I have been an educator at Hudson High School of Learning Technologies in NYC since its doors opened eight years ago. During the first few years of the school’s existence, a popular saying that my principal often said was “We are building the plane while flying it.” It was true back then, but it’s also still true today. Schools are ever-evolving. We keep the plane flying, changing its design, function and capacity all the time to best suit the needs of our students.
Every day, each teacher is faced with hundreds of decisions to make and problems to solve. Yet most of our workday resides within the walls of our own classroom. With the never-ending work we put into this profession, it's easy to understand how individual teachers fall into that isolated bubble of daily grading, lesson planning, and more grading. However, research shows that the success of a school does not reside in a few all-star teachers but in the collaborative efficiency of the entire staff (Leana, 2011). There is no greater resource for a teacher than the knowledge and experience of their own peers.
Teacher teams are a valuable asset that many of us are a part of but how open are we in sharing struggles and best practices with each other? How often do we share our lesson plans in hopes of critical feedback? The individuals that surround you in teacher teams have the experience, instructional insight, and knowledge of each of your students to help you improve. Take advantage of this. When having group discussions on instruction, be mindful of the purpose and protocol (Tuning, Probing Questions, ATLAS) you have in place. The collective is a powerful force, but it can also lead quickly to an aimless discussion; keep the purpose in mind and stay the course.
VALUE YOUR TIME TOGETHER
Value your time as a group. One way to do this is to assess the importance and urgency of the tasks that you are looking to accomplish. A good tool to determine this is using Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix. As a teacher team, look at the four quadrants and reflect on where your collaborative activities tend to fall. It is understandable that many of the pressing matters (grading deadlines, school policy changes, etc.) of Quadrant 1 will take up a considerable amount of time for your team. However, Quadrant 2 (Vertical Alignment, Student Talks, Team Building Activities) is just as important if not more for the school as a whole. To maintain the development and efficiency of your teacher team, find the time to complete the tasks you have in Quadrant 2.
TRUST YOUR TEAM
One foundational aspect of an effective teacher team is trust. Trusting that the group always has the student in mind. Trusting that you all are more effective teachers when you are working together on common goals. One method that can develop that trust amongst a teacher team is peer observation. For many (including myself), it could be a bit anxiety provoking to have other colleagues come into your classroom but this tension could be lessened with purposeful structure. Some examples of peer observation that you may want to try with your teams are Instructional Rounds, Classroom Walkthroughs (UCLA Model) or Teacher Rounds. These protocols not only promote trust but the professional growth of each teacher. Through peer observations, teams can target grade level challenges, efficiency of school protocols, or each others own lessons.
For the benefit of your school and your own professional growth, value the time you have with your peers.
Thanks for reading.
Chris has been teaching for eight years and is a founding member of Hudson High School of Learning Technologies. In previous years, he’s collaborated with the Stupski Institute, NYC Skills Lab, and Generation Citizen to cultivate assessments that incorporated student choice, revision, and reflection. Chris is currently piloting the Big History Project curriculum in his 9th grade classes. He is a co-founder of the EDxEDNYC Conference. Follow him on Twitter @cpurcell5