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Create a Professional Learning Environment Breeds Teamwork

We're sitting in a circle, as a department. Although we meet weekly in our vertical team, the tone is different today.

Before us is a task to go through the Quality Review Rubric and fill in evidence and artifacts together in order to show how we are exceeding standards as a group and then all together as a school.

A Google document is shared and each member of the team takes a line item to fill in the empty table. Without complaint or negative rumble or hesitation, we all do our part.

First reviewing the preliminary work we started earlier, we all fill in the indicators and start to consider areas where we each can contribute to show strength as a unified group. Not just working confidently, we work efficiently to make the most of the time provided.

Schools are built on relationships and strong collegial bonds require collaboration on a multitude of levels. Teachers need to know about what goes on in their colleagues' spaces and alignment in curricula is essential. Days like today offer chances for us to see the positive work our fellow teachers do.

Time is often limited in schools, which is why every opportunity we have to work together to develop as a group must be used well.

Here are some ways to develop better departmental relationships:

  • Provide time for teachers to work together on a regular basis for collaboration on projects and ideas that matter to them - of their choosing not solely on initiatives passed down

  • Acknowledge the good work teachers are doing together with positive or critical feedback that will help the group flourish as a team.

  • Encourage teachers to visit each other's classrooms to see them in action, especially if they share students.

  • Foster respectful interactions and communications by always taking the time to notice. Say hello and smile. Come out into the hallways and greet your colleagues

  • Honor the strengths of each other, allowing leadership to be shared where appropriate. As a team, there isn't only one in command; we must work together.

  • Share ideas freely to promote higher-level learning experiences for students. What do your students respond well to that may be easy to replicate or at least modify for other teachers?

  • When disagreements occur, don't gossip. Be direct with colleagues and confront challenges as they arise to seek out solutions that will keep communication open and honest.

  • Wherever possible don't be accusatory or negative toward other people's work habits or styles. Figure out the strengths of each individual and decide how best to use that information for the betterment of the team. Name-calling or alienating team members is never an effective way to develop as a team.

  • Honor every person's voice and perspective always.

As a school community, we must keep in focus the most important part of our job, the students. The better the relationships between teachers in a school, the better the learning environment for students. We must always be asking ourselves, how can we continue to improve the learning to increase mastery for all of our students? The only way a school can be successful at this is if it works together.

What role do you play in fostering relationships in your school community? Please share.

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in November of 2014. It has been revised.

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