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How to collaborate effectively in teaching teams

Uncategorized Nov 09, 2020
A critical measure of a healthy workplace is the ability of staff to collaborate and work in teams, as this is key to efficiency, productiveness, performance and staff morale. This is especially true for teaching; however, all too often we see teachers working in isolation, constantly ‘reinventing the wheel’, or sticking to what they know. If we are to teach important 21st century skills to students such as collaboration, and working together to solve problems and achieve common goals, then it is important that we as teachers are also able to do this. 
 
Benefits of working in a team  
  • Efficiency - sharing the load between team members rather than each team member doing it all themselves saves a lot of time and creates a more productive workplace and happier, less stressed teachers. 
  • Better student outcomes - students (and their parents) can be assured that they are receiving an equal quality of education across classes regardless of what teacher they have. 
  • Collective brain power — ‘two heads are better than one’. Colleagues can provide important feedback to each other to improve the quality of the learning program and teaching and assessment resources. This process allows more experienced teachers to share their knowledge with less experienced teachers, whilst exposing them to new teaching methods and technologies that beginner teachers might bring with them. 
 
There are many ways that teachers can work together that will bring all sorts of benefits: 
  • Programming - this would be done before the unit begins. Teachers can work together to evaluate the past program and make any changes that they think is necessary, and plan out when the assessments will take place. 
  • Lesson planning/ resource creation - this could be done together or delegated out to individual members equally. The benefit of working together is that ideas can be further explored and developed, and it helps to create shared ownership and responsibility. It also lightens the load and cuts down on your lesson prep time. 
  • Assessment - having common assessment that takes place at the same time increases the equity and validity of the assessment process. This way you know that all students in the cohort are having the same opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, and if it is done at the same time it decreases the opportunity to cheat. This in turn increases the accuracy of the assessment data that is collected and gives a better overall picture of the ability level of both individual students and the whole cohort. It is important however to ensure that there are opportunities built into the assessment so that students at both ends of the spectrum in terms of ability levels are able to demonstrate their understanding and skills. 
  • Marking and moderation - unless you are always having standardised tests that have clear correct/ incorrect responses (which don’t really promote 21st century skills), then the nature of marking can be quite subjective. To ensure that all marking is an accurate reflection of student achievement across the cohort and different teachers, several mechanisms need to be put in place.
    • First, a marking guide needs to be created by the teaching team, with input and consent from all team members. This marking guide needs to be quite comprehensive and descriptive regarding student achievement. For e.g., one teachers expectations of what they would consider to be ‘excellent’ may differ from another teacher, so make sure that the descriptor is clear as to what ‘excellent’ entails. This helps to reduce subjectivity and increase consistency between teachers. 
    • Agree on a timeline - this may depend somewhat on your school's policies. At my previous school, the expectation was that lower school classes (yr 7-10) would have their assessments returned within 2 weeks and upper school was to be within 1 week. You also need to agree on when moderation/ cross-marking will be conducted and when class averages will be reported within the team. It is important that teachers do not return assessment results to their classes before the agreed date. 
    • A decision needs to be made as to how the marking is to be delegated. There are a number of choices, with pros and cons to each: 
      • Split up the marking equally and randomly - this means that teachers are marking assessments that may include students from other classes. The idea behind this is that a students will have a number of assessments marked by different teachers. This then mitigates any differences that there might be between teachers and their subjectivity. It also creates equality of workload despite differences in class size. In addition, it gives teachers an idea of how students in other classes are performing, which may help to inform or alter their own teaching techniques. The problem with this is that teachers like to mark their own students work as it gives them a better idea of their students' individual needs so that they can better address them in the future. Thus it would be important if taking this approach that each teacher reviews their students marked assessments before handing them back.
      • Split up the sections between teachers - for e.g, one teacher will mark all of the research section, another teacher will mark all of the written section, etc. This then creates consistency across the section. A problem with this however is that it may create time delays, as teachers have to wait for another teacher to finish marking their section before they can continue. 
      • Mark your own classes - this approach gives teachers more of an idea as to how individual students within their class are performing, as well as their class as a whole. They can then tailor/ alter their teaching methods based on their observations. It also means that they can mark at their own pace (although still working within the agreed timeline). However, this can create a greater degree of variation of marking between classes/ teachers and may impact on the accuracy of the assessment data. It also means that teachers remain in their own ‘bubble’ and don’t see how students from other classes are performing. 
    • Cross-marking/ moderation - before teachers begin doing their marking, some cross-marking should take place. The team leader should pick out some papers that they believe indicate a range of achievement (top/ middle/ bottom). Teachers should mark these individually and then compare and discuss their marking with the rest of the team. If there are any significant differences, teachers need to come to a consensus, and the marking guide may need to be altered to reflect this. Then, after teachers have completed their marking, a similar process should occur where top, middle and bottom papers are compared to ensure that they are of similar standard. Depending on the results, some marks may need to be altered. This should all occur before assessments are handed back to students. 
  • Data analysis - Class averages should then be calculated and compared to previous averages - any major discrepancies should be discussed to determine the reasons for this. The purpose of this is not to compare teacher performance, but rather to ensure the validity of the assessments and the reliability of the data. This can then help to determine different teaching techniques to be used in the future, specific skills that may need to have more of a focus, and the creation of new assessments. 
  • Evaluation of programs - this can be done on an ongoing basis as well as at the end of each unit. A discussion regarding the various positives and negatives experienced within the program and improvements to be made when it is taught again the following year. This information needs to be given to the head of department/ learning area, so that they can forward it to the relevant teaching team the following year. 
 
