Team Members Create Learning Opportunities Together

"School and family team members work together daily to create learning opportunities for all participants."

Schools often seem like a bunch of individual players working alone, sometimes at odds. Teachers do what they do, kids do what they do, and most of us aren't exactly sure what principals and parents do.

What we is that this doesn't help anyone do what they need to do.

Teams and teamwork are foundational to Agile. Agile recognizes a simple thing: we're all here together so we might as well work together—and when we work well together, the whole is often greater than the sum of the parts. In a way, all Agile work is team work. As one Agilist put it, "There are no Agile companies; only Agile teams."

Though Agile is an ideal framework for the optimal functioning of teacher teams and administrative teams, the team comprised of teacher, student, and family is perhaps the most important.

Think of how much time kids spend outside of school. Think, too, about how much parents would like to know about their child's education. Think how much help teachers could get if kids and parents were with them on the same page.

Creating teams out of a classroom isn't easy. It requires regular, structured communication. It also requires that each team member understand their role. What role, for example, will you help parents step into? And what will you tell students about sustaining a learning role at home?

The "classroom-family" learning team as we'll call it is the rough equivalent of a "distributed team" in the world of software development. Distributed teams are common these days; technology allows us to stay in sync. But old-fashioned analog communication like letters, classroom newspapers, and other paper-based communications can still get the job done.

Another approach is something we might call "direct engagement". Assigning kids the responsibility of sharing their daily work at school with their parents works—especially at the elementary grades. Giving kids tasks that directly involve interacting with their families also works well.

The team that matters most in a child's learning life is the team of teacher, student, and parent. It may not be possible to have regular team meetings, but it's certainly possible to have teams.


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Steve Peha

When I think about parents, teachers, and kids, the question that comes up first is always, "How do we bring these people together when they're not often in the same place at the same time?"

I have not found parent volunteers, open house nights, or even traditional parent-teacher conferences to be of much help. What I have found that works well are the following:

  • Classroom Communications. Regularly published classroom newspapers, written by kids to parents, have always been successful. Kids enjoy writing about what they're learning. Parents get to hear it directly from their children. And the process of producing a newspaper seems to push kids toward developing complex skills in a context they enjoy and find meaningful.
  • Portfolios and Student Self-Assessment. When parents