Slide 1: Welcome to the webinar on teams and teaming. My name is Emily Kresiak. Through WordFarmers Associates, I am working on several research and development projects for the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Grant Center, including the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation.
Slide 2: In the past, educators practiced in isolation, with very few opportunities for collaboration. Teachers, paraprofessionals, and even principals felt isolated; and they had limited opportunities to learn from one another. Teachers, in fact, made most instructional decisions on their own, closing their classroom doors and doing what they thought made the most sense.
Slide 3: When educators operated in isolation, schools had a very difficult time offering a coherent curriculum or an agreed-upon method of teaching. I remember talking with a new principal who told me that each of his fifth through eighth grade middle school teachers was using a math book from a different math series. And the teachers rarely talked to one another about what or how they were teaching.
Slide 4: This situation is now less common. In recent decades, collaboration among teachers has become the norm in many school districts. With strong research support from studies of all types of organizations, school districts are increasingly using teams of educators to solve instructional problems and implement improvements.
Slide 5: Not all teacher teams, however, contribute to improved teaching and learning. For instance, if the teacher teams at a particular school hope to improve all students’ learning but they fail to focus on instruction, instead focusing on other matters, such as school policies or extracurricular activities, the teams are unlikely to achieve what they hope.
Slide 6: Teacher teams are much more likely to contribute to improved teaching and learning if they keep that aim as their main focus. It also helps if they use a structured process for reviewing information, making decisions about instruction, implementing instructional changes, and monitoring the effects of the instructional approaches they implement.
Slide 7: Work on an instructional team also allows all of the team’s educators to share their insights and ideas. This sort of sharing allows them to learn from one another.
Slide 8: Over time, instructional teams establish unwritten rules for doing things in particular ways. These unwritten rules are called norms of practice, and they help make instructional decision-making easier because they keep teams from having to reinvent new practices every time they meet.
Slide 9: Some important norms of instructional 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.
Slide 10: In Ohio schools, teaming represents a major part of the overall educational improvement strategy. The diagram on the slide shows how a district’s teams should be linked. At the district level—with the broadest focus is the District Leadership Team or DLT. This team reviews achievement data and other relevant information in order to identify district-wide and building-by-building needs. A team at each school, known as the Building Leadership Team or BLT, works to ensure that school-level strategies and resources address the priorities of the district. The BLT works in league with smaller teams, whose members primarily are teachers. These Teacher-based Teams or TBTs monitor students’ performance, select and implement promising strategies, evaluate the effectiveness of those strategies, and provide relevant support to teachers.
Slide 11: On-going communication between the TBTs and the BLT helps them keep their work focused on the same goals and strategies. And on-going communication between a district’s BLTs and its DLT helps maintain focus and coherence district-wide.
Slide 12: Collaboration within and across teams depends on educators’ concerted efforts to communicate clearly, fully, carefully, and with respect. In fact, collaboration works only when we respect our partners.
Slide 13: One basis for respect is a clear understanding of what our colleagues know and are able to do. For example, if a team includes four teachers and two paraprofessionals, everyone on the team should know something about all six educators’ areas of strength and weakness. For example, one teacher might have a particular talent for creating lessons that fit with the principles of universal design for learning. One of the parapros might have a lot of experience with positive behavior supports, and another might be good at collecting data on students’ on-task behavior. But three of the teachers might be brand new. Their recent experience as candidates in teacher preparation programs makes them familiar with up-to-date ideas, but their lack of practical experience puts them at a disadvantage. Fortunately, the three experienced educators (that is, the one teacher and the two parapros) have worked together for a long time and can provide coaching to the newbies.
Slide 14: Although not all instructional teams include paraprofessional educators, the decision to include them certainly makes sense. Paraprofessional educators are in classrooms all of the time. They assist with instruction, observing how different students learn. They might, for example, observe how students respond to certain instructional approaches or behavior strategies. Participating as a member of an instructional team such as a Teacher-based Team gives paraprofessionals the opportunity to share their insights with the educators who are responsible for finding ways to meet the learning needs of all students.
Slide 15: Like other members of the instructional team, paraprofessionals who participate on the team need to work hard to ensure that they communicate effectively. It’s important to remember and follow the guidelines for effective communication. These guidelines tell team members 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.
Slide 16: In addition to these practices, team participation improves when team members treat their work with particular dispositions. Most important among these are openness to multiple perspectives, generosity, humility, flexibility, and dependability.
Slide 17: It’s also important to remember that even the most effective instructional team functions within a larger system of teams. Although instructional teams can make some very important decisions, they don’t make all the decisions. In fact, teams need to be open to the recommendations of other educators in their schools and districts. In some schools the educators on more than one TBT might work with the same student. For instance, in a high school, both the math and the English/language arts TBT might work with a student with disabilities who is included in general education math and English/language arts classes. Educators on the English/language arts TBT ought to be receptive to insights about the student that are shared by members of the math TBT and vice versa. Representatives of the Building Leadership Team may also share views about what educators in one or more of the school’s TBTs ought to be doing to help students learn. Other educators who may share relevant insights include instructional coaches, principals, curriculum directors, and school improvement consultants.
Slide 18: As this webinar suggests, the planning, delivery, and monitoring of instruction all improve when instructional teams work on these activities together. Paraprofessionals can participate as valuable members of these teams when schools give them that opportunity. By following principles of effective communication, paraprofessionals can contribute insights about students’ needs, ideas about promising instructional strategies, and other relevant information. And they can learn a lot about instruction from other members of the team.