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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Teaching With a Team Makes All The Difference

Over the past few years our school system has been moving from the isolated, top-down factory model of school to a team model of teaching and learning. The change has not always been easy, but it seems like the work of the past few years is reaching positive change with regard to service to students and the development of a learning/teach team.

Our grade-level teaching team includes classroom teachers, teaching assistants, ELA and math coaches, curriculum leaders, and the principal. Most of us meet every Friday for one hour to discuss an issue of importance with respect to teaching and learning. Many of our discussions are based on formative and summative data.

For example, many of our meetings this year have centered on the use of the Response to Intervention (RTI) model for ELA and math. We've studied the data, discussed students' needs, and created structures to meet those needs. We revisit the structure, progress, and data about every six weeks to rethink our work, the groups, needs, and to plan for future learning.

Currently our math RTI includes five groups. Three of the groups include one-to-one or small groups and the fourth/fifth group works together with one large group that splits into two sections each week. One section is more independent and the other has greater teacher coaching. The weekly split is based on formative formal and informal assessments each week. The big group is mostly led by online learning menus that respond to students' learning needs and interests while the smaller groups have a responsive give-and-take structure based on specific students' needs and small teacher-student ratios.

The ELA groups are also formed by data and multiple teachers who take groups of varying size to target specific needs determined by a host of formal and informal assessments.

During these RTI times students move about to their designated teachers and learning areas with ease.

Our team also has two clusters. In each cluster there is a science/math teacher and an ELA/social studies teacher. The two teachers in the cluster work together to teach all students. There's lots of fluidity between the classrooms and students feel at home in both arenas.  Grouping and teaching varies from times when all 44 students work together to times when there are multiple small groups learning in both classrooms.

All of us also partner with younger grade classes. This offers students yet another teacher to confer with and younger students to teach and learn with as well. In my situation, the younger grade is right next door so students often travel there when they have some extra time to help out. The kindergartners are also always poking their heads in to say hello or coming in to tell a story.

Specialists and others offer multiple extracurricular activities as well so there's movement to and from those rooms as students partake in chorus, before school art, school council, assembly leadership positions, tech task force, affinity groups, counseling activities and more.

In general, our students are coming and going all day long, each with their particular menu of collective grade-level activities, small group learning, one-to-one help, and extracurricular activities.

Unlike the past there is little stigma associated with the way students travel. This is mostly true because the groups change so often that no one keeps track of who goes where when. Also there's little talk of "your kids" vs. "my kids" because our team approach builds a sense of "our kids" as we all work together to teach all students.  Unfortunately educator evaluation systems still support a notion of "your kids" and "my kids" when it comes to evaluation data. Hopefully those evaluation systems will change to support greater team, collaboration, and whole school success instead of the outdated "it's all about one teacher" method of evaluation.

A sense of team is building in my school community after many years of hard work and dedicated effort to change structure and institute new practice and models. There's still lots of room to deepen and develop this positive learning/teaching culture, but happily we're on our way.