Today’s middle school teams use a wide range of
technology tools to achieve six important goals:
to develop their teacher team; to design effective
workflows; to establish a strong team culture; to
involve families; to manage technologies; and to
continue learning about new technology tools.
Develop Teacher Teams
So much of team dynamics is about talking, deciding,
and collaborating. High-performing teams, therefore,
must agree on norms and routines for conversation,
decision making, documentation, and storage. With
increasing pressure to make use of all-too-scarce
common planning time, more teams are turning to
technology to get the job done.
In face-to-face team meetings, teachers can
collaboratively contribute to a Google Doc (www.docs.google.com), for instance, creating the agenda,
recording minutes, documenting decisions, and
developing to-do lists. They can collaborate on shared
calendars, spreadsheets, websites, and presentations
in the moment, as the ideas and inspirations arise.
More important, these activities don’t require faceto-
face meetings; the documents are shared and
accessible anywhere, any time.
With the chat and comment functions within
Google Docs, as well as the video conferencing
functions of Google Plus, teams are no longer limited
by school hours to complete their important work.
Develop a Workflow Strategy
As teachers and students do more of their work
electronically, a thoughtful workflow strategy is a
must. Shared folders in Google Docs offer anywhere,
anytime access to “drop boxes” for submitting
assignments, collaborative storage space for smallgroup
work, and archives of students’ work to be
accessed by students and teachers alike.
Now, Learning Management Systems (LMS),
such as EDU2.0 (www.edu20.org), Haiku (www.haikulearning.com), Edmodo (www.edmodo.com), and
Schoology (www.schoology.com) offer online systems
to distribute differentiated assignments, provide
feedback to students, link to standards-based rubrics
and assessments, and develop portfolios of student
As more schools adopt 1:1 computing programs
and more families acquire high-speed Internet access,
teachers need workflow strategies like these to reap
the organizational and learning benefits of e-learning,
such as making last-minute changes to instructions,
assignments, and resources that paper-based systems
Establish Team Culture
Nearly every facet of teaching and learning on a team
is affected by new technologies, from how netbooks,
tablets, and even cell phones are used in school to
how students engage experts around the world via
e-mail or Skype (www.skype.com). The norms and
routines teachers have nurtured across generations
don’t necessarily work with today’s connected
Effective teams build a sense of community by
asking students to introduce themselves through
digital storytelling. They use Socrative (www.socrative.com) or other online polling tools to have
frank and often challenging conversations about team
expectations. They model collaborative brainstorming
with Bubbl.us (https://bubbl.us) and backchanneling with TodaysMeet (https://todaysmeet.com).
The key components of Common Sense Media’s
(www.commonsensemedia.org) terrific digital
citizenship curriculum—including Internet Safety,
Relationships and Communication, Cyberbullying,
Self-Image and Identity, Digital Footprint and
Reputation—are an essential 21st century approach to
By Penny A. Bishop & John M. Downes
in every issue HOT SPOT
AMLE Magazine · JANUARY 2014 45
creating a healthy team for young adolescents. What’s
more, the foundation of a strong team culture is more
important than ever as teams journey along the
turbulent path toward hi-tech schooling.
Effective teams know that the teacher-student-family
triangle yields powerful student learning. Joyce
Epstein’s six types of family involvement—parenting,
communicating, learning at home, decision making,
volunteering, and collaborating with the community—
offer as good a guide in the 21st century as when she
first suggested them two decades ago.
Tech-savvy teams introduce families to
Common Sense Media’s family media agreements
and conversation guides to help parent and child
negotiate the online hobbies and social lives of young
adolescents. They point families to team websites,
class blogs, e-portfolios, and teachers’ preferred
e-mailing, texting, and Skyping routines to build twoway
communications between home and school.
They host family nights at which students guide
their families through the team’s online parenting
resources, science games, and math sites like Khan
Academy (www.khanacademy.org) or MathXL
(www.mathxlforschool.com). Students model how to
use Google Docs for Writer’s Workshop and how to
find the latest assignments, teacher feedback, and
assessment results in the team’s LMS.
These teams create parent councils to streamline
parent input into technology policies and they
designate parents as on-call support to families
struggling with Facebook or gaming at home.
Teams that embrace technology quickly realize that
students can play key roles in fixing software glitches,
restoring wireless connections, and cleaning up the
tangled mess of a laptop cart—the nuts and bolts of
managing classroom technology.
Young adolescents’ need for competence and
leadership can be met by establishing student tech
teams with rotating membership, trained by district
technology staff to be front-line troubleshooters. [See
the November AMLE Magazine Hot Spot.]
Teams also identify mentors among marginalized
students who display tech talents to help fumbling
“high achievers,” bolstering the mentor’s self-esteem
and status along the way.
Google Forms (www.google.com/google-d-s/createforms.html) are an easy way to collect trouble
reports from students and teachers, and they can
be routinely reviewed through the automatically
generated charts to monitor the ebb and flow of
tech issues. Effective teams share these data with
the student tech team and district technology staff.
One team teacher acts as a liaison with technology
support to streamline the sometimes long-running
conversations about persistent problems.
Learn about Tools
Finally, effective teams constantly add new
technologies to their toolkit. Savvy teachers turn to a
student tech mentor who tries out several promising
web apps at home, suggests the one kids might prefer,
and provides a lunchtime tutorial that can launch the
teacher on a new tool much more efficiently than she
could have done alone.
Similarly, teachers can document their experience
with apps in a shared Google Spreadsheet, noting
each app’s strengths and weaknesses, suggesting
tips and tricks, and linking to examples of student
work. Shared with
all teammates, these
results can save
valuable teacher time in
the long run.
Teams also may
take turns reporting on
an app at a designated
time meeting every two weeks. The result over time:
a thoughtful analysis of apps, by these teachers, for
these teachers, in their real classroom settings, all in a
package readily shareable with their colleagues near
Today’s teams confront increasing pressure on
common planning time. But the 21st century holds
real and exciting promise: the efficiencies of anytime,
anywhere connectivity and bold new opportunities to
create strong and effective teams
Penny Bishop is professor of middle grades education
and director of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative
Education at the University of Vermont, Burlington.
John Downes is associate director of the Tarrant
Institute for Innovative Education at the University of
This article was published in AMLE Magazine
, January 2014.