a honeymoon period. Individuals are just getting to know each other, and there is little conflict.
When Beau, Kim, and I first became a team, the beginning was easy. Since I was the most experienced member of the team, they mostly just agreed with me. I had to remember to push them to share their ideas and opinions.
Stage 2: Storming.
Stress increases, arguments arise, and things become more difficult.
My team experienced this when we revamped our grading policy. What began as a philosophical conversation, rapidly developed into a significant conflict. Kim wanted a complete overhaul. Beau was resistant. I served as a mediator between the two. At one point, the conversation grew so hot that Beau had to take a walk to cool off. We ended our discussion that day with no resolution. The next morning, each of them had drafted a conciliatory plan based on the other person’s perspective. The argument continued, but they had both shifted to arguing for the very thing that they had been against! As soon as I pointed this out, we laughed, and got down to the business of over-hauling our policy.
Stage 3: Norming. In this stage, cooperation and a focus on task and purpose is apparent.
Once we got rolling as a team, we met weekly to hash out the details of the upcoming week –where each person would be each bell, with which group of students, what content was being taught, and who was responsible for what. This became routine – a norm. We couldn’t function without it, but with this process in place, we were a well-oiled machine.
Stage 4: Performing. This is the optimal level of functioning, and occurs when teams utilize each member’s strengths to work toward shared goals. The above example of Beau’s selflessness in assisting with my summer work was a powerful example of performing. We were a team – we looked out for, and depended on, each other.
Collaboration is not easy, and, contrary to common belief, it doesn’t save time. Functional teaming takes significant time and energy; however, when teams are willing to work together, the results are better than when individuals work alone, and, as noted in The Washington Post, it is critical to tackling our most challenging issues in education.