Team Teaching – an all or nothing phenomenon?

Team teaching has the potential not only to raise your game as a teacher, but also to elevate learning for our students, however these outcomes are not easily achieved. Working in IB schools it is easy to marry the values of the team teaching approach with collaboration and the IB learner profile for teachers; after all it challenges your practice on every level!
I once taught in a school where team teaching was not an option, but compulsory. Although I learned a lot, at times I found it frustrating and a bit stifling to my practice. I think if there had been more supporting systems in place it would have been amazing. My personal perspective on collaboration of this nature is; if it’s too forced it can lead to unnecessary challenges that can impair teaching and learning. However, like so many things in life it is possible to identify degrees of practice, especially when it comes to team teaching. If a school as an open mind to teaching many strategies can be scaffolded into the school culture in low stakes ways, like this one…
Tuning in – This works best if the lead teacher does not reveal too much about the unit to the children, as she attempts to hook their curiosity. As the teacher leads the tuning in activity, the co-teacher circulates around the class and asks students; “what do you think the unit is about?” Or, “what do you think you will be learning in this unit.” After the tuning in, teachers debrief and engage in reflective dialogue – the important part! The lead teacher shares what she was trying to achieve through the tuning in and the co teacher shares what she heard the students say.
Of course to utilise such a strategy does not necessarily need a co teaching approach, it could be done as a reflective activity with the students after the tuning in. However, the value added effect of the team teaching approach is making public one’s practice. In turn this supports greater validity of our teaching and creates a context for further collaboration between teachers.
More on team teaching some other time!

In search of a common language

Learning principlesLast year we sculpted our learning principles for the whole school. At the time, I had a feeling that when we begun to put flesh on the bones of the learning principles they would reveal their true merit. But why would a school need a specific set of learning principles? In education our plates often over runneth with different ways to say the same thing to the point of just confusing the practitioner, let alone the learner. So why add more ways to the say the same thing? I believe the true value of the learning principles lay in their succinctness; they are not like a policy document, they have to be unpacked, and like a good central idea they promote inquiry, research and action.

This week we went deeper into unpacking our learning principle about formative assessment. Using the thinking hats, teachers worked in teams of pre-k, lower elementary and upper elementary to uncover what is the language of feedback and thinking we use in the classroom (white hat) what language will we make common across grade levels (green hat) and what student and teacher actions need to happen in the classroom to promote and strengthen assessment literacy (blue hat). To aid this inquiry teachers also brought in samples of assessment tools, strategies and displays they currently use. As the session began to unfold it was interesting to see how at times this exercise caused learning tension; teachers were placed in a compromising situation. The blue hat directed teachers toward making concessions and come to common agreements about how to make assessment literacy more transparent for our learners. To me this is a very important and worthwhile endeavour, we have between 50 and 60 nationalities amongst our students, the majority are ESL learners. If we want students to feel empowered by assessment, doesn’t it make sense to promote and use a common language?

To me dealing with issues that provoke learning tension is a fundamental part of  being a healthy PLC;  in moving from theory to practice, groups achieve coherence and connectedness through collective endeavour that builds and tests relational trust. In turn I think this helps to de-privatise classroom practice and nudges us further towards the holy grail of collective responsibility and understanding.