High-performing teams work in professional learning environments where teachers and leaders are supported and encouraged to continuously develop teaching, learning and assessment.
Their sense of professional efficacy is rooted in collaboration and evidence and closely aligned with pupil learning.
When teachers work as collaborative professionals who support each other, a school is a good place to be.
The best teaching and the best learning happen where teachers work, learn and reflect together and pool their collective wisdom and experiences. They embrace the three Cs of communication, collaboration and community and share a common vision.
15 things successful teams do
Successful teaching teams are learning communities that...
1. Are outward looking
A team that always looks inwards will only see their own four walls. Those who seek advice, support and network with colleagues and other professionals outside of teaching make their own team stronger. A school team should therefore work with teachers from other schools and tap into expertise in other professions.
2. Do their own CPD
Whole-school inset makes sense on occasions but training needs are more specific. Effective teams organise their own inset so it is relevant to their Year group or Key Stage so that it has more impact. This involves teachers teaching each other and sharing practice.
3. Mentor and coach
Teachers working in partnership commit to helping each other learn through careful mentoring and coaching and they know the difference between the two. Support, feedback and feed-forward opportunities are timetabled and sacrosanct. Mistakes are welcome.
4. Share their teaching
Teachers discuss their craft and share ideas and strategies relating to teaching, learning, assessment and curriculum. They share resources and teaching nuggets freely. For example, they create a Dropbox account so that everyone can make use of the best resources.
5. Are never too busy
Busyness closes doors. All teachers have plenty to do but supportive colleagues make sure they are available for each other and know that some conversations just can’t wait. Always being ‘busy’ prevents team-members working together and encourages ‘silo’ working. Staying ‘busy’ or ‘snowed under’ makes us feel buried, trapped, and anxious so teams avoid being ‘busy’.
6. Are optimistic and cheerful
It would be hard to find a teacher who doesn’t feel stressed, tired or overworked, but top teams don’t work under clouds of doom and self-pity. They commit to zero negativity, avoid toxicity and promote a ‘can-do’ attitude through mutual support. They are made up of resilient energy creators and futurologists who stimulate others and are full of hope.
7. Watch each other
Good teachers don’t all teach in the same way. In psychologically safe environments teachers welcome the opportunity to observe each other to learn more. The #ObserveMe initiative encourages an open-door non-judgemental policy so that teachers can reclaim lesson observations as their own. This ‘observation without fear’ mindset is particularly noticeable in schools that have video-learning teams.
8. Teach each other’s classes
When teachers swap lessons this increases challenge and empathy. Teaching another year group or a lesson that isn’t your specialism kicks you out of your comfort zone and that’s a good thing. It also gives you a new perspective and the opportunity to empathise with others.
9. Step in
Teams that know each other will know when someone is having a rough time at home or having a bad day at the office. This is when colleagues volunteer to do someone’s duty or double-up a lesson. We all need a helping hand.
Teams that work wonders do so incrementally. They look for little wins here and there and build momentum and progress bit by bit. This involves a slow gains mindset, aiming for small, regular evolutions that add up to big things over time. Lean teams are always on the lookout for what delivers and adds value and impact and what ‘waste’ they can remove from the value stream.
11. Praise each other
Successful teams never miss a chance to ‘big someone up’ and empower. If they see a colleague has done something worthy of a ‘shout out’ then they make sure everyone gets to know. They never blame. Effective team members respect, recognise and thank each other.
12. Practise being brave
Teams have to take smart risks, be curious and experimental, take the initiative and develop new ways of working. Teaching teams that foster divergent thinking, normalise failure, promote maverick teaching and ‘laboratory thinking’ allow teachers to enjoy their work and innovate.
13. Listen to the evidence
Teams that work as teaching units help each other to separate the wheat from the chaff. They make decisions based on the evidence and don’t mindlessly follow the fads and latest trends. They keep abreast of research and decide what not to do.
Good teams argue and are suspicious of universal consensus. Emotionally intelligent teams discuss, debate and have professional learning conversations. Healthy conflict is seen as an inevitable part of growth and not something to be avoided.
15. And finally...
Collegiality and collaboration boost the influence of individual teachers so they are greater than the sum of their parts. Robust teams within a school are essential to retaining and sustaining teachers.
Teams with a real sense of camaraderie and ownership keep things simple, know their respective strengths and weaknesses, listen to each other and share a belief that they have the ability to positively affect pupils. They believe in the infinite potential of children and convey a strong sense of the privilege it is to work with them. They make sure everyone pulls the rope.
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.