Turning Up Teaming

Teaming, at its best, is a collaborative act that rewards the faculty who engage with it socially, emotionally, and intellectually. Those fortunate enough to have a group of colleagues as a teaching team know it provides a support system that is a powerful way to manage stress in these days of “high-stakes,” well, nearly everything. While teaming is an effective structure for middle level operation generally, collaborating as a team on issues of advisory pays even greater dividends in the crucial development of young adolescent learners’ minds and spirits. Because advisory and collaboration are the basis for addressing the human element of middle level education, they make a natural pairing. A team of educators planning together for advisory allows for smooth incorporation of relevant curriculum that is a win-win situation for students and teachers alike.

Step On

Members of interdisciplinary teams probably already devote planning time to discussing the goals they have for the students they teach. Most likely these are content area goals but it is a simple step to imagine faculty arranging a bit of that time for conversing about and agreeing on the types of people, of citizens, of learners that the teachers aspire for the students to continue to become. Curious, compassionate people, responsible, engaged citizens, and self-directed problem-solvers, are probably easily-agreed-upon outcomes that cut across subject matter that any interdisciplinary team might seek for the young adolescents they teach. How might the more global outcomes be tied to the achievement of those content area goals, while boosting comprehensive student development and energizing the adults? Teaching teams co-planning for advisory may be the answer!

Step Out

Imagine a teaching team decides to work on fostering curiosity and compassion. The members pull a few resources from AMLE to review and see that they can incorporate a brief “pat on the back” activity at the end of class, wherein, with only a couple of minutes of class time, everyone has an opportunity to be recognized. For this advisory “game” found in Treasure Chest II, each content specialist can put a subject matter spin on the statements changing “Pat yourself on the back if you did something difficult today” to “…tried a difficult math problem” or “…persisted in revising an essay.”

For building problem-solving capacity in any subject area, an innovative activity suggested by Hunt-Ullock et al. (2007) is to challenge young adolescents to connect nine dots aligned in a three-by-three grid through a continuous line without retracing or crossing over the line. For mental challenge activities like these, each member of the team can take a different day of the week and use a concise prompt throughout the day to enliven the content while advancing advisory and academic goals.

At the next team meeting, faculty can debrief in order to gauge whether their creative group effort has any effect. If incorporating brief “brain stretchers” are shown to be a good use of time, as they have been for teams on which I have been a member, I guarantee each member will be on the lookout for these types of novel interjections to the curriculum that develop the whole person. In addition, having occasions to converse about observational data with colleagues to support the team’s decision making helps middle school teachers develop assessment skill and satisfaction with their work that discussions around quantitative data do not always inspire.

Step Up

If your team experiences success from this small outlay of time you will probably be willing to invest more of yourselves for a bigger payoff for you and the students. You may decide to work a week-long theme into your classes or have the entire school participate in an event. In order to plan a day-long advisory-focused activity or to propose an interdisciplinary unit that addresses social and cognitive growth your team will need to move from cooperation to collaboration. This requires a greater degree of trust and ingenuity from the team members, which is exactly why the adults will gain as much as the young adolescents from this venture. If you really “go big” and undertake an integrative unit (Beane, 1997) the adults may have to devote a fair amount of intellectual momentum themselves to study the theory as well as to work with the students to design and implement worthwhile learning.

Picture the collaboration that will occur from the scholarly investigation and academic responsibility of studying topics that may be new to you, supporting one another in some risk-taking, and leaving behind status consciousness that plagues many teams. I have discovered that when the veteran team leader is in the same position as the novice team member who join forces to create relevant curriculum with the students, real admiration for others’ strengths grows.

If your team has never constructed and implemented an integrative learning experience based on adolescents’ questions and concerns, then you are in for a treat. Intrinsic motivation thrives on an environment of integration. Not only will you appreciate working with each other as you employ a range of teaching talents, you will be delighted to engage with self-directed young adolescents who will reveal their thirst to know. In collaborating, your actions will be those of the synchronous swim team rather than those of the individual champion.

Turn It Up

If you have colleagues in your building whom you consider teaching partners, then amplify efforts with them. Together, consider how you can bring elements of advisory into the curriculum and then plan to enact them. Working together is often more enjoyable than toiling alone. When that teamwork produces learning experiences for groups of young adolescents who become socially and intellectually adept then you and the members of the team have every reason to be satisfied with your efforts. When they do, be sure to pat yourselves on the back!


Beane, J. A. (1997). Curriculum integration: Designing the core of democratic education. NY: Teachers College Press.

Hunt-Ullock, K., Selby, M., Silver, D., Thompson, R. & Wormeli, R. (2007). Middle school matters: Innovative classroom materials. Nashville, TN: Incentive Publications.

Kleine, K. L. M. (2009). Treasure chest II: Problem solving activities, brain stretchers, and active games. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.