Is teaching a team sport?

John’s book, The Influence of Teachers, is currently available on Amazon.

I had an interesting conversation with Barnett Berry, the lead author of Teaching 2030, earlier this week. We covered the waterfront: how teaching has changed and is changing, whether schools of education were up the the challenges facing them, why so many teachers leave, and so on. You will have to wait for our PBS NewsHour piece — it’s in a quiz format, by the way — and the accompanying podcast to find out what the brilliant Mr. Berry believes, because right now I want to explore his final comment, over coffee after the cameras had been turned off.

“Teaching is a team sport,” he opined before rushing off to a meeting, leaving me wondering.

Is it? Who says so? And if it is, why are so many politicians and state governments rushing to support ways of measuring individual teachers?

And what’s a ‘team sport’ anyway?

Well, baseball is a team sport. We watched the Cardinals perform the near-impossible, and we saw that nearly everyone in a Cardinal uniform contributed to the team’s climb from 10.5 games out in late August to win the wild card spot on the last day of the season, upset two heavily favored teams to win the National League pennant and then overcome impossible odds to win the World Series. No one who saw it will forget Game Six, when the Cards were twice within one strike of losing it all to the Texas Rangers. Twice they rallied to tie, later winning on David Freese’s 11th inning walk-off home run. Freese won the series MVP award, but his teammates put him in the position to succeed.

Case closed: Baseball is a team sport, but with individual statistics and individual honors.

Now, what about teaching? That’s a tougher argument for at least six reasons.

World Series

Baseball is clearly a team sport, as the Cardinals evidenced throughout the summer and fall. But is teaching?

The “egg crate” architecture of most schools does not support the notion that teaching is a team sport: Individual classrooms resemble cartons, isolated from each other.

The typical school schedule does not support the notion that teaching is a team sport. Most American public school teachers spent almost all of their school time in their classrooms, which means they have very little time to work as a team.

The language of education does not support the notion. Occasionally a couple of teachers will ‘team teach,’ which implies that the rest of the staff is not team-teaching! That is, you are only on a team when you are actually working in the same classroom with another teacher.

Nor does the evaluation of teachers support the notion that teaching is a team sport. It’s all done on an individual basis, with the possible exception of few rating points being given for ‘contribution to the school environment’ or something like that. In my experience, when an administrator praises a teacher for being ‘a team player,’ he means that the teacher doesn’t make waves.

The governance of most schools contradicts the notion that teaching is a team sport. Often it’s ‘labor versus management,’ with teachers punching a time clock twice a day. That’s a far cry from the St. Louis Cardinals, where manager Tony LaRussa had such trust in Albert Pujols that he let him call a hit-and-run play on his own. LaRussa was in charge, but he occasionally deferred to his coaches and his players. He left a pitcher in the game, for instance, after consulting with the catcher, who told him the pitcher had another inning in him (turned out to be wrong, but that’s not the point).

Finally, the emerging pay structure for teachers flies in the face of the idea that teaching is a team sport. The hot issue is some form of ‘merit pay’ based on the academic performance of the individual teacher, whether it’s ‘value-added’ test scores or good old standardized test scores. The policy makers who are supporting these schemes are paying scant attention to the implications (test all students in all subjects!); the fact that with high student turnover, a kid might have three different teachers in one year; or to the evidence indicating that merit pay doesn’t work.

In some places, if teachers are on a team, it’s probably their local union team, but not the PS 112 team or the Mather Middle School team.

I’m afraid my friend Barnett is letting the wish be the father of the thought. He wants teaching to be widely recognized as a team sport, which it is in the best schools. In those schools, teachers have time to meet and discuss individual students, to plan curriculum, to develop both short- and long-term goals. They have time to breathe. They work as a team and hold each other accountable. Yes, each school has the equivalent of Tony LaRussa, the manager, but he or she is not ‘management’ and the teachers ‘labor.’ They all have their eyes on the prize.

I believe that most teachers want to play a team sport. They prefer to work together and to have big hopes, dreams and goals for their school and all its students. One of my strong memories from my own high school teaching in the late 1960s was the joy of working with other English teachers, even to the point of swapping classes for a few weeks so each of us could teach a play or a poet we felt particularly well-qualified to teach.

