In recent decades, collaboration among teachers has become more common than it once was. It used to be that teachers made most instructional decisions on their own: They closed their classroom doors and did what they thought was best. That approach contributed to confusion and incoherence. Think about what an elementary-school student would need to do in order to learn to read from a series of elementary-school teachers who differed in their approaches: one who focused on sight words, one who favored phonics, one who integrated reading and other language arts, one who asked students to read literature only, and one who asked students to read nonfiction only. Even a good reader might have trouble learning when the ground rules change each year.

Not surprisingly, coherence in instructional approach offers students a much better opportunity to learn. And it also helps teachers and those who assist them, including paraprofessionals and related service providers. By collaborating, educators can share the wisdom they bring to the work and can learn from one another. They can also establish “norms” of practice—unwritten rules for doing things in particular ways. Some important norms of practice are: (1) giving students multiple ways to learn content, (2) checking frequently to see if students are learning, and (3) using data about students’ learning to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching.

In Ohio schools, teaming represents a major part of the overall educational improvement strategy. Ideally, districts create teams (District Leadership Teams—DLTs) that examine achievement data as a basis for determining district-wide and building-by-building needs. A team at each school (the Building Leadership Team—BLT) then ensures that school-level strategies address the priorities of the district. The BLT works in league with smaller teams, whose members primarily are teachers (Teacher-based Teams—TBTs), to monitor students’ performance, select and implement promising strategies, evaluate the effectiveness of those strategies, and provide relevant support to teachers.

Not all instructional teams in Ohio include paraprofessional educators, but including parapros certainly makes sense. Paraprofessional educators assist with instruction. This part of their work allows them to observe how students learn. They might observe the learning approaches that work well with certain students, for instance, or the effects of certain types of learning activities on students’ behavior. Having the opportunity to share their insights with the team is important. Perhaps even more important is the opportunity to learn about instruction from the teachers on the team.

As this unit and several other units in this module suggest, effective teaming depends on effective communication. Team members need to …

  • be trustworthy,
  • listen attentively,
  • allow everyone on the team to contribute to discussions,
  • share ideas clearly,
  • honor promises to use particular instructional approaches in the ways the team specifies, and
  • assess and improve their own effectiveness.

Teams also need to be open to the recommendations of other educators. Most often these educators will be representatives of the BLT, instructional coaches, principals, curriculum directors, and school improvement consultants. Furthermore, teams can learn from one another, especially when the principal or other instructional leader creates structures that allow them to share their best work.