How do coaches’ and principals’ work with elementary teachers using departmentalized structures?
The November/December edition of the Harvard Education Letter titled “Platooning” Instruction: Districts Weigh Pros and Cons of Departmentalizing Elementary Schools examined the practice of elementary teachers departmentalizing.
Platooning (or departmentalization) is nothing new. It’s what middle and high schools have been doing for ages—divvying up instruction according to subject area, with students rotating to different rooms headed up by different teachers for different subjects. What is new is applying that idea to elementary schools, long the bastion of a one-teacher-per-classroom model.
Elementary school teachers are trained to be generalists who spend the entire year with one group of about 25 kids and teach them the gamut of subjects—math, science, social studies, and language arts. The conventional wisdom has been that younger students benefit from the stability and continuity provided by having the same teacher every day all day for the whole year.
In an example shared in the article, third and fourth grade students have three teachers- one for writing and language arts, one for reading and social studies, and one for math and science.
Opinions of those favoring the platooning strategy identify the raising standards especially in math and science as requiring teachers to receive more specialized professional development in one or two content areas versus trying to develop the expertise to teach all the content areas. Some fear teachers make individual choices when teaching all subjects to emphasize some ”favorite” contents areas over others.
Opposing views are those that feel that developing relationships with students, which is easier done with a smaller group all year, trumps the specialized content approach. (Whole Child)
I am currently working with the staffs of several elementary schools who have begun varying degrees of departmentalizing in grades 3-4-5.Building collaboration among the teachers sharing students is key to maximizing student achievement.
Principals and instructional coaches working in these settings need to consider how they conduct their work in ways that build that collaborative environment and spirit:
• Planning—there is no escaping that more joint planning has to occur in a departmental structure. More planning must occur at school with teammates than when a teacher is planning for her own class group.
• Knowing Students– to know my students I must dedicate conversation time with my colleagues who observe and know my students from a different perspective. I need to uncover how students’ approaches to learning are similar and different as they move from reading to science.
• Trust– teammates must know each other and each other’s work well enough to support each other with students and parents. My morning with a group of students need to include getting them excited about the afternoon with my colleague. Parents need to see our confidence in each other when they meet with us individually and collectively.
• Shared Responsibility– all teammates must accept responsibility for student success in all content areas. While I teach reading and social studies, the students’ math scores are mine.
Principals must continually consider that they are dealing with a team more than an individual teacher. They should be meeting with the team discussing student concerns. In other words, a meeting about reading scores should be held with the team, not the teacher instructing reading. A principal should be asking questions of individual teachers that communicate his/her expectations that they are functioning as a team, such as asking the social studies teacher how the writing students do for her match the writing teacher’s assessment?
Coaches should work with the team in professional development such as using the students’ science text when modeling a reading strategy for the reading teacher and taking the writing teacher’s strategies into the other classrooms.
The team of teachers should be observing in each other’s classrooms to see student similarities and differences in each content area and with each teacher. Since teaching teams will often have common planning times, you might arrange for teams to cover for each others so that learning activities can be observed. (Third grade covers for 4th grade teachers to observe and then 4th covers 3rd.)
I’ve written before that teaching is a TEAM Sport… a must with platooning!
Let me know your thoughts.