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Saving Summer: Go, team!

No, really…go…wait…stay…come back!

Teaching is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting, which is why, until we get some other issues solved, I don’t see U.S. schools going to a year-round schedule anytime soon. I am luxuriating that it’s a weekend during summer break: for some reason, this feels especially decadent– a weekend AND a break?! Well, I just got home from InstructureCon and tomorrow through Thursday I’ll be driving over an hour away to a STEM fellowship through WABS. I don’t mind have structure and purpose during my summer days, but they are precious and dwindling fast. And there’s still so much to do.

I wanted to follow up to my question about teams, (teams going, coming back, going, and coming back)–I am allowed to pursue these questions about the effectiveness and desire for teams that are not writ large: not all teams are effective. Just because I am craving to be on good, supportive localized team again (not a PLC: those serve other purposes) doesn’t mean they didn’t come fraught with issues and dysfunction. I’ll define a “team” in this context as the cohort of cross-content teachers who share the same cohort of students. The team is usually made up of a Science, Social Studies, and ELA teacher, and sometimes Math. The elective and physical education teachers are included in the big student concern meetings/discussions, but the ‘grassroots’ level support for students comes from the trio.

Over the years (when we had teams) I was fortunate to work with superstars: friends/colleagues who supported my questions, and we worked together to support students. We appreciated and valued our different styles and personalities, and kept ego out of the equation: it was a godsend when each of us recognized that one student may prefer one teacher over the other, but kept a united front with students; we told students it was perfectly okay to like one of us, but we all had their back. We could meet with individual students, share parent contact duties, (which as a parent is awesome not to receive three or five phone calls about a child, but one), and we felt a comradery that modeled friendship and respect to our students.

When teams are not functional, teammates don’t communicate, they undermine, form opinions without questioning and probing, and passive-aggressively send the message that other teachers on the team are incompetent, etc. Not. Cool. And yes, we’ve all experienced a coworker like that.

But in this day and age of collaboration and teams, many introverted teachers are ducking out. Well, introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, we’re all feeling brain-drain.

Why Introverted Teachers Are Burning Out

“The term “introversion” can mean a variety of different things in different contexts. Carl Jung defined it as an orientation through “subjective psychic contents,” while Scientific American contends that introversion is more aptly described as a lessened “sensitivity to rewards in the environment.” It’s generally accepted, however, that as Stephen A. Diamond gracefully describes it, “[Extraversion and introversion] are two extreme poles on a continuum which we all occupy.””

So how do we navigate the need for collaboration, good teams, and keeping our own psychic energy bright and healthy? One good resource is Elena Aquilar. She writes books and excellent article about teams, coaching, and coaching teams.

10 Truths About Building School Teams

Introverts struggle with extroverts. Extroverts sometimes assume that when an introvert is being quiet, they’re A. Not listening B. Not smart (and then get some patronizing explanation) C. Don’t even notice. But extroverts aren’t bad: sometimes extroverts see the big picture quickly and have the ability to share, the exuberance and passion that comes out physically and verbally. Introverts are awesome because they garner the slow-simmer, deeper thoughts. For me, the best way for both kinds of personalities to work on teams well is the basics rules for any relationship: learn to listen, speak when necessary, and be kind.

And: advocate for yourself.

If the collaboration or process isn’t working, it should always be acceptable to say that a discussion needs to be shelved for a later time.

Last thoughts:

Extroverts: put your bullhorn away. Introverts: pick up the mic. Let’s all support each other so none of us burn out.


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Go, team!

