Team building: What does team mean to you?

Have you heard some version of one of the the following statements in the teachers lounge or work room?
  • "I wished I worked on a team that worked together more."
  • "My team doesn't know the meaning of the word collaborate."
  • "I wouldn't have so much to do if so-and-so on my team wasn't so ____ (you fill in the adjective)."
The common theme from these statements is team.  If working as a team, is the answer to so many of our job stresses, why is it that a functional, cohesive team is as elusive as spying a unicorn?

OK, that might be a slight exaggeration.  In my 20 years of teaching, I've been on quite a few different teams.  Out of all of those teams, there were only a handful that I would classify as good examples of a functional team.  Now when I say functional, I am defining this much like you would define a functional family.  There are functional families and dysfunctional families.  The functional teams that I am referring to, had squabbles and irritations just like any family does.  Guess what?  That is normal and it is healthy.  What sets apart a functional team and a dysfunctional team is how you communicate, deal with your differences, irritations while working towards the common goal of educating the students at your grade level.

The functional teams had common characteristics.

These teams were composed of members with various years of experience, personality, and philosophy.  Diversity is key to a happy team!
  • Members of the team were different.  THIS IS KEY!  Please notice that I am yelling here!  I can't stress this enough.  I have sat on hiring committees where I watched teachers blackball candidates who were different than themselves.  The candidates had a different teaching style, classroom management style, personality, and all of the other things that are discussed and observed in an interview.  Because the teacher being interviewed was DIFFERENT, the teachers doing the interview thought this candidate wouldn't fit in with the team. They couldn't have been more wrong!  Let me give you a glimpse of a team where they hired a teacher much like another teacher already on the team.
    • Current team member Ms. White has always been known as the Queen of Fairy Tales.  She does a major production every year with Cinderella complete with castle and moat with live frogs.  Along comes new member, Ms. Jones who also loves fairy tales.  Everyone thought these two would hit it off because they have so much in common.  Little did they know that Ms. Jones is equally talented at putting on a big production, although hers is with Little Red Riding Hood.  You've heard the saying "too many cooks spoil the broth" well the same holds true with the Queens of Curriculum.  Other team members were getting pulled this way and that.  Some were tired of doing Cinderella and ready for a change.  Other team members felt they should be loyal to Ms. White.  It eventually created a schism on the team and needed administrative intervention.  Not a pretty picture!

Planning had a different definition that what most people think of when they think of team planning.

Our team planning consisted of:
  • Our district provided an overall framework as far as when we were supposed to teach skills.  So, we were all teaching the same skills, but not necessarily presenting it using the same methods.
  • We brought a copy of one thing we were excited about that was in our plans for the following week for each member of our team to our weekly meetings. Sometimes I used it, other times I filed it and used it another year.  This took up the first 5 minutes.  Just long enough for everyone to pass out a copy.  
    • If someone had questions about a handout, it was asked and discussed during non-team meeting times.
  • Then we discussed any upcoming team events like field trips. This took  10-15 minutes.  
    • When I was team leader, I typed up and emailed my notes to my team ahead of the meeting.  Team members read the information before the meeting so we didn't waste value time with me disseminating the information.  Our meeting was a time to ask questions and discuss the information I gave them.
  • The majority of our time was spent brainstorming ways to help our behavior and academically struggling students.  You had to email the team leader your name(s) of student(s) before the meeting.  She planned it so we would have enough time to give helpful information.  Sometimes you had to wait for another week's meeting.  This also ensured that an outspoken team member didn't monopolize all of the team's time.  This is where I saw real team work.  We all had different personalities, experiences, and philosophies.  We all respected each other for our differences.  So, we were open to try new things when they were suggested.  On these teams, I felt support, as a team we sent fewer students to the office which our principal appreciated, and we were less stressed because we each knew each other's students through these meetings.  When we saw a team member having a particularly bad day, one of us would tell that team member to go take a break, and we'll take her recess duty that day.  That is what a functional family does and that is what a functional team of teachers do because you know they will do the same for you.
    • As a side note, I think this brainstorming also helped in an unexpected way.  When I have been on teams that didn't have this structure in place, there are usually at least one or two teachers who freely share all the stresses of their class at meetings.  It's not that the other team members don't have equal challenges in their class, but for whatever reason they do not speak up about them.  When this happens: 
      • #1 - It shows that all classes have challenges:   Without the structure, the teachers who speak freely about their challenges feel like they are the only ones who have such a challenging class this year.  They might even begin to feel like they are "dumped" on year after year.  When in reality, other classes after challenges, too.  
      • #2  - Colleague maintain respect for each other:  Without the structure, the teachers who are not speaking up may lose respect for their colleague who are vent-a-holics.  A little venting is normal, but going too far can make it seem like they don't have the skills needed to do their job.  Moderation is key.  
      • #3 - Meetings are helpful:  Without the structure, team meetings become toxic rather than productive ways to solve problems.

There are different philosophies about team building.  I opened two new schools which brings about a different set of dynamics.  The best analogy I can give is the old t.v. show Dallas.  When these new schools opened, the principals were allowed to bring 10% of the staff from his or her former school which made up the leadership team of the new school.  After a while, I got the feeling that I was living on the set of Dallas.  The principal was the parent, the team leader was the biological child and the team members were the in-laws.  When we would try to plan something like a field trip, we would hear from the team leader how it was done at her former school. Then the rest of the team members would chime in "at their former school they did it this way."  It felt like my first year of marriage when my husband and I were trying to figure out how to celebrate different holidays.  His family did it this way, mine did it this way, and eventually we figured out that we needed to do it "our way".  It came down to traditions.  Each person felt like their school (family) traditions for field trips were the best.  My family quickly figured out what day my team planning day was by my moods on those days.  My husband, who is in management, told me about the stages of team building.  You can read more about it HERE which helped.  If you are going through something similar, you might want to bookmark it.  It does help when you can define what you are going through.

Would you like a copy of the team sign?  Click HERE.

Looking for more tips?  Check out my Reading Pinterest board.  Click on the picture below.

Fern has a few tips to share with you, too.  Be sure to hop over to her blog!

Each week, Fern and I will share a teacher tip. We love to read teacher blogs and the latest teacher idea books and hope you do, too!  Stop by Fern's blog and my blog each week for our latest tips.  We hope you will share your ideas, too.  

Each week we will choose one person who shared a tip on our blog who will get a $10 shopping trip.  We will announce the winner on the following Tuesday's post.  

Do you have a team idea to share?  Be sure to include your email so I can contact you if you're the winner of the $10 shopping trip. You must leave your email address in order to win.

Looking for more ideas?  Click on the pictures below.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE. Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.

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