Teaching Team Behaviors
by Peter B. Grazier
Originally Published in EI Network
December 1, 1996
Did you ever wonder why adults seem to
struggle when assigned to a new workplace team of some kind? As organizations increase
their use of teams, the newskills and behaviors required seem to challenge
Why do we have so much difficulty in the
workplace with something that we did so naturally on the playground?
Our Prior Conditioning
Those of us in the workplace today have been reared in a system that associates teamwork
with play and individual accomplishment with the real world of
work. almost all of our schooling rewarded individual work, in fact, collaborating with
other students was usually considered cheating.
Most of us then entered the workplace and
found yet another individual achievement system, so that the combination of our school
life and work life have left most of us ill-equipped to really appreciate and understand
the intricacies of team behaviors and collaboration.
But what if these team behaviors could be
learned and reinforced earlier in life--say, in our primary schools? Would these children
then move into the world of work as adults with their team and collaborative skills
already in place? It makes sense--and as a result, there is a movement in a number of U.S.
schools to do just that.
Recently I visited our Charles F. Patton Middle School here in Chadds Ford to talk with
the schools principal, Bruce Vosburgh. For the last 4 years, the middle school has
boldly moved forward with a leading-edge teaching concept that equips our young people for
the challenges that will face them in the new millennium.
Of particular interest to me was their heavy
emphasis on teamwork, collaboration, and practical problem-solving skills--characteristics
highly valued in todays workplace.
At the Patton School, 812 students in grades 6-8 are broken down into smaller groups of
75-130. These groups are assigned to a team of 3-5 teachers who work together to teach the
required subjects. Each team of teachers works exclusively with its group of students
creating a more intimate teaching/coaching relationship.
I was impressed that these teacher teams are
given significant autonomy and latitude in shaping the process by which their students
will learn. Within the context of the required subjects, the teachers may use lecture,
group learning, self-directed learning, group projects, exercises, field trips, and more
to greatly enhance the learning experience.
One of the great variances from traditional
teaching is the actual existence of the teaching team itself. Rarely in our educational
history have teachers worked so closely to coordinate the learning experience for their
students. The rigorous curriculum and activities require the team to meet daily for 1-2
hours for coordination and planning.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of team
teaching is the wonderful model it presents to the students. Observing their teachers in
such close collaboration sends a powerful message.
The students spend about 50% of their time in what are called cooperative learning
groups. These groups of 4 students spend 4-6 weeks learning together while working
on a special project that links their subjects (math, science, English, literature, etc.)
to real world examples. The students can choose their own project (learning autonomy and
self-direction) within a general theme, such as Geology, The Civil War, Business, or
Economics that has been assigned to them by their teacher.
When their project is complete, they will be
assigned to a new cooperative learning group and the process will begin again.
The beauty of these cooperative learning
groups is how they enhance and widen the learning experience:
Each student is responsible for bringing
knowledge to the group
An understanding of cooperation,
collaboration, and group process is learned
Project management and practical
problem-solving skills are learned including the ability to present results
The subjects are integrated (for example,
math and science with writing ability) and linked to real world projects so that students
learn how to apply knowledge in a practical way
The students are beginning to use peer
evaluations similar to those growing in business
Creating a whole person by incorporating
life management skills as well as knowledge. (How often have we seen intellectuals who
fail in life because they cant relate to others?)
An emphasis on building self-esteem
In support of the cooperative learning
process, research shows that students who participate in learning as a cooperative effort
are more motivated and attain higher achievement levels than those involved in more
traditional instructional environments.
According to Tom Hoover, one of the team teachers, Most kids work well in groups.
They grow in ways that traditional teaching methods cannot duplicate.
Perceptions of Team Concept
The first teacher team I spoke with was the Discovery Team teachers,
Sheri Edwards, Kathie Gregory, Beth Nanis, and Tom Hoover. These teachers volunteered 4
years ago to develop the team teaching concept at the school. Perhaps their greatest
barrier, but ultimate success, was their differing opinions on what this new teaching
process should look like. According to Tom Hoover, It was like The Big Bang
Theory when we started. We all had different ideas of what we wanted.
In fact, the development of this teacher team
was typical of most new teams, following the pattern of forming, storming, norming, then
performing, with an emphasis on STORMING.
Eventually, however, they stuck with it and
their final product was a clear breakthrough, providing an enormous sense of
accomplishment. The final product bonded us, says Sheri Edwards, We were
proud of it. Although they admit to still having some problems talking things out,
it was clear to me this was a well-grounded team.
The second teacher team I met was the
Gators, whose members included Dan Cipollini, Chet Polk, and Denise
This team paid great tribute to Charles
Patton, the schools namesake and previous principal. They felt that he was
collaborative by nature and tended to hire people receptive to the concepts. They said
that when he hired people, he looked more for coach types with an ability to
develop the whole person. All three teachers felt strongly that this aspect of growth was,
perhaps, one of the most significant benefits of the new system.
What really struck me during these
discussions was the enormous enthusiasm of these teachers. They all credited Mr. Vosburgh
and the schools administration for granting them enormous autonomy in their work.
They also appreciated the direct support in being allowed to visit and research other
schools and learning processes.
The importance of this new teaching process
is not to be underestimated. The Chadds Ford schools consistently rank as top schools in
the county and state.
Similarities with Business
As I discussed the cooperative learning process with the teachers, I saw many parallels
with our work in business today:
The students cooperative learning
groups resemble self-directed work teams and problem-solving teams
The students make team presentations, just
as work teams present results of their investigations to management
Student team members take on roles such as
taskmaster, liaison, materials manager, and reporter/recorder
The students experience significant
personal growth through their collaborative experience, much like workers do
Student peer evaluations are starting to be
The teacher teams experience start-up
problems similar to business teams
Support from the administration is critical
(Where have we heard that before?)
Old paradigms die hard, the teachers face
constant barriers to the new process
Evaluating Student Progress
The students do not receive report cards with letter grades. Instead, they are assessed
quarterly by their teachers and receive evaluations of Novice, Apprentice, Practitioner,
and Scholar. These evaluations encompass not only the students knowledge of a
subject, but also their ability to apply this knowledge in a practical way. Just as
important, they are also assessed on their Life Management Skills. Research has always
shown that successful teams and organizations use a balance of technical skills and
Just as those of us reared in the current system of individual achievement carried our
learned behaviors into the workplace, so to will todays child with their
understanding of team concepts. Individual achievement will always have a place in an
entrepreneurial society--as it should. But combining this value with a practical
understanding of the power of collaboration will change forever the way people work in the
The educators of the Patton Middle School are
on the right track, and their dedication and perseverance have injected some valuable
course corrections in preparing young people for their role in the workplace and community
of the future.
For more information regarding the Patton
Middle Schools team teaching process, contact Bruce Vosburgh at 610-347-2000.