by Molly Bruzewski, Ed.S.
This is a 3-part series on strategies for promoting a team approach to academic achievement and high-performance teaching. Strategy 1 for running your classroom like a team: Modeling
In this current atmosphere of accountability, educators are often challenged with balancing the time it takes to participate in enriched activities that involve student engagement and academic excellence.
There is often a war of words waged between teachers when it comes to expectations and what good classroom engagement should look like. We often see two opposing teams in our staff meetings. Team 1 has educators that are passionate about “getting to know their students.” They are welcoming, smile during the first days of school, and have relatively few classroom rules and procedures. There is a laissez faire atmosphere about “doing business in class.”
By the very nature of the school environment, an assumption is made that students will get the education bug by osmosis, and that student learning is something outside of them. Team 2 has an equally passionate group of educators. This group loves their areas of expertise and launches into the school year with plans strapped down and resources ready to be disseminated.
Their entire year accelerates as though they are on the mission to Mars. An assumption made by this group is that students are “there to learn, period!” They assume full responsibility for every student’s achievement in the classroom, but they don’t have time for the warm and fuzzy stuff. Team 1 and Team 2 are at a standoff!
These teams have similar outcomes at the end of the school year. They are playing catch up because they didn’t “get through everything” for a variety of reasons. They are burned out. They have exhausted a case of lozenges trying to get students’ attention. They can’t wait to see students go home for the summer.
And what about evaluations? Team 1 scored high on student engagement and developing relationships with students and parents; Team 2 scored high on academics and classroom management. But, what did they learn from one another? The pressure is intense for both teams to produce, and they sit across from one another in faculty meetings. So how do we capitalize on the strengths that they bring to our staff? How do we develop a culture in our classrooms and buildings that promotes a climate of respect for all on one hand, while at the same time raises student achievement on the other?
It begins with leadership.
If we think about it, football programs have an offensive team, a defensive team, and special teams. Though they are different teams, the objective for each team is clear – they are on the same team and are in the game to win. They have different roles, patterns and plays. The players are selected for specific positions on offense and defense because of their size and talent. What if the football coach treated the offense and defense as two separate teams that had no relationship to the other?
What if the offense or the defense played like they didn’t need the other? How successful would that team be? The principal and other building leaders are similarly situated to capitalize on the best from the philosophical teams in their building.
It’s time bring them to the table for a strategy meeting.
Step 1: Modeling
Assume the Head Coach role.
With the talent you have assembled, take advantage of their unique abilities and mold them into a team. Begin developing a playbook and define what you want to see in classrooms. Simultaneously, model the types of behaviors you would like to see your staff engaging in with their students. For example, greet staff and students with a handshake and smile when they walk in the building for the day or during regular class passing time. Learn their first and last names, their likes and dislikes, and what motivates them to be in the building on a daily basis. As the coach, provide opportunities inside and outside of school time for staff to socialize and become a community.
For example, if your objective is for teachers to be engaging, inviting and to build a sense of community in their classrooms, then pull out your Playbook and employ the talents that Team 1 brings to this conversation. Ask them to “develop the plays” to launch at the next staff meeting. These gatherings are ideal opportunities to begin building your community idea. Get teachers on their feet while Team 1 facilitates the icebreaker and community-building activities and conversations.
As you embark on this mission, you understand that without balance your efforts could be undermined. Therefore, community-building strategies need to be coupled with conversations around quality routines and procedures. To begin, model a few routines that you consider appropriate for the flow of business as the school day gets started.
For example, if things get hectic first thing around teacher mailboxes, and your preference is for teachers to be in their classrooms or in the hallways greeting students as they arrive, come up with strategies that will alleviate the commotion and facilitate a positive workflow. Demonstrate there are a variety of ways to get business done that promotes order and honors everyone. Then pull out your Playbook and put Team 2 to work. The strengths of Team 2 are procedures and productivity. Have them demonstrate some of their main classroom procedures and facilitate conversations around strategies that all could live with. This conversation at staff meetings should be given equal weight.
There needs to be a balance when we discuss building community and developing routines and procedures. Developing positive relationships plays a critical role in the socialization of the whole child – especially for our students. We have a unique opportunity to model what good relationships look like, and appropriate ways to treat one another as friends and colleagues.
At the same time, routines and procedures are integral for workflow. They set expectations and parameters so students know how to accomplish things on their own. As you build your team at the beginning of the school year, be diligent to employ these strategies throughout.
Be consistent and set the expectation that you want students to get to know one another in a similar fashion – because every classroom is a team and every teacher a coach.
Teams work together to succeed. Everything we do is based on this first practice: modeling.
In part 2, we’ll take a look at the idea of clarifying expectations and how that impacts the “team” approach of student achievement.
Molly Bruzewski, Ed.S. is an education consultant in Michigan. Her expertise is in curriculum mapping and assessment, classroom instructional strategies, online teaching and learning, and she serves as a Great Expectations (GE) methodology instructor. Bruzewski is passionate about teaching excellence and believes GE provides a comprehensive approach to student success in all classrooms.
Modeling – Playbook Practice 1; Speaking in Complete Sentences – Playbook Practice 2; Obama’s Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy, November, 21, 2008, The BLOG, Huffington Post; The B.E.S.T. Literacy Connection, The Power of Speaking in Complete Sentences, Sarah Whitt, Feb. 13, 2012; Whole Group Instruction – Playbook Practice 3; Education Week BLOG, Finding Common Ground, 5 Reasons You Should Flip Your Leadership, Peter DeWitt, July 6, 2014; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad; Student Achievement: Every Classroom Is A Team And Every Teacher Is A Coach