Creating curriculum, and recreating: satisfying
Creating curriculum, and recreating: satisfying


A former student, one who was in my Anime Club, but in a colleague’s ELA class, posted this on Facebook yesterday. It made my heart soar. He’s a PhD in Chemistry candidate at CalTech. Smart kid. He was going through his middle school assignments, and took the time to give a kind shout-out to his former teachers. My friend was the one who took this idea of mine and adapted it for her own class. She’s shared many great ideas with me, too, and is my guide for starting a Genius Hour. She no longer works for the district, but those relationships remain. I can think of another amazing young teacher I worked with, who would graciously use structures of lessons, (Power Points, Smartnotebooks, etc.) and ask if she could adapt and change to suit her teaching style. Man oh man that is when it WORKS, people! I follow her on Goodreads and look up the teaching books she posts, because she always finds the best. (Links below if you’re interested.)

The fact is, meshing teacher styles is darn near impossible: think big picture.
The fact is, meshing teacher styles is darn near impossible: think big picture in this case, the big goals, the big purpose.

The reason for its creation is reading logs aren’t effective, so I developed multiple ways to get kids to read; this was one. Personally I haven’t used it in years, because every year is different, and has a new set of opportunities for growth. I am not claiming that my one little reading unit paved the way to CalTech. No–the community and collaboration of teachers, and his parents, and his own volition did. And this we cannot lose sight of, ever. Choose your metaphor: ship, team, village: we do this together as a team. How that team functions, and its dynamics, are worth reflection.

Elena Aquilar published a piece about teams in Edutopia recently. I have never believed, for myself, in the writer’s initial sentiment, that she could do everything alone. Sharing and collaboration come naturally for me. Hers is a  refreshing admission that many folks bristle when it comes to teams, like group work:

“I’m going to admit that it’s taken me a while to feel convinced by the power of teams. Until recently, I didn’t have great experiences in teams. I felt that alone I could produce whatever needed to be created better, and quicker, than working with others. I often felt frustrated working in teams — the process felt so slow and cumbersome. I felt like I was usually given (or took) the bulk of the work. I didn’t really know what an effective team looked like, how one worked together, or what the benefits could be.”

Our middle school has gone through varying waves of having cross-content teams and not having cross-content teams. This next year I think we’re heading into a season of not having, but I could be mistaken. We will definitely continue the work of PLCs, which are crucial and empowering, and that may be enough. However, through the work of having a cohort of students, as my sons’ district does, it is much easier to facilitate interventions for children. Without that team of shared students, we will face some challenges, but ones I know we can handle. I have a plan in place for making sure none of my ELA students, no matter what Social Studies, Math, Science, PE, or Elective teacher they have, get my full focus, and create a mini-team individually for them. In each of their composition books, I’ll have them write their parents’ contact information, full schedule, and other notes, and check in with them periodically to see how all their classes are going, emotionally and academically. This will be an integral part of my conferencing with them. The grading system has a great “all teachers” function in emails, but this way it puts the focus on the conversation with the student first, and then bring in the support team. My e-mail output to colleagues may increase this next year, as those informal “Do you have a chance to give me your insight…” talks.

This article on the Emotional Intelligence (EI) of a team is invaluable:


The Key to Effective Teams in Schools: Emotional Intelligence


group project

Ultimately, what Aguilar says is key, no matter the make-up of the team itself (cross-curriculuar, departmental, PLC/cross or PLC/departmental)

  1. A good team knows why it exists. It’s not enough to say, “We’re the sixth grade team of teachers,” that’s simply what defines you (you teach the same grade) but not why you exist. A purpose for being is a team might be: “We come together as a team to support each other, learn from each other, and identify ways we can better meet the needs of our sixth grade students.” Call it a purpose or a mission — doesn’t really matter. What matters is that those who attend never feel like they’re just obligated to attend “another meeting.” The purpose is relevant, meaningful, and clear.

So here are my vows to any team(s) that find me as a player, PLCs, Departments, no matter:

1. I will complete and share my portion of any given task or directive freely.

2. I will adhere and comply to directives.

3. I will honor your time.

Teams come in all shapes and sizes, purposes and collaboration: it can be the formal PLC, or the  continued friendship and collegial collaboration that work over time and space. Just takes a different way of defining ‘team,’ and opening up to ideas.

Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response Paperback – February 28, 2015