Expanding Our “Teams”

EdCamp Hamilton was full of many high points and wonderful conversations, but one that really stuck with me happened earlier on in the day. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I made it to 3 out of 4 of the sessions, but for the one time that I wasn’t at a session, I was still listening, thinking, and conversing. I happened to be part of a great conversation at the registration table. I think that Adele Stanfield captured this discussion best in her tweet:

2015-04-19_17-07-26So often in education, I think that we look at teams as the grade teams that we have in our schools. Having worked in mostly large schools before, there are usually two or three other teachers teaching the same grade as me, and we’ll often exchange ideas and learn together. But there can be limitations to grade teams … Sometimes when we’re looking at learning through a narrow lens — only the single grade that we teach — we forget about the big picture. Where are students going next? How can we help them get there? What are the fundamental skills they need in order to succeed? We need to see beyond our grade to do this, and that’s why conversations like the one from yesterday, are so valuable.


I’ve had the benefit of teaching multiple grades: in some form or another, I’ve had teaching experience in Kindergarten to Grade 6. Are there certain grades that I like teaching more than others? Yes. Have I regretted any of these “grade moves” though? No. I now have a better understanding of where students start, where they go, and what might matter most (or least). I’ve gotten to see links between curriculum expectations, and gain a better understanding of what these expectations might mean beyond the current grade. I’m not saying that everybody needs to switch grades or teach in different divisions. But if these changes aren’t happening, I think that we need to make more of the connections like my one from yesterday at EdCamp.

Maybe this starts happening through our PD. I think back to this blog post that my previous VP, Kristi, published earlier in the school year. She speaks about what happened when teachers from various divisions got together to plan and share ideas. The learning was powerful! So often, we only see the differences between grades. Maybe we need to start by looking for similarities, and then exploring the variations within these general, similar areas. I wonder about the impact on achievement if there was more of a continuum of learning: a reality that can happen by connecting with others beyond the grade and/or subject area that we teach.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t “team” with our grade team partners. There is a lot of value in doing so. But there’s also value in looking outside of our grade teams, and learning from and with others in our building. With social media, we can also extend this learning to others in our community and around the world. We don’t have to work and learn alone. Maybe by expanding our definition of a team to those outside of our grades, we can also find the support, encouragement, and ideas that we need to not just speak about moving forward, but moving forward. What do you think? How have you done this, or how do you envision doing so? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


6 thoughts on “Expanding Our “Teams”

  1. in agreement about value of teaming outside of grade level no matter what form team may take. Have also taught multiple grade levels, and subjects, and the different experiences/perspectives are enriching. At one time was in a Crtitcal Friends group that cut across all subjects and grade levels. very valuable. we brought different perspectives but focused on practice not on people (something that too often happens when grade level teams come together.). thanks for thoughtful post!

    • Thanks for the comment, Cynthia! Such wonderful points. Your “critical friends group” sounds very interesting. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the practice instead of the people, but keeping focused on practice is so crucial for change. I’d love to hear more about how your group did this and how others do this as well.


  2. Critical Friends is a system of protocols that allow groups to communicate with emotional safety and professional integrity. That’s how I describe it. I don’t know how they really have branded themselves. We were placed in groups by the administration. Each group was purposely composed of educators from different buildings, disciplines, grade levels, number of years experience, number of years in the district, male, female, etc. Mine had an admin from another building in it, not my building. We were using Understanding by Design to build curriculum. We took turns each meeting (can’t remember how often, once per month? more?) presenting about our units of study. Each of us would have a chance to ask clarifying questions, then comment on how the unit met the purposes, etc., The teacher would ask for specific feedback. Each of us would have an opportunity to respond to that. Then the group could have a discussion that was not focused on the presenting teacher but on the possibilities inherent in the unit as currently composed. It was sort of a “what if”. It was not a critique. I loved it. Wish it was used by everyone.!

    • Thanks for explaining, Cynthia! Critical Friends sounds amazing. I wonder what impact it has on future teaching and learning. It certainly sounds like it has the potential for much impact.


  3. I think too often we stick to our disciplinary teams. I work in psychology and I’ve learned so much from SLPs, CYCs, OTs and teachers (itinerant & school-based). I think we do our best work when we consider many perspectives and take a multi-disciplinary approach to education.

    • Great point, Lindsay! I think that this is so important. With limiting our scope and the number of voices we hear, we often forget about different perspectives. It sounds like you get to hear these different points of view a lot. Thanks for the comment!


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