Collaboration for Teamwork
Here we discuss ways to collaborate to build an effective instructional team. By the end of this section you and your team member(s) should be able to answer these collaboration and teamwork questions:
- How do we interpret teamwork and make a successful team?
- What are our goals and expectations as a team?
- How can I best collaborate with other units in addition to my classroom team?
Teachers who have not worked with a paraeducator before may not be accustomed to having the benefits of another adult in the classroom. This is a wonderful resource. Most paraeducators are mature adults, often with experience as a parent, and some have years of classroom experience. A paraeducator may not have the expertise to take many responsibilities in certain areas without further training, but this does not mean that there is nothing useful he or she can do beyond sharpening pencils. We will discuss training later, but there are always purposeful tasks that any paraeducator can do. These tasks recognize his/her value as a member of the team, and communicate to the students that a paraeducator is much more than just a helper with no authority or role.
What is Teamwork?
How do we interpret teamwork and what makes a successful team?
We use the term teamwork presuming that other adults in the team share our definition and concept of it.
Take a moment to write your definition of teamwork.
Your definition of teamwork may have included such ideas as collaboration or a partnership. You may have included something about working together to reach common goals for students, or using strengths of individuals to help the whole team move forward. You may have thought of your team in terms of a teacher and paraeducator, or you may have included students, parents, and the school administration. There is no one right definition of teamwork for everyone. What is important is that you learn to adopt a team attitude, and see your own work as part of a larger effort, that you begin to appreciate the support that you can give to and receive from other team members, and that – as a team – you gain a clearer idea of what your purpose is.
Now consider what three things you think are most important to the success of a classroom team.
Again there are no absolute right answers to this question of which three things are most important to the success of a team. It will differ slightly for each team, but there are some principles that greatly contribute to team success. Some of them we have already talked about:
- open and effective communication
- clear expectations about individual roles
Others we discuss in later chapters:
- using effective, proven classroom practices
- having each person increase their skills and therefore the contribution that they make to the team
- giving support to other team members in their efforts to improve
Those that you have listed will be a reflection of your own experience and the skills of those you work with.
Now that you have a clear idea of how you define teamwork and what is required for a successful team, take some time to discuss these ideas with your teacher or paraeducator. Hopefully your definitions will have much in common. Differences you encounter should give you further insight into what effective teamwork can be.
It is also important to consider what you see as the benefits of teamwork. What can you expect to achieve as a team that you could not achieve as an individual? What benefits are there to working together rather than alone? What are your goals as a team? Take time to write your reactions to these questions, and then discuss them with your teacher or paraeducator.
What do I expect us to achieve as a team that I could not achieve as an individual?
What benefits are there to working together rather than alone? List 3-5 benefits of working as a member of a team.
Working together with other adults provides a number of benefits. Many teachers who have not worked with a paraeducator before tell us how refreshing it is just to have another adult in the classroom to talk and to share ideas with. This is particularly true of newly qualified teachers who rely heavily on the paraeducator’s knowledge of students and the local community.
Paraeducators can provide support to these new teachers as they acclimatize to the responsibility of having their own class for the first time. Thereafter the workload can be shared – according to the responsibilities and skills and legal requirements of each team member – in both planning and delivery of instruction, classroom organization and management of student behavior. Some paraeducators are assigned only clerical duties, but more typically they are playing an essential role in the instructional process and thereby increasing attention and support to meet individual student needs.
What are our goals and expectations as a team? All teachers and paraeducators are employed in the school system for one reason: to provide students with a free and appropriate education. In essence this is your goal as a team. However, you will have much more specific goals and objectives for your work with students, and it is important that you be able to express those goals clearly. You need to know which direction you are heading in as a team, what your priorities are, and what your team members’ priorities are so that your efforts are not wasted by pulling in opposite directions. Stop for a moment to consider what goals your team has for your students. Write what you believe are the common goals of your team and then compare these goals with those of your team members.
These are important questions. Discussing them will help to clarify not only your ideas, but also your expectations of other team members. Now list three ways in which you can better support your team members in their goals.
Working with Other Units
How can I best collaborate with other units? Although a teacher's primary responsibility is to the students in the classroom, there are other education units in the system with whom the teacher and paraeducator need to coordinate so that students receive the support they need. These other units include parents, administrators, resource teachers, Title I personnel, itinerant therapists, and so on.
A systematic approach needs to be established for this coordination. First you must clarify in your own mind why you work with these other units. This will help you determine how frequently you need to make contact, and what form the contacts will take. Some of this is dictated by school procedures. For example, the school administration may require regular written reports. However, in many cases you will be free to decide how you wish to proceed. Most of the same principles you use to communicate and work effectively with the adults, who are a regular part of your classroom team, will apply to your work with the other units.
