Teachers working on committees need clearly defined goals and duties
For Administrators

Simple Guidelines for Creating Effective Teacher Teams

By Brian Gatens April 27, 2015

It used to be that teaching was an isolated — and isolating — profession. Teachers were assigned a class list, given a curriculum and allowed to shut their classroom doors to work solo with their classes.

Over the past several decades, however, schools (and many other organizations and companies) have seen the strength that comes from people working together. Teacher teams and committees have been the result. Unfortunately, not everyone works well on these teams. Putting people in the same room on a regular basis doesn’t guarantee they will do their best work. Successful teaching teams require some extra effort. Here are some tips to help you get started with your team of teachers.

Start with group norms

Teamwork requires that each member understands the rules that will drive their work. As a team, decide what your team’s expectations should be of each member.

Examples of possible norms:

  • Don’t interrupt someone until they are finished talking.
  • Keep group decisions based on data and data only.
  • Pause and be deliberate when talking.

These may seem obvious or even trivial, but putting them down on paper and displaying them in the work area will be of great help. It promotes clear communication and you can refer back to it if needed.

Express the group’s goals

After the group norms have been established and before any significant discussion begins, it’s important for the group to deliberately talk through the ultimate goal of the work. What deliverable will be expected? What is the time frame? How will this help the school, and how will it affect other parts of the school?

Starting off with a fuzzy or meandering goal is toxic to the group as it lets the agenda get pulled in multiple directions. “Goal discipline” is vital.

Establish roles

Depending on the size of the group, take the time to assign roles. Examples include timekeeper, note taker, group leader, and agenda setter. Not only do these roles offer clarity to the various needs of the group, but they also let the group members focus on the overall goal.

Worrying if someone is taking notes, watching the clock or keeping the group on task takes away from people’s ability to fully participate in the group. Rotating these roles is also important to keep everyone engaged.

Acknowledge ignorance

Each group member will most likely have a strong knowledge base regarding the topic at hand. Yet if early group discussions reveal a significant information gap that can’t be easily remedied by preliminary research, then the group has to agree to gather more information.

Working with incomplete, or worse, incorrect information is deadly to a group’s goals. Calling a time-out and adjourning until more information is available is the way to go.

Take group notes

The collaborative nature of a service like Evernote enables multiple users to view and add to a group’s notes in real time. Having a permanent, easily accessible and comprehensive set of notes will enable all members to refresh their memories on demand.

My experience has been that a clear record of the group’s thoughts, ideas and decisions allows the work to be completed not only more quickly, but with better results. Another benefit is that the group note sharing capacity enables the role of note-taker to be easily filled by all members.

Make sure everybody pulls the rope

The most common trait of effective teacher groups is that everyone shares in both group discussions and expected workload. Being steadfast that everyone takes part equally — even though it might lead to uncomfortable conversations — is essential to having a positive experience for everyone.

Addressing this as an expectation at the start of the process, and sticking with it throughout, is the best way to keep everyone invested in the outcome.

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