How to make it work: 
  • Communication - meeting once a week as well as regular emails will help with this. 
  • Values - the team should agree on a set of values that will guide the work of the team - eg. They might place high value on the equal contribution of all team members, or punctuality at the weekly meetings. 
  • Rules - based upon the values, the team should come up with the rules that will guide the way that the team operates - for e.g. a rule might be that all work is delegated evenly across all team members. 
  • Team leader - their role should be to facilitate meetings and email communication, and assist in the delegation process. Their role is not to dominate over the work of the team or to take on the majority of the work themselves. 
 
Troubleshooting
  • Time - a common obstacle in the teaching world. It is true that team teaching can take time out of your week - I would recommend meeting once a week. However, overall, working in teams is a huge timesaver as it cuts down the time you have to spend creating teaching resources and assessments. So whilst it will take up one of your valuable DOTT periods at school, it will undoubtably save you time outside of school hours. 
  • Dominant personalities - there may be a teacher in your team that may have very strong opinions on what to teach or how to teach it. Again this is where it is important to have clear values and rules that allow everyone to have a say within the team. 
  • ‘Cruisers’ - there may be a teacher in your team that doesn’t make much of an effort to contribute anything to the team, whilst reaping the rewards of the work other teachers are doing. This can seem very unfair to the other team members. This again comes back to the values and rules that the team has agreed upon so that the ‘cruiser’ understands what is expected of them. The team leader should ensure that opportunities have been provided to this member so that they can contribute, and remind them of the expectations. If this contribution is still lacking, the team leader should inform the head of department who can then address this matter. 
How to introduce or campaign for this in your school:
  • Bring it up with your head of department, and explain to them the benefits if they need convincing (maybe send this article to them). 
  • Head of departments should bring it up with the school leadership team so that steps can be taken to incorporate this into the school culture as a whole. 
  • Make it clear to teachers the benefits of team work, and what good team work looks like. 
  • If necessary, run PD during a department meeting to further emphasise this. 
  • Get teacher ‘buy in’ - ask them to identify their main challenges as teachers and explain how team work could help them. 

In summary, working as a team, if done right, can really make your life so much easier. It's amazing what we can achieve when we are all working in synergy. 

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