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#Education is a team sport!

November 19, 2017

If “all-means-all,” that is if we intend for schools to be places where all students thrive and realize their full potential, then we have to focus our attention on moving education from a group of teachers working independently to a team of teachers working interdependently. Education should be a team sport. The focus for all teachers should be on the success of the school, as well as their students. If the school thrives, then it will likely be a place for all students to thrive provided each student sees himself or herself as a member of the team or community. The saying goes, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” To realize the goal of all-means-all, we have to start with teachers being members of strong teams.

All-means-all is a phrase used by Paul Reville, a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor who researches and writes about educational policy and practice, to build support for a new way of thinking about schooling in America.  In all-means-all, he writes about eight bold steps we need to take if we are to educate all students to their fullest potential.  He defines one of his steps this way:

Our current system of schooling is outmoded, he continued, citing short school days and a one-size-fits-all approach. We have a batch-processing, mass-production model of education that served us very well if we wanted to achieve a society in which we were sending a lot of people into low-skill, low-knowledge jobs.  But for high-skill, high-knowledge jobs in a post-industrial information age, we need a very different system.

Research substantiates that teachers involved in peer-to-peer learning in small groups has substantial impact on improving student learning.  So why don’t all schools design their curriculum, schedules, and professional development to support communities of practice, where teachers design, plan and evaluate learning environments so all students master what needs to be learned?  Professional learning communities, one model that provides a structure for teacher collaboration focused on learning not teaching, has gained traction in some schools.  DATA WISE, another model for teachers collaborating to assure that students master learning targets, has been used in some circles.  Here is a quote from a piece published by Learning Forward:

When teachers engage in high-quality collaboration that they perceive as extensive and helpful, there is both an individual and collective benefit. High-quality collaboration in general and about assessment in particular among teachers is associated with increases in their students’ achievement, their performance, and their peers’ students’ achievement. (Learning Forward, Joellen Killion, High-quality Collaboration Benefits Teachers and Students, page 62, October 2015)

So we know when teachers collaborate, focusing on learning and not teaching, students experience higher levels of success overall.  Yet most schools have not changed their practices, schedules and professional development framework to embrace these ideas on behalf of their students. Why?

We seem to be stuck in our old model of schooling that promotes teachers working in isolation, in separate classrooms with doors closed.  We embrace the “star-teacher” model which rewards a person for their exemplary work. While there is nothing wrong with affirming the good work of a star teacher, the star teacher most likely arrived at a place of excellence having learned from many people along their journey.  Learning is a team sport, so education must be a team sport.  If the star teacher doesn’t openly share what makes him or her exemplary with colleagues, then the school loses, even if his or her students enjoy their classroom experience.  All students aren’t learning from the star teacher, all students learn from the collective excellence of a team of teachers.

What if we shifted our practices in schools from evaluating the individual based on how well his or her students score on tests to evaluating teams of teachers on how well their grade-level performs, their department performs, or how well the school performs? Instead of rewarding individuals, we reward teams. When a sports team wins a championship, the whole team celebrates because they realize that no single team member is responsible for their success. There might be an MVP (most valuable player), but the team’s win is everyone’s win. Questions for me are: (1) how does this team mindset get designed and implemented in a school community and practiced daily;  (2) what is the school leader’s role to promote this work consistently; and (3) what is the evidence schools collect to verify success, other than test score performance?

Achieving all-means-all is no small task for struggling or successful schools.  Even at the most successful schools in the country, public or private, I question whether we know all students learn to their fullest extent.  I believe we leave students behind at all schools: behind meaning students do not become fully actualized through their school experience because that isn’t our goal.  It’s common for students to say, “I am not good at math,” or “I’m not a good writer.”  Is this because students are unable to learn math or how to write or is it because they didn’t have the “right teacher?”  What if that “not right teacher” was part of a strong team that held every team member accountable?  What if the whole team was responsible for the learning of all students, not just the students in his or her classroom.  Maybe students wouldn’t say, “I’m not good at math,” or “I’m not a good writer.”

As educators, I think we have to look in the mirror when students do not learn to their fullest.  We would be wise to reach out to colleagues for support, embracing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s belief:

One person can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one person cannot make a team. (click here)

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