What Are Teacher-based Teams

What Are Teacher-based Teams

Teacher-based teams (TBTs) provide a structure that enables teachers to collaborate and provide support to one another. When teachers use this structure in productive ways, they can improve their practice and thereby improve the learning of the students with whom they work (e.g., Troen & Boles, 2012). This module describes the historical context and intellectual traditions that supported early (and on-going) efforts to use teacher teams systemically to foster instructional improvement. It discusses the principles undergirding the use of such teams and shows the differences among various types of teacher teams. 

The module also considers the practices that make teacher teams productive as well as the roles various educators might play in sustaining effective team functioning. The discussion proceeds by showing how districts can use the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) to institutionalize a cycle of continuous improvement in part by empowering TBTs to engage in an action research process known as the “5-step process.” It concludes with a brief consideration of the support experienced teachers can provide to newly employed colleagues, helping them learn school norms and routines, establish themselves as confident instructors, and join in the work of school improvement through their engagement with one or more TBTs. 

The History of Teacher-based Teams

What Did Teachers Do Before They Had TBTs?

Schools in the early 20th century in the United States (and in some other countries as well) tended to use one of two organizational models. Small schools, which most often existed in rural communities, employed just a few teachers, and taught students in ways that responded to local communities’ needs and concerns. They typically asked teachers to provide instruction in several disciplines, and they did not necessarily organize students using grade-level groupings. Much larger schools served urban communities and towns. These schools employed many teachers, used structures such as age-grade placement to organize their work, and tended to require teachers, particularly secondary-school teachers, to be specialists in just one or two disciplines. As a quick way to distinguish such schools from one another, education scholars sometimes refer to the smaller schools as “one-room” schools and the larger ones as “factory-model” schools.

Both the one-room and the factory models of schooling supported an approach to education in which each teacher independently provided instruction to a group of students. Teachers socialized with one another both in and out of school, of course, but they did not perform their work in a collaborative way. Some researchers use the term “autonomy norm” to refer to this prevalent approach.

Interestingly, the idea of teacher autonomy was originally associated with the professionalization of the role. The idea was that, as professionals, teachers ought to be able to perform well with little direct oversight—much like doctors and lawyers. Ironically, the autonomy norm actually contributed to organizational arrangements that kept teachers from participating in the types of oversight, accountability, and perhaps most importantly, collaboration that would enable them to adapt and improve as professionals. The autonomy norm provided a cloak of professionalism that often interfered with the improvement of teachers’ professional practice. 

Independent Activity 1 uses material from the Moving Your Numbers initiative to illustrate how teams function in schools in which autonomy norms have been replaced by norms of collaboration.



The Early Years of Teacher Teams

Critics of traditional factory-model schools, such as John Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick, began to share their progressive ideas about pedagogy in the late 1800s. Teacher collaboration was one important feature of the type of education they advocated. Throughout the years, educators with an eye toward improvement repeatedly revived teacher empowerment and collaboration as tools for instructional planning and reflection about instructional effectiveness. The sentiment expressed in a 1944 article in Educational Leadership (Goslin, 1944) fits well with what many school reformers still recommend: 

This makes imperative the need on the part of school systems all over the country to break away from the traditions which have bound us in the past—traditions which have set administrators apart from classroom teachers and high school teachers apart from elementary teachers—traditions which have tended to make all of us willing to accept a type of organization or approach which invites dictation in its operation and which is frequently, therefore, destructive of the finer capabilities of those working within the organization. (p. 221) 

Despite the rhetoric of some educators, however, school practices did not experience widespread change; and norms of autonomy prevailed even though, in scattered schools across the nation, some teachers did work in teams to plan and reflect on innovative approaches (Cuban, 1993).

Principles Undergirding Recent Trends

To learn more about Teacher-based Teams in Practice, continue on to the next part of the module.

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