3 Qualities of High Performing Teacher Teams
“A precondition for doing anything to strengthen our practice and improve a school is the existence of a collegial culture in which professionals talk about practice, share their craft knowledge, and observe and root for the success of one another." - Roland Barth
Schools across the United States have faculty meetings, weekly grade level meetings, and attend required professional development. What makes a great team? Aside from the required meetings, high performing teacher teams possess three common characteristics. How does your team measure up?
Successful teams establish goals and when the team begins to succeed or fail, members return to their established goals. A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
Wiggins and McTighe (2005), wrote, “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (p. 21)? If teachers claim to operate as a professional learning team, but they lack clearly defined learning outcomes, then students will experience a disjointed curriculum. If goal-setting is important in athletics and on business teams, then professional learning teams must reflect on how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose.
According to Lencioni (2007), a lack of trust "occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses, or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible."
A PLC that operates with trust will ask:
Which students seem to struggle with the key concepts and skills identified by the team?
Which skills or concepts do I struggle to teach?
If our students do not do well on the state writing test, then what strategies should we incorporate at our grade level? At the grade levels prior to our grade?
Some students are struggling with note taking and organization skills. What can teachers do to support students who are struggling in school, due to a lack of study skills?
Our students are struggling with Algebra I. Are there areas of the curriculum map that could be revised to support teaching and learning?
Solution Tree created an interactive survey for teams called the Trust Survey.
See if this survey helps your team rise to new heights in 2013-2014!
Teacher teams enjoy collaborating and sharing ideas. Risk taking is rarely seen in most team meetings. Often, teams follow an agenda, share ideas, give each other a high five and type the meeting minutes. Discussing grading practices involves risk taking. Developing a rubric for a student project involves risk taking. Another form of risk taking is challenging the process. In the famous leadership book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner wrote,
They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.
If teachers are going to transform teaching and learning, then they must be comfortable with risk taking. Implementing a new unit and trying technology integration involves risks for most teachers. What if it fails? This is the beauty of a team. If the unit or lesson fails, then you have a team that can offer support, share how the same activity went in another classroom, or support you in tweaking the lesson. As education continues to change and the world requires a different type of high school graduate, educators must take risks. What would Joe Montana do in the closing seconds of the game? What would Michael Phelps do on the final lap? How would Keri Strug respond on her final vault at the 1996 Olympics? Winning teams and winning athletes take risks. Don't play it safe. Students are depending on you to think outside the box and to prepare them for the next level.
There are other characteristics of high performing teams such as team norms, highly qualified professional teachers, a desire to learn, and more. As you begin the 2013-2014 school year, reflect on your team's strengths and weaknesses. You may be part of a new team. Perhaps your strongest teacher leader retired at the end of last year. Teacher teams provide leadership, ideas, and a strong foundation for students. In the absence of a strong foundation, students may not graduate college and career ready. That would be a shame.