I’ve never been a huge fan of group projects. When I got my first official teaching job, it was at a large public high school where I was one of FOUR biology teachers. I found out on my first day that admin expected us to do everything, and I mean EVERYTHING together. Needless to say, I was not super happy about it.
I think my lack of affinity towards working on a team has to do with (1) being introverted and (2) having a really specific vision and standard I want to set for everything I do in work and life (I’m a 1 on the Enneagram so I see things as really black and white, which can make teamwork a challenge for me.)
However, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. As a first year teacher, working on a tight-knit team was EXACTLY what I needed. I learned so much through the process, and am excited to share what worked well for our team. If you work in a school with other teachers who teach your subject area (whether you already do things as a team, or don’t) this blog post is for YOU!
(If you don’t, don’t worry! My most recent teaching job was at a small private school where I was the only teacher who taught all 5 of my preps!! I have another post coming with all my tips specifically for you!)
I will preface and say that there were semesters that we flourished as a team, and semesters when it was really a struggle to work together. These four strategies are what made defined the semesters where we flourished, and I hope they will help you as you work on a team at your school!
Tip #1 for Working on a Team: Divide and Conquer Everything
Yes – EVERYTHING.
Okay, hear me out. If you are anything like me, you would much rather work as a lone wolf. But I’m telling you from experience, it just doesn’t make sense when you have multiple people repetitively doing all the same tasks. Work smarter, not harder! But….HOW??
Get with everyone who teaches what you teach and have each person bring their own stack of sticky notes – preferably everyone has their own color. Have every person write each thing they do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis on individual sticky notes. Stick them all to a whiteboard, wall, or window, and start sorting them to see all the overlap.
I like to do this on a whiteboard so that then we can label each chunk of similar tasks. Which HAVE to be done by each individual teacher? Which could easily be distributed so one teacher does it for EVERYONE? You will be surprised how many things can actually be divided up so that you don’t have 2-5 people all expending time and energy on the exact same task.
How do you figure out who does what?? There is a lot that goes into doing this effectively so that the burden is equally shared. This is where my second tip comes in.
Tip #2 for Working on a Team: Identify each other’s gifts.
Take the categories you made from sorting the sticky notes of tasks that all of you are all doing. Rank these tasks based on:
⭐️ Time they take
⭐️ Gifts and preferences
Divvy up the tasks based on gifts and preferences first. For example, I love curriculum development and have my masters in it, so I tackled writing curriculum for our on grade level students. My teacher bestie who was in line to be the next AP bio teacher took on our honors curriculum, as she was already in regular communication with the current AP Bio teacher. Another teacher who had a great relationship with our ELL director took on all communication with her and differentiation of our assessments for ELLs. These were natural divisions of tasks based on our interests and gifts that were easy to divide up!
For the tasks that no one really wanted, we split them up based on time. Since developing curriculum for the entire department was really time consuming, I didn’t have as many of the smaller tasks, like tracking data to report to our admin, or creating review resources for students for our high stakes state EOC exam.
Tip #3 for Working on a Team: Plan for a consistent meeting time.
This is critical for sharing tasks and making sure everyone is on the same page. I highly recommend doing this WEEKLY so that you can:
⭐️ Share what you are working on for the team
⭐️ Get opinions or help on something, as needed
⭐️ Talk strategies and what is and isn’t working in your classes
⭐️ Assess students’ grades and potential support efforts you can do
⭐️ Encourage each other!
I can’t tell you how helpful this was to be on a team that did this – especially as a 1st year teacher! We had a LOT of turnover in our district so there was always at least one new person and this was a game changer for them.
It also made all of us better teachers. 2 brains (or 3 or 5 like I had) are better than one! It was especially helpful to gather after common summative assessments and compare averages and brainstorm how we could have taught differently together. We would immediately reflect and make plans to adjust the next semester, then bounce ideas off each other for remediation.
HOW do you do this? In a dream world, you all have the same planning period (this did happen 2 semesters for us and was amazing). Next best thing is sharing lunch once a week, if you have the same lunch period.
If neither of those are possible, a 20-30 min meeting before or after school IS ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT. Even if someone is coaching after school (or running late on their way to school if it’s a morning meeting) they can often still Zoom in and have their headphones on so they can chime in.
Tip #4 for Working on a Team: Establish a clear communication system.
Finally, you HAVE to come up with a clear communication system, using a tool that works for everyone. I highly recommend NOT using text or email. Text is way too personal and email is hard to really have a conversation.
I’ve LOVED using Slack recently. It’s super easy to communicate through it on my phone or laptop, which I LOVE. I can easily share documents, videos, texts, or voice memos! You can also set up different channels (think like group threads) and send private one on one messages too!
My favorite feature is that I can set the hours I get notifications. So you can set it to only get notifications from 8 am – 4 pm Monday-Friday, which helps to set up healthy work/life boundaries.
I hope that these tips help you work smarter and not harder as a team at your school!
If you do have other teachers who teach what you teach and you AREN’T currently working as a team, what is holding you back? What are your biggest roadblocks? Reach out and let me know and I’d be happy to troubleshoot some solutions with you!