So here’s my pitch: Teaching should be recognized as a team sport, and education as a team activity. The ‘team’ is the school, and everyone in the school is on the team, including secretarial staff and custodians. Education’s ‘won-loss’ record is more complicated than baseball’s and should include academic measures, teacher and student attendance, teacher and student turnover, community involvement, and more. (I wrote about this recently in ‘Trust but Verify’ and invite you to revisit that blog post).

And just as the Cardinal team divided the World Series loot into individual shares, so too could merit pay be divvied up when the team achieves its agreed-upon goals. Cardinal players, coaches, equipment managers et cetera shared the rewards. In this system, teachers, administrators, counselors, secretaries and custodians would all share the rewards.

But, going back to the St. Louis Cardinals, here’s the critical point: Notice that in writing about them, I described what the team did over a two-month period, not on one day or in one hour. I showed you the movie, not a snapshot.

Snapshots don’t help much in baseball or in education. In Game 3, Albert Pujols hit three home runs, had five hits for 14 total base and drove in five runs. A great snapshot that is actually very misleading, because he had a disappointing World Series overall.

Pujols also made a key fielding misplay in the series; suppose instead the snapshot had been taken in that game? It would have been just as misleading, but the movie reveals just how valuable he was to the Cardinals.

Because education now relies on snapshots — one score on one test on that one big day — and because so much of schooling tilts against the team sport concept, we have miles to go before anyone can confidently assert that teaching is a team sport.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this.

31 Responses to “Is teaching a team sport?”

  1. Steve Peha 03. Nov, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    Yes, teaching is a team sport. Or, rather, it should be. But we don’t play it that way.

    The chief culprit is “horizontalization”. Our elementary teachers are organized by grade level; our secondary teachers by departments. That is to say, our schools are basically a set of different unrelated schools where teachers of the same grade or subject are “teamed” by default.

    This creates two problems:

    1. We end up with the old-fashioned “waterfall” system where one group of teachers simply “dumps” their kids off to the next group. We know from reams of business research that waterfall systems are notoriously inefficient primarily because they are hindered by dependencies. That is, 1st grade is dependent on K, 2nd grade is dependent on 1st, and so on. This high degree of dependencies can’t be accounted for. The result? Too many kids get left behind. The horizontal team structure inhibits the vertical coordination needed to guide our neediest kids kids through the system.

    2. When I don’t “care” what happens to the kids I leave off on the last day of school, I have relatively low accountability to my students and my peer teachers in the grade above me. Knowing that my “product” can be thought of as independent of the rest of the system, I act as though I am a “one room schoolhouse” because, in practice, I am.

    What’s the solution? Verticalization. Small teams. Paired teaching. Cohorts. Self-organize, cross-functional groups of people who want to work together and are well-suited to the task — just like a successful athletic team.

    Imagine a K-2 cohort with two teachers at each grade. This right-sized group of 6 would have shared responsibility (I like to call it “collective kid ownership”) for all six classes of kids for all three years. As new kids entered the cohort at K, they would become part of the community, too. Kids exiting at grade 3 could enter a similar 3-5 cohort. We could do it again at 6-8. High school might be a little more tricky, but the cohort model could probably be maintained for core subjects.

    This arrangement would provide many benefits for the kids, not the least of which would be better continuity of instruction. For the teachers, greater flexibility would accrue and, best of all, practitioners wouldn’t be so isolated. They’d have to work as a team because, by default, they would be a team for several years. And, for all the teacher effectiveness folks out there, highly-effective teachers could be spread around the cohort with greater flexibility and the opportunity to read more kids.

    Verticalization would also solve the problem of assessing teacher quality and student performance. Right now, we are far too narrow in how we evaluate teachers and kids through a single test on a single day in a single year. But evaluating groups of teachers and kids across three-year time spans would be much more accurate — and more consistent with how teams of adults are evaluated in the world outside of school.

    Kids grow vertically through the system. Schools should arrange themselves into teams of teachers that match the student reality not adult convenience. Form follows function, does it not? Yet our tradition of horizontal school organization stubbornly refuses to follow the function of educating children.

    Let’s work in teams. Let’s go vertical. Let’s match the structure of our schools to the experience of our students.

