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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Effective Teaching Teams: Shared Leadership Priorities and Protocols

In schools today, most educators work with multiple other educators. Teams include many educators with many varied roles. For example a team serving fifth grade may include the following educators:
  1. classroom teacher
  2. special educator
  3. speech therapist
  4. occupational therapist
  5. physical therapist
  6. adaptive physical education teacher
  7. guidance counselor
  8. teaching assistants
  9. librarian
  10. technology teacher
  11. art teacher
  12. music teacher
  13. instrumental teacher
  14. physical education teacher
  15. after school teachers
  16. before school teachers
  17. math coach
  18. reading coach
  19. English language learner teachers and assistants (ELL)
  20. special program coaches and leaders
As you can see that's a lot of people to coordinate with regard to one child's program, and in some cases a child may have all of those teachers during a week's time. Wow!

What is the best way to coordinate all those roles for best service to students? How can we collaborate to maximize our efforts for student benefit?

A Schedule that Meets Students' Needs
The most important aspect of this challenge is the schedule. It's very important that the schedule creates a pattern of good service for a child. As much as possible, before students arrive at school in the new school year, the schedule should be set so that every teacher has the time they need to provide the services required and desired for a child. Making the time to create, review, and revise schedules is integral to a successful school year.

Collaboration Time, Focus, and Protocols
The second most important aspect of this challenge includes the time, focus, and protocols for collaboration. Who meets with whom, when, and what's the priority when they meet. A good way to start this collaboration is to simply let educators in your team know that you're open to collaboration in areas that they deem important to a child's overall success, and then set up meetings to discuss that collaboration as needed. Prior to the start of the school year, classroom teachers need to coordinate their efforts with special needs teachers, coaches, assistants, and therapists. This takes time, and when the time is spent in this regard, the schedule and goals better meet a child's needs. It is also advantageous to coordinate efforts with specialist teachers and before/after school educators to promote interdisciplinary study and social-emotional supports for children too. Embedding regular professional learning community meetings (PLCs) is one way to foster regular collaboration. 

Review, Reflection, and Revision
Throughout the year there needs to be times set aside for the program's review, reflection, and revision. This work is often embedded into IEP meeting schedules, family conference times, report card efforts, and response to problems and issues. 

Team Attitude and Shared Leadership
The challenge, in part, with this intense teaming is that, for the most part, it is a shared leadership model. This is valuable in that everyone has an equal say about the child's program and needs, but the challenge lies in the fact that most of the people on the list above are pulled in many directions and work with multiple teams, hence it can be challenging to organize and co-share the collective efforts. Timely, efficient communication protocols and systems support these efforts with strength. At the start of the year, discuss the mediums you'll use to share information and the protocols for that share. For example our share usually includes the following:
  • Weekly PLC meetings that include the classroom teachers, special educators, and as needed and desired coaches, therapists, leaders, and specialists.
  • Weekly newsletter that shares the highlights and plans for the overall teaching/learning program.
  • A team website that's shared with all families, students, educators, and leaders related to the team's efforts.
  • A teaching team website that includes all the plans, lists, data, and information that pertains to teaching the students well. This website is shared with all interested educators, coaches, therapists, and leaders. 
  • Weekly plan charts that are shared between the educator, special educator(s), and other educators who frequent the classroom's teaching/learning periods. This plan helps educators to coordinate their efforts in response to students' changing needs and interests. 
  • Curriculum maps that outline the teaching/learning program so that teachers can coordinate and integrate their efforts for big projects and multidisciplinary efforts. 
An essential protocol with regard to the list above is timeliness and showing up. When educators don't show up for planned services on time or at all, this impacts the learning for all children. 

The work we do upfront truly sets the stage for successful teaming, collaboration, and service to children. Respect for each other's experience, focus, and goals will lead the collaboration with a good attitude and openness to the wonderful potential that exists.