Monday, June 20, 2011

Are You a Team Player?

When I was in school I hated it when a teacher announced that we'd be working in groups. It was awful. It generally meant that I'd have two or three slackers assigned to my group and then I'd do all the work. I do not recall ever being given instruction on HOW to work in a group when I was in school. I can now say I am a reformed group worker. One of the absolute best things about the last two years of my teaching career has been the strong support of my teammates and working in a group.

We were thrown together sort of randomly a couple years ago and I had no idea how we would pull ourselves into formation. Thankfully, we had a scheduling crisis trying to accommodate the varying co-teaching schedules for English Language Learners and Early Intervention Program kiddos. Initially, we had kids going every which way, but when our super awesome Instructional Coach suggested departmentalization all the blocks fell neatly into place.

You'd think we would have had a marathon meeting-of-the-minds to determine who'd teach which subjects and who'd host which co-teachers. But no. The synergy was instantaneous. The subjects just sort of fell into the hands of the people who could best teach them.

For two years now we've had the privilege of practically reading one another's minds. It was the kind of team where you could just pop in and grab what you needed out of the other person's closet. (Easy for me to say because my teammates were WAY more organized than me!) We even had nicknames for one another based on our strengths. How cheesy is that?? Better yet...we called ourselves the Super Team and named our folders on the shared drive at school accordingly. This year's folder was named "We Rock 2010-2011".

I've taught on a couple of good teams over the last 12 years, but it's been sporadic. In my experience, it is rare to be on a team with the exact same people more than a couple years in a row. Things change from year to year - people move away, teachers get moved to different grade levels and even different schools. Our team had a good thing going for two years in a row, but this fall I'm the one moving to a new grade level.

I know all the peeps in the grade level I'm joining and I've taught fifth grade before so there aren't too many surprises in store. However, I haven't taught with this particular combination of people. It got me thinking about what made a team great or not-so-great.

Here are my top five ways to be a team player.

Step 1 - LISTEN! Be open to the ideas of others. I am an idea person and tend to rattle off tons of ideas. I NEED teammates who can help me filter and then decide which ideas to act on.

Step 2 - Share. If you've got something awesome (or even something mediocre!) I might want to try it too! Hey, you never could save a teammate's day by offering up a lesson. Is there anyone who hasn't rolled out of bed on the wrong side at least once during the year and ended up late to work then suddenly realized...'Hey...what am I teaching today?'?!

Step 3 - Participate. If you're in a meeting with an idea person like me, it could be difficult to get a word in edge-wise. (If you are like me...this is a HUGE skill for us to work on - we must learn to stop and listen more than we talk.) I have never been in a meeting where an idea on the table wasn't made better by others adding their two-cents. Meetings are only a waste of time when you don't participate. (Grading papers while everyone else talks doesn't count as participation.)

Step 4 - Use humor & kindness generously. There have certainly been times when teammates have been irritated with me (I'm flighty & disorganized) and I with them for whatever reason. The best way of handling those situations was always head-on with humility and a sense of humor. By first admitting confusion or concern and then addressing the situation frankly we avoided ever having arguments or tantrums. If you find yourself in the wrong, be humble and apologetic. Chocolate can be the healer of many wounds.

Step 5 - Keep your door open. (Unless you're doing something loud!) There's something about approaching a closed classroom door that is discouraging (and somewhat suspicious). It's one thing if ya'll are up in there having a dance off to a multiplication song, but during the course of the day it's nice to see open doors. It gives a feeling of 'Come on in - see what we're up to!'. The only reason my door is ever shut is because a student shuts it - usually when I'm reading aloud and there's noise in the main hall from classes going to recess. If you're in a room with another adult and the door is shut you are sending the message that you want privacy. That's completely understandable if you are having a sensitive conference or you've got some serious thinking to do, but you can't tell me that's the case every afternoon!

I have high hopes for my team this year. It helps that I've been at this particular school for three years now. I've gotten to know people and I've gotten to know myself better. You can bet I'll be following the five rules above in hopes of being a part of the best team ever!

If you have tips that you think are important for creating a Super Team, please share them in the comments! My top five is by no means exhaustive. ;)

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