Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Building Teams to Rebuild Schools

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Building Teams to Rebuild Schools

Article excerpt

Education might be improved by the formation of a nucleus of committed people in each school, people prepared to take risks inside and outside their own classrooms. Mr. Maeroff provides the details.

ATTEMPTS to make teachers the agents of change usually follow one of two paths: an individual goes off alone to a workshop, or an entire faculty attends an inservice training session. In the first case, upon returning to the school, the lone teacher is often greeted with derision by colleagues who evince no interest in what the person has learned. In the second case, the members of a school faculty tend to regard the usual approach to inservice training with cynicism, attending the sessions grudgingly and resenting them as an intrusion on their time.

What has been tried far less often is the instigation of change by means of a group -- or team. This means creating a phalanx -- including the principal -- of true believers who assume ownership of new ideas and learn strategies for implementing them and for winning adherents among their colleagues in the school community. A group of educators and other interested parties can be steeped in knowledge of the change process and transformed into a team by the experiences in an institute or academy designed specifically for building teams.

Team building of this sort raises the possibility that education might be improved by the formation of a nucleus of committed people in each school, people prepared to take risks inside and outside their own classrooms. Unlike most risk-takers in schools, however, members of teams do not suffer the vulnerability of the lone innovator and are not hampered by the unwieldiness that comes with trying to make change agents of a whole faculty at once. Furthermore, because team building for school change is predicated on the endorsement -- indeed, the participation -- of the principal, the team is less apt to face attacks from its flanks as it marches to battle under the banner of change.

At its best, team building can allow those most inclined toward change to seize the moment and band together to begin a process that may eventually spread throughout the school. Rather than wait for the educational millennium, those ready for change can begin their quest. However, team building for school change is no panacea, and it carries no guarantees except the promise of an arduous journey that has no end.

On its face, team building is simple and straightforward: some half-dozen teachers, their principal, and perhaps a few others associated with the school gather during the summer for at least a week and possibly longer to form themselves into a team that learns to ask the right questions about the school, that starts to discover some of the answers, and that prepares to teach and model group-process procedures for the entire school community.

This approach to change is akin to what is happening in business and industry, where self-managed teams have been formed to give employees on those teams control over everything from work schedules to how to perform the work and from hiring to firing. These teams are vehicles for increasing efficiency, effectiveness, and motivation at the worksite. Consider the following assumptions made by experts who advocate the use of teams in business and industry.

* Those closest to the work know best how to perform and improve their jobs.

* Most employees want to feel that they "own" their jobs and are making meaningful contributions to the effectiveness of their organizations.

* Teams provide possibilities for empowerment that are not available to individual employees.[1]

All three assumptions could apply to schools -- but teamwork, for almost any purpose, is foreign to most teachers. The measure of most teachers' success usually rests on how adept they are at working on their own. At a time when schools are replete with talk of cooperative learning -- an approach that calls for teachers to teach groups of students to collaborate in their learning -- there is no concomitant move to encourage collaboration among professionals. …

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