While the term team may be applied to a variety of organizational and instructional practices in a school, the most common application of the term teaming refers to pairing a group of teachers (typically between four and six) with a group of sixty to eighty students. Proponents of the strategy believe that teaming allows teachers to discuss the students they have in common and to establish stronger teacher-student relationships based on an improved understanding of the students and their specific learning needs. In most cases, a team will be built around the core-subject-area teachers in English language arts, math, science, and social studies, but the particular composition of teams may vary widely from school to school. Guidance counselors, special-education teachers, and other specialists are commonly assigned to teams. While teaming may be structured differently from school to school, there are two general forms: horizontal teaming, the grouping of students and teachers at a particular grade level, and vertical teaming, which is the continuation of a horizontal team across multiple grades, such as the seventh and eighth grades or ninth and tenth grades. With vertical teaming, the student group typically remains intact, while the team of teachers assigned to them changes. Vertical teaming may also be called looping, a term that specifically refers to the practice of grouping students with the same teacher (in the elementary grades) or group of teachers (in the upper grades) for two or more years. The general goal of teaming is to provide a more personalized learning experience for students—i.e., to ensure that students are well known by adults in the school, that their learning needs are understood and addressed, and that they receive the social, emotional, and academic support from teachers and staff that they need to succeed academically and remain in school. While teaming is widely used in middle schools, it is becoming a more common strategy for grouping students and determining course assignments in high school. Since educators typically see more students struggling with behavior and attendance, failing courses, or dropping out during the first two years of high school, teaming is often used as a proactive strategy for addressing these trends. While teaming is sometimes used in the upper grades of high school, it is far less common during these years, in part because teaming is based on the specific developmental needs of students in their early adolescence. During these years, having consistent, supportive, understanding relationships with teachers and adults appears to have a positive effect on learning, emotional growth, and social development. Teaming is one of many strategies educators may use to achieve these ends.
Teaming is an alternative to more traditional ways of organizing a school’s academic program. Historically, students in middle schools and high schools have been dispersed across several different courses and teachers, which makes it more difficult for teachers to develop strong and understanding relationships with students (mainly because the time they could spend with any particular student was limited). And when students are dispersed across courses, it is more logistically challenging for teachers to discuss the students they share or work collaboratively to address a particular student’s academic troubles and learning needs. With teaming, it may be logistically easier for a group of teachers to schedule regular meetings and discuss the students they have in common, often in the form of a professional learning community. Team teachers may meet to review student-performance data, discuss which teaching methods are working for some students and which are not, plan appropriate support strategies for students, and develop lessons and projects collaboratively. When designed and executed successfully, teaming can also foster greater collaboration among teachers, provide a feeling of continuity and mentorship for students, and create a stronger sense of community and belonging among students.
When transitioning from a traditional academic program to teaming, schools may encounter a variety of challenges that could give rise to debate or criticism:
- In high school, teachers may feel that teaming is a “middle school” strategy that doesn’t encourage students to develop independence and self-reliance.
- Teaming may be seen as limiting academic options for students, particularly in high school, because they may have fewer choices about which courses and teachers they can take.
- In high schools, team teachers may have fewer students than do teachers in the upper grades (for example, a ninth-grade team teacher might have eighty students, while a eleventh-grade teacher may have a hundred or more), which can lead to resentment among those who have to teach more students.
- Teaming can introduce a variety of scheduling and logistical complications. For example, at the high school level students tend to take a wider variety of courses, which means they have fewer courses in common. In middle schools, teaming is often logistically easier because students tend to take the same core course of study.
- Teams may not be afforded adequate time to meet and discuss student needs. Without sufficient meeting and planning time, teams may not be able to function optimally or as they were intended, which can undermine both commitment and effectiveness.
- Conflicts or tension could arise among team members, and some teachers may not embrace the strategy, which could have a negative effect on team culture and collaboration.
- Parents may not like the idea of their child staying with the same teacher or teachers for multiple years, and they may request their child be transferred to a different team because of problems with a certain teacher.
- A lack of consistent or clear communication could lead to confusion, frustration, or disorganization within teams, and the personalities of some team members may lead them to dominate discussions or assert too much control.
The Glossary of Education Reform by Great Schools Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.