    Steve Peha
    President, Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc.

    PS: Organizing teachers in subject matter departments doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Kids experience school at the secondary level as a set of cross-curricular experiences. Teachers should be arranged in teams to match the way kids go through secondary school as well.

    PPS: PLCs have probably had the most negative impact on effective teaming. Ironically, this popular model of collaboration has been used to cement “horizontalization” by encouraging schools to put grade level and department teams into units for PLC work that, like so many things in school, serve the needs of adults for comfort and conformity better than they serve the needs of students for learning.

    PPPS: Much business research, especially in tech where Agile methodologies are popular, shows that self-organizing cross-functional teams are more effective than assigned mono-functional teams.

    • Cevin Soling 04. Nov, 2011 at 3:52 pm #


      What role do grades play in your vision of schooling? Do you think they interfere or motivate or both or neither?

  2. Paul Hill 03. Nov, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I think Barnett Berry is right, at least about effective schools. Teachers share responsibility and work to make up for one another’s weaknesses. Principals take responsibility to make sure pupils’ learning accumulates over time; if a student or group of students fall behind the school marshals its resources on their behalf. School leaders can use information from district-managed models of teacher value added, but they alone can interpret the data well. Only people inside a school can know whether a teacher has had an especially difficult class, taken on an especially hard assignment, or had a transitory personal problem.
    This doesn’t mean that only the school can judge its overall performance. Teams can and should rise and fall together.District leaders have a responsibility to do something about a school where students aren’t learning. But district micromanagement of a school’s hiring and salaries weakens the “team.”

  3. Andrew 03. Nov, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    The observation is a good one. It is fundamental. In order to revamp things, we need to make sure what our goals are.

    When I grew up, I went to a “modern” school that had no walls between classrooms (only between grade levels). After I went to middle school, they built walls. Just a been-there done-that observation.

    Working as a team is much more about attitude and leadership than physical structure. And it takes buy-in to the goals. What are the goals? Hmmm. That’s one I still don’t think we’ve figured out in most places.

  4. Debbie Freed 03. Nov, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    What I would like to add to the excellent conversation and thesis is…,,.that to truly team one has to be willing to be vulnerable, a “skill” that most adults do not embrace. Many believe education is about being “right” and “knowing the answers”, and that the great sage is the teacher in front of the room.

    Teachers themselves need to first be willing to be transparent, to say they don’t know everything (albeit they are experts in their areas), and to be open to not only their own learning but the genuine learning and teaching of their students.

    This vulnerability naturally transfers to teaming and not working in silos; not viewing the world as competitive first, collaborate a distant second.

    As in everything, all education begins with ourselves.

    Debbie Freed, Educational and Organizational Consultant

    • Kira Herbert 04. Nov, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

      YES !!! Thank you Debbie.

  5. Jen Rinehart 03. Nov, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    I agree that “Teaching should be recognized as a team sport, and education as a team activity.” However, I’d encourage you to think beyond the walls of the school when you describe the team. The team is the school and everyone in it, but it can and should also be community partners that contribute to learning. Organizations like YMCAs, city recreation departments, public libraries, etc that all come together to support the learning that happens during the regular school day by expanding on that in afterschool and summer programs are also part of the team. We have to embrace a much broader definition of the team if we are truly going to help our kids be successful in school and life. After all, kids spent very little of their waking hours in school and many other players on the team have skill sets to contribute in providing an education.

    • john merrow 03. Nov, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

      This is a great point. A caller said, after reading the blog, “Schools need to recognize that their goal is raising (helping raise) adults,” not ‘teaching children’ or–smaller focus–’teaching third grade.’ If they have that goal, and have conversations about what that means, then the team approach is the natural one to take.”
      I think he is on to something

    • Kira Herbert 04. Nov, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

      I thought the same thing. Then I was thinking more about what I have control over as a member of the team. I can collaborate with families and support agencies, but in the end they must step up and do their part. I do not have control over that. We all know that teachers do not work in isolation from children’s lives, but we may not have control over those other areas. We can make differences within our educational systems to make the “team” better. I guess, I think that is true in baseball too … the team will need to function regardless of the fans.

  6. Ximena 03. Nov, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Interesting blog, John — glad to see a more positive approach from you.