Other units may also include the paraeducator who comes into the regular classroom accompanying a special education student as part of an inclusion program. The same principles apply to this paraeducator as to the regular – static classroom team members, although this situation will require extra coordination. The teacher is responsible for the student and the activities he or she engages in while in the classroom, but this is particularly important when attendance in your classroom is specifically for the purpose of integration. Although the paraeducator who accompanies the student is there to give needed support, inclusion will only occur in a meaningful way if the student becomes part of your class for that period with the paraeducator giving only the minimal support required. All of this requires careful thought and coordination between the accompanying paraeducator and all members of the regular classroom team.
You have learned:
- How you and your partner view teamwork
- What you hope to achieve by working together as a team
- Your role as a team member in working with other units
You have had an opportunity to consider your own definition of teamwork and the things which contribute most to effective teamwork. You have also had an opportunity to consider the benefits of teamwork and how team work can increase productivity and effectiveness, as well as the goals that your team shares. These are essential considerations as you move forward together. Take the time to clarify your goals in your own mind and then discuss them with your teacher or paraeducator so that you understand each other’s priorities and increase your team unity. Students will immediately benefit as they sense a one-ness of purpose between teacher and paraeducator, and learn that your first priority is their learning and well-being.
As this point if you have completed all of the suggested activities, you should have a clear understanding of what each member of your classroom team expects of you, and what you can expect from them. You should also have gained some insight into applying your own preferred communication/work style, and working with the styles of other team members to enhancing the work of the team.
The assignment is designed to help increase the effectiveness of teamwork and collaboration in your classroom. It will also be the beginning of creating an even more pleasant, motivating environment in which to work. All team members need to feel valued and understood, their ideas and efforts acknowledged and put to good use. Clear understanding of expectations and roles, of other team member's styles of work, and of how you visualize an effective team, will enable you to work together more effectively for student success.
Following you will also find collaboration classroom applications, and a collaboration self-evaluation checklist.
After reading this section please write your thoughts on how teamwork applies to you and your paraeducator/teacher in your respective roles.
Now make a plan for improvement.
As a result of my reflections, this is what I feel I need to do (be specific rather than writing such things as “I will try harder,” list exactly what you will do):
Collaboration Classroom Applications
- Be supportive of other adults with whom you work, especially in front of the students. If you have cause to disagree, do it privately and in an appropriate manner.
- Be sure that you have a clear idea of what you wish to accomplish with your students before you share ideas and ask for suggestions from the other adults with whom you work, but keep an open mind. Their suggestions may warrant changes to your original plans.
- You are an important member of the classroom instructional team and teams composed of other units within the school. Remembering this importance can help you approach responsibilities and communications in a positive way.
- Continually build teamwork by planning together on a regular basis, and always make team members aware of important changes concerning the class.
- Be respectful of the other adults in the classroom both publicly and privately.
- Take on at least an equal share of responsibilities. Do your part, and more when necessary. Be generous with your resources – time, effort, skills, and praise.
- Occasionally review responsibilities of each team member. This helps remind everyone of the jobs that need to be performed, and who is responsible for them.
- Go out and have a teamwork party where you see each other's strengths in a different setting.
- Communication skills are essential to teamwork. Talk to each other often and keep current.
Collaboration Self-Evaluation Checklist
Teachers and paraeducators should work together to identify specific things they do in each of these areas. Then teachers should rate how effectively they think each activity is accomplished in the classroom, and plan ways in which they can make improvements.
Activities rating 1-3 (1 = No problem, I/we do this regularly; 2 = Minor problem, I/we could improve on this; 3 = Major problem, this definitely needs attention)
- I have a clearly defined role for my paraeducator(s).
- I have checked that my paraeducator(s) understands this role.
- My paraeducator(s) knows the school, district, and state guidelines regarding paraeducators.
- I have clear priorities for student learning.
- I have communicated these to my paraeducator.
- I understand my paraeducators' preferred work style.
- I take steps to ensure that I communicate clearly with my paraeducator(s) in a way that meets his/her preferred work style.
- I meet regularly with my paraeducator(s) to plan and discuss progress.
- I have clear definitions of effective teamwork.
- I know my paraeducator’s notions of effective teamwork.
- I discuss my ideas of teamwork with my paraeducator(s).
You are free to copy these materials but please give credit to the authors and note the website. The full training program printed package is available for $25.00 plus shipping. Contact Betty Ashbaker by clicking on the “Contact Us” button on the home page.