The word team is frequently used in schools to describe various groupings of people that are working under different understandings of what their relationships with each other are and what is required by their membership within a group. I often ask staff at a school that I’m working with to describe the degree to which they function as a team. I commonly get a response that they have rather strong teams. I then usually ask for indicators or evidence that illustrates the strength of their teams.
On one occasion, a teacher responded that an indicator of their strength as a team was that they shared everything. That led me to write a blog about sharing versus teaming. Here are the definitions I found for the two terms:
- Sharing – to have or use something at the same time as someone else; to divide food, money, goods, et cetera, and give part of it to someone else. If two or more people share an activity, they each do some of it. If two or more people or things share a feeling, a quality or experience and they all are having the same quality feeling or experience. To tell someone else about your thoughts or feelings is another definition for sharing.
- Team– a group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project. Team members operate with a high degree of interdependence. They share authority and responsibility for self- management and are accountable for collective performance as they work toward a common goal and shared rewards. A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of the individual members.
That’s a pretty big difference. Sharing resources, ideas, even time, are great things to do as the relationships within a group develop but the key to being a team is sharing accountability for a common goal. That’s why most athletic teams serve as an example of teaming. Strong individual performances while we lose the game misses the goal. One thing about competition is that it can give a group a common goal. It’s why some groups function as a team when a crisis arises – survival is the common goal but when the crisis is over, the teaming decreases.
I find that what most schools consider team meetings are really functioning as franchise meetings. Everyone who owns a fifth- grade class comes to the meeting once a week, exchanges tips and strategies and perhaps cooperates to get work done. After the meeting, they leave with only accountability for their single class of students. If the fifth-grade team is a team, then each member is accountable for the success of each fifth- grade student. When the chemistry teacher has accountability for biology students’ success, the science department is a team. Effective teaming is hard work, and it requires skills and understanding that most educators haven’t been trained or coached in.
Chad Dumas, the author of, “Let’s Put the C Back in PLCs,” reinforce this lack of preparation in a podcast conversation.
“Teachers are trained in isolation from each other when they are at the university or college level. They are not trained in how to really collaborate with each other and work as teams. We need to explore the idea of “what a team is?” How do school leaders and coaches help facilitate teaming? What are some of the structures and processes and protocols that can facilitate creating a team? It’s far more than, hey, there’s the three of us, we get together every Tuesday at 10:00.”
When team members are skilled in pausing and paraphrasing and posing questions to mediate thinking, their teams become more effective and more efficacious. Structures and processes can be put in place to help teams become more effective. We can all bring examples of student work to a PLC but it’s one thing to bring data to a meeting and another thing to use a protocol to dig into it to maximize teaching and learning effectiveness. Do teams have agendas that are set up and that are systematic? How do we help teams become more effective?”
Teachers should be empowered with the skills, knowledge, and tools to work collaboratively, address challenges, and improve teaching practices for the benefit of their students. Effective collaboration among teachers can lead to enhanced outcomes for students and a more supportive and dynamic school environment. School leaders and instructional coaches should have plans for providing that support. Teaching and coaching teachers teaming skills should replace the time coaches and administrators are spending facilitating/leading those PLC meetings.