  7. Barnett Berry 03. Nov, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    First of all, John, thanks for the opportunity to have a riveting conversation with you about teaching – its past, present, and future – and the prospects for teacher education. What if teachers were explicitly prepared to work as a team? What if they were expected to support and assess their colleagues? What if they had the skills and time to scrutinize individual performance and use the evidence for collective action? Would this not change the face of teacher and school accountability? John, you are so right. Public education and the archaic organizational structures that undergird it, work mightily against the teaching as team sport metaphor. Good news: I just spent the day with Furman Brown of Generation Schools ( ) whose model make it possible for kids to have extended learning opportunities and teachers more time to work together as a team. Onward!

    • john merrow 03. Nov, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

      It’s folks like you, Barnett, who dream of a better future and then work their butts off to get there, who make a difference….

  8. john merrow 03. Nov, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Here’s another question: Are well-run, well-conceived charter schools more likely to approach education as a team sport? My hunch is they are….

    • David B. Cohen 03. Nov, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

      Well, John, if you put in the qualifier “well-conceived” then of course the answer is yes. I would suggest that any “well-conceived” new school is more likely to conceive of important organizational strategies and modalities well… right? I would like to see more done to help every school, traditional or charter, find the time and resources to grow and change towards a more team-oriented approach. I’d wager that the resistance found in many schools would come not from opposition to the concept, but rather wariness about the “next big thing”. Experienced teachers have seen all sorts of programs and approaches come and go, but they’re rarely implemented properly, often add too much to the workload and thus incur a cost that creates an unintended consequence, and then the administrative turnover in schools is such that many programs get scrapped when the new personnel come in and have little reason to pursue an unpopular program poorly implemented by their predecessors. If we invest in the training, professional development, time and stability of the workplace, we have greater chances to make that “team sport” idea into reality for more schools.

      I’m glad you’re talking to Barnett Berry, too.

  9. David Hornbeck 03. Nov, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Yes, John, educating students…all students…is a team effort. There is one big difference between a school and the world series. In the world series, only one team can win. With schools, all schools can win when measured against a set of well-conceived standards, measurements that make sense and supports that provide the team with the tools they need.

    One of the outstanding examples is the record in Kentucky over the past 21 years…not perfect or finished, but with one of the best if not the best record of improvement in important features of acheivement. One example: Kentucky was near last on NAEP measures before 1990. Take a detailed look at the most recent results…overall in the top 50% of the states; in many instances #3-#10 in the nation. I hope you and many of your readers will dig deeply into the record.

    Team work: the accountability system used the school as the unit of measurement; ALL staff were considered part of the team and rewarded; they used a two year rolling average (we recommended three but lost that one); any extraordinary array of support initiatives…unparalleled in any state since; huge powers put in the hands of a school-based council, comprised of the teachers (50%) and parents (50%) plus the principal as chair; the law recognized the important role in the team that parents and others (health, etc) played by providing that there would be a family resource or youth service center “in or near” every school with 20% or more low-income children. Today there are over 900 of these in about 1,200 schools. Importantly, they have made changes over the years…some with which I disagree, but overall they have stayed the course…and the kids and citizens have reaped the rewards. Two of the real heroes…then State Senator David Karem, now State Board president and the extraordinary Bob Sexton, head of the Prichard Committee. Bob unfortunately died recently. They and a host of others (including Oz Nelson then CEO of UPS and John Hall, then CEO of Ashland Oil) on the team helped everybody keep their eye on the prize.

    Finally, how do we know the team is central. Surely everyone knows that how the fourth period teacher does is influenced by how the kids were treated in the third period and at lunch. Similarly, the fourth grade teacher looks a lot better when the third grade teacher has gotten the job done. Those connections are endless. No one does it by himself. We all stand on the shoulders of other…in schools, at work, etc. Thanks for your focus on this.

  10. Myrdin Thompson 04. Nov, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    As I am also from KY I echo Mr. Hornbeck’s sentiments about the great achievements we have made in education. I would like to emphasize, however, how critical it is that parents be included in not just the discussions about education, but actually involved in the discussion. Far too often parents are spoken about rather than being spoken too. ,As a parent who has three children attending public schools in Louisville, I see successful students and schools because the Principals, FRYSC staff, custodians, teachers, librarians, support staff, and parents are working together to achieve goals. There exists a strong support for PTA participation and parent engagement. Clear communication and transparency helps a parent understand where a student is academically and what steps they need to take to achieve their academic goals. Without parent/family and community connectivity education will end when the final dismissal bell rings. As KY implements the Common Core State Standards it is essential that parents be as informed about the changes taking place in curriculum so they can better support their students. What happens in my daughter’s kindergarten class will impact her learning experiences in first through twelve, therefore the high school teachers need to connect with the kindergarten teachers to know what the foundation is and what will take place (how the curriculum is designed for all grades) so they can effectively teach her when she is in their class later on. We all have a role to play in education, and parents are just as essential to the team as everyone else, yet are far too often relegated to “fan status” if we continue your analogy. But who better to consult about the learning styles of a child than the one who has “coached” them since birth?

    • john merrow 04. Nov, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

      This is a story I wish I had been covering. Thank you for this analysis, David and Myrdin

  11. Dick Clark 04. Nov, 2011 at 4:26 am #


    Good topic and good discussion. Teaching ought to be a team sport to a greater extent than it is — others have already noted this.

    I am surprised, though, that no one has commented on the reality that, while teaching may not be a team sport, children learn from the entire school environment, not just from a teacher.

    The succession of teachers they experience is one example. I will never forget my frustration as a teacher as I tried to explain that the teacher the students had the year before had provided them with incorrect definitions for inductive and deductive reasoning or how greatful I was that another teacher had really awakened her students curiousity about the interaction of history and literature.

    Another example is the influence on learning by other professionals in the school — the counselors, aides, principals, librarians, and others — who contribute to what the students are learning. And, of course, the professionals’ influence is expanded by the contributions of custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other adults with whom the children interact each day.

    The influence of peers in the learning enviroment is a well-recognized but too often ignored part of the “team” the learner experiences. Anyone who has been around a school very long knows the effects of peer pressure on whether doing what a teacher asks be done is the “in thing” to do.

    In short while teachers may not be consciously working as a team in many instances, students are almost always experiencing the influence of the “team” that is their school.

  12. Dick Clark 04. Nov, 2011 at 4:30 am #

    After a little more careful reading of some of the other comments –

    I should have acknowledged that David Hornbeck raised the issue of the influence of the “school surround” in his comments earlier. It is something he had ample opportunity to observe in Philadelphia as well as Kentucky.

  13. Lisa estep 04. Nov, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    As I read the above conversation I am quite saddened by the thought of how so many small community schools being shut down due to budgetary concerns. Having worked in a small school setting where we were only 1 deep per grade level, there was no choice but to work as a team. This included the parents, community, staff and teachers. you knew every student and every parent and every community member. The building I worked at excelled, not because of the staff/teachers, but because of the size. This blue ribbon school was closed last year due to the new governors budget or lack of funding from the state. Perhaps we really need to look at the size of schools and the idea of community. It is very hard to feel like you are art of a team when the team is large that you don’t know everyone’s name.

  14. john merrow 04. Nov, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    I received this comment in an email and am posting anonymously because I think it’s an important point, even though I believe it fails to cover the hurdles created by micromanaging school boards and superintendents (and the writer might agree with that point).
    “Your analogy to baseball is flawed in some ways. No baseball team works on tenure, seniority or lock-step pay. Ideas like LIFO would be laughed at. Pay is based on merit. Management runs the team and is accountable for outcomes (just ask Terry Francona), even though managers consult with players and sometimes give them discretion. Holding individuals accountable for their performance on a team is critical. In my view, the unions fight these basic concepts and preserve concepts that hurt the team. I once observed a principal tell his teachers, “Yes, we are a team, but someone has to hit first, someone has to hit clean up, etc, and those things matter. We don’t make those decisions randomly or by seniority.”

  15. Mr. Sandwith 04. Nov, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    The latter analogy is flawed, John ….

  16. Tom Carroll 04. Nov, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    To make teaching a team sport we need we need to stop fixing the schools we have so that we can create the schools we need. NCTAF has been working for almost a decade to nurture a culture of collaborative teaching by creating learning teams that transform schools into genuine learning organizations where both teachers and students thrive. Through this work (funded by MetLife, NSF and the Pearson Foundation), we have documented dozens of cases in which the obstacles outlined by John have been overcome. You will find an extensive array of resources for building strong learning teams at ( With MetLife support, we also launched ( where you will find an eight-minute video of Richard Murphy School, a low-income Boston elementary school that significantly improved its performance with whole-school teaching teams.

    Jen Rinehart is right. To nurture teamwork that supports deeper learning and more effective teaching, we need go beyond the walls of schools. To make that possible NCTAF has created STEM Learning Studios, which are cross-curricular, interdisciplinary teams of 6-8 teachers who collaborate with students and STEM experts from industry and government to address significant learning challenges. With partners that include NASA, Northrop Grumman, U. S. Naval Academy, Boeing, U.S. Energy Department, and National Institutes of Health, we have established STEM Learning Studios in nine high schools and six middle schools in four Maryland school districts. We now have 106 teachers and 21 STEM experts working in teams with hundreds of students on projects that include alternative energy, climate change, and water quality. Early assessments indicate that Learning Studio students outperform their peers on constructed response tests.

  17. John Thompson 04. Nov, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    When the juniors and seniors started to bring copies of The Invisible Man to class, I always knew it was time for me to help the English teachers by teaching the biography of Ralph Ellison. When teaching the logic of social science, I would say, “I am now Ms. W.,”(the science teacher) and after the groans stopped, I taught the scientific method. I couldn’t teach algebra, but I could help out by teaching Robert Moses and his Algebra Project.

    That was called “horizontal alignment.” But I called it teamwork. A few years ago, the administrator, whose current job it is to fire teachers for teaching that way, would praise me for those practices.

    Now, the “reform” is vertical alignment, which really means vertical curriculum alignment and pacing, so I would be fired for being a team player. And if I taught in a Turnaround school, just expressing support for your blog post on teaching being a team sport would be enough to get a teacher fired.

    As far as a turnaround or transformation principal following LaRussa’s wisdom (of consulting with a catcher) by seeking teachers’ opinions, forgetaboutit.

  18. Alexis Wiggins 05. Nov, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    Teaching IS often a team sport in elementary years and in many international schools. I team-taught at an American school in SE Asia early in my career, and I learned more in that year than perhaps my other 9 years combined.

    I was so frustrated by the lack of collaboration in American schools stateside when I returned from several very collaborative overseas jobs that I wrote about it for Independent School Magazine.

    I heard of one school somewhere (if anyone knows the school or others that do it, I’d love to know who they are) that organized their HS schedule so that every department had one day a week with no teaching classes and that day was spent working together and separately on teaching, assessment and planning. I thought that was brilliant.

  19. Liz Morrison 05. Nov, 2011 at 3:29 am #

    Dear John,
    Schools that support the work of professional learning communities (DuFour et al) encourage teaching to be a team sport. PLCs challenge teachers to de-privatize their practice and work as a team to benefit all students (I think you may have been referencing this work in your article).

    Great schools like great teams don’t rely on one test score (though the public may judge them by one test score like judging a player for a single bad play). Teachers working as teams utilize best practices (the starting line up), incorporate formative assessments (the pitching mound conversation with catcher, pitcher and coach), adjust practice based on student learning (like LaRusso changing the pitcher for a particular batter), and support each other even when it doesn’t look like they have a chance for victory (Game 6 – 8th inning).

    I agree with Myrdin from KY on the importance of parents. However, returning to the sports analogy of the World Series, I see parents as the 10th man – and in our schools, similarly to playing an away game, we can’t always count on the 10th man to support the players. Regardless of the role of the 10th man – we need to play to win. By winning the school team works together to ensure the academic success for ALL students

    Schools functioning as professional learning communities are a team and they include the students as the most important members supported by educators who have one goal – student academic success.

    I agree with your “pitch” – Teaching should be recognized as a team sport, and education as a team activity. The education of all Americans is the most important game we can play in this country and school teams working together is our best chance to win.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article
    (Go Cards! – St. Louis, MO)

  20. Bonita DeAmicis 06. Nov, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    Such great points. I think what you are saying is that the system needs to match the goals and implementation? In education, one of the reasons there is such frustration with the “next new thing” is that the one constant over the years has been change: curricular changes, goal changes, pedagogy changes, even changes to the definition of success. All these changes, and yet essentially the system remains the same: teachers in classrooms all day with 25-35 students in desks and a board at the front. It is like trying to change the ball game, but continuing to play it on the same field with the same equipment and the same rules. Either change the actual system or stop trying to make changes. You can’t play a good football game in an ice rink with a puck. Either we should just play a good football game on the regular field with the regular equipment or stop trying to pretend that we are playing football at all.

  21. Joe Nathan 06. Nov, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    John, it was the Cardinals who played and won. Likewise, we need to think at least somewhat, of STUDENTS who are the people we want to play and win. Teachers help students learn but ultimately it is the students who we want to gain new skills, knowledge and improved attitudes. So ultimately we need to organize learning institutions. This could mean
    * organizations to help students learn from 5 am to midnight
    * giving credit for accomplishment whether it is in a school building or outside
    * altering graduation requirements so it is not how many courses students have taken, it is whether they can demonstrate certain skills and knowledge, some but not all of which can be demonstrated via traditional tests
    * A building is seen as a headquarters, and includes a variety of people working together with young people and their families including social service, possible medical and others, not just those formally designated as “teachers.”

    there are such learning institutions today. We need more.

    • john merrow 07. Nov, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

      Fair point, Joe, but you understand that I am talking about teachers here and how the ‘alien structure of school’ works against them and against their collaboration.

  22. J. Renee Gordon 10. Nov, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Having spent 20+ years as a corporate IT headhunter, when I began working with K-12 schools 5 years ago, I was stunned at how they defined or didn’t define who it was that they were looking to hire. Other then an HQ certification, a college transcript and a “good gut feeling” on the part of the principal (although 60% of teachers will never meet the principal they go to work for until the first day of school), they have no idea who they need to hire. When I spoke to them about building a team, based upon the strength of the individual(s) they scoffed.
    It is interesting that in all 4 intervention models for school turnaround although you are required to get rid of the principal, if you use the same method to replace him you will…get the same results. The same holds true for teachers.
    We still struggle with school districts that are just certain that they know who the need to hire…”someone with leadership characteristics”. Here’s a thought…how about looking at what they have done to determine what they are capable of doing based on past performances? It’s called results based recruiting.
    Charters seem to be more open to putting in place effective human capital policies and procedures that go to building winning teams. Maybe because the “burn and churn” that they have been through with leadership both at the classroom and front office level.
    It should be interesting to see what transpires in the next few years. 50% of all teachers and educators are eligible to retire. Tennessee projects a 31,000 teacher shortage in just a few years. Additionally all of the new “teacher evaluations” really hold no weigh unless there is a job description that runs parallel to the evaluation. You can not be evaluated on something you don’t know you were to do. If the duties outlined in the job description can not be done in the time allotted, this will all be a moot point/big waste of money.
    Teaching is a team sport but the team is made up of the 4 groups that go toward student success; students, staff, stakeholders and sr. administrators

  23. Amy 11. Nov, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    Great piece and good discussion. For me your baseball analogy is dead on, though it is curious that the concept of talent is not addressed. At every level of a successful sports organization, people are asked to do what they do best every day. Great pitchers are not asked to do remedial work on third base in order to be well rounded. The trainer is not asked to take over the front office duties, and the manager is not put in charge of PR. There is a fundamental understanding that to be successful, there must be a focus on strengths and on giving each person the opportunity to use and develop his unique talents as much as possible.

    So take this strengths approach to school and apply it at each level. Does each leader know how she leads best? Do teachers acknowledge their own individual teaching talents and share those with their colleagues so that they can create the strongest team possible, leaning on each other for their expertise? And (most importantly I would argue) are we looking at students with an eye for their own unique talents and contributions? Are we recognizing those emerging talents and then creating opportunities for each child to develop those natural patterns of behavior and thought into the strengths that will make them successful, not only academically, but as engaged members of the group moving forward into the workplace?

    Why not? If we know it engenders successful teams when we identify, encourage, and develop each members’ individual talents, then why aren’t we doing it in schools? Everywhere?

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