Facilitating Teacher-based Teams
Guest blog by: Dr. Brian McNulty
Productive team meetings require a person who has the knowledge and skills to facilitate the meeting, but they also require a focus on equity and mindset. In this brief blog, I am going to dive a little deeper into these three areas. However, if you want more, I encourage you to view the complete webinar Facilitation for Teacher-based Teams, or join me live on February 25 from 1-3 p.m. for an interactive session. The session is free, but you must register by February 24.
For so long, we have focused our work in teacher teams around structures. How often are we going to meet? What's the team look like? How many people? How much time do we have? However, we have not spent enough time on the purpose and the vision for collaborative professionalism. While the ultimate goal certainly is on student learning, it also has to be about educator learning. If the teacher-based team (TBT) process doesn't result in better outcomes for students, we might as well stop there. But, if it doesn't also result in more learning for teachers, then it's not working either. Both are important. Let’s explore three essential areas for successfully facilitating teacher-based teams.
Let’s start with an emphasis on equity—that all kids should be learning more and deeper. We talk about academic progress, and that is important, but we are really trying to talk about the whole student developing, every student, and all student groups. We're talking about equity. We mean every student, not just some students. We must develop an equity mindset for our TBTs. Growth mindsets are not just for students, they are also for educators. We should always be asking, how can I improve, individually and collectively. When we ask, ‘why are we learning this,’ it helps to expand our understanding of which teaching practices work better for our kids and why.
What does it mean to be a facilitator? It means to help make things easier, to help people deal with a solution, or to facilitate a solution of a problem for people. Another definition is to lower the threshold for reflexive action. This is important because we want to lower our reactiveness and be less defensive in our teams. If we're in the safe confines of our own teacher teams, then we shouldn't be as reactive as we are in other public settings. We should be open to being more reflective. One of the facilitator's roles, maybe their most important role, is to make sure that everyone gets a chance to participate in our learning. Facilitators also have to be good listeners and be able to manage and build consensus. Consensus doesn't mean everybody agreed. It means most of us agreed, because we have to make progress and move forward.
If we're going to do this important work, we need new mindsets for our collaboration. There are four mindsets that we’re going to look at:
Mindset 1: All students are capable
We talk about deficits all the time. And this always links back—not always spoken—to race, poverty, and abilities. If we believe that all students are capable, this works against deficit thinking Even though teachers know about mindsets, many educators still maintain a fixed mindset on student ability. We get into thinking that kids can only grow to a certain level. We have to challenge that thinking. Ability is too often seen as fixed or stable, but IQ does not equal intelligence. There are many forms of intelligence. We have to move away from this limited construct that kids are intellectually limited in certain ways. The challenge is finding and accessing different ways for them to learn. If we're going to bring all kids along, there are some things that we need to do differently in our teacher teams. The facilitator has to pay close attention to teacher talk. Rather than talking about these kids and their deficits, we should be talking about how we can modify or adapt practices to meet their needs.
Mindset 2: Identifying student strengths
How do we access student and teacher strengths, enabling learning to occur for both of them? To do this, we have to move away from deficit thinking and toward a discussion of specific student strengths and student growth. One way to do this is that we can look at multiple sources of data and ask:
- How do the different sources of data compare?
- What are the commonalities and what patterns do we see?
- What are the inconsistencies or discrepancies in the data?
- What's not represented in the data?
- What questions do the data raise?
Mindset 3: This work is meant to be for all students
Teaching is not about moving kids on the bubble to off the bubble. Our mindset has to be on trying to have all kids do better. We have a shared responsibility for ALL students, and if we can, this can bolster our professional collaboration. We should be pushing ourselves to think about, how do we bring more kids to higher levels? The mindset that we're considering the needs of all students needs to permeate our teacher-based team work.
Mindset 4: Professional collaboration is about improving the learning for students and staff
While student learning is certainly a part of our teacher teams, it is teacher learning that is as important as student learning. We have a too much of a bias for action. We tend to act, when instead we s¬¬hould have a bias for learning. Every time we come out of a TBT meeting, we should be thinking about what did we learn about our kids and the way they learn and the way I teach? As a facilitator, the most powerful thing you can do is to ask more ‘why’ questions.
The other thing we have to be asking is, how can we, as a team, scaffold our own adult learning better? As a part of that, how much time, risk, and practice can we take? Can we be OK with not knowing the answer? The more questions the group can ask, the better. Thoughtful questions lead to deeper inquiry. The thing that we're trying to push here is, how can we dig deeper into student learning and how can we assess that?
Always remember that everything that we do, all of our work, and all of our progress comes from respecting and trusting our teachers.