Effective Teaming in a Turnaround School
I was teaching sixth grade in an inner-city K–8 "turnaround school"—designated as such because our math and reading scores did not meet the state requirements.
Turnaround schools can be challenging; the pressure put on administrators, teachers, and ultimately on students often generates a culture of animosity and finger-pointing. However, in this school, largely staffed by beginning, lateral entry, and Teach for America teachers, I worked with a team whose members went out of their way to support one another, advocate for students, and initiate an esprit de corps that exemplifies an effective middle grades team.
We considered ourselves a team of ACTORs: advocates, collaborators, trusting, optimistic, risk-takers.
Advocates. The words of John Lounsbury guided us: "We must advocate for what we know to be right for young adolescents." Every decision we made began with the question "Is this good for our kids?" We met with parents as a team and often brought in specialists. Our guidance counselor was an excellent resource for working with our students and providing us insight into ways to meet their individual needs.
Collaborators. We worked with each other to help "fill our cups," as Stephen Covey termed it—to share our findings, to dream of what can be, and to take action together. We had a common literacy focus and developed weekly enrichment experiences and interdisciplinary units. Throughout the year we worked with literacy and math coaches. We met with our students before school, after school, and on Saturdays. We planned interdisciplinary units and celebration activities. And we talked about our students constantly.
Trusting. We trusted that our teammates were doing the best they could because each and every one of us wanted what was best for the students and for each other. We did not all have backgrounds in education, but the experiences we each brought provided our team with fresh insight and new perspective.
Optimistic. Together and individually we stayed "above the fray," provided a spark, a spirit of "we can do good things." We took the time to drop into one another's rooms in the morning to say hello, wishing each other a "good day," knowing that together, we could help our students succeed.
Risk-takers. Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, is quoted as saying, "Speak up even if your voice shakes." We were willing to speak up for what we thought was best for our students. We tried multiple grouping experiences, flexible scheduling, and team teaching. We engaged in service learning and exploration, and challenged our students to lead the way. We took risks to help our students succeed.
Supportive. As colleagues, as friends, we supported each other. Our love for middle level education and for one another allowed us to "run and not be weary." We were a family in good times and in bad, and we valued each other as individuals first, as colleagues second.
As a team in a turnaround school, we never forgot that our students' needs came first; our second priority was to take care of one another. Our students flourished and so did our team, because we all reached for the ACTOR within each of us and within one another.
Originally published in the April 2012 edition of Middle Level iNSIDER.
Nancy Ruppert is the middle grades coordinator at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. She also is president of the National Association of Professors of Middle Level Education. E-mail: email@example.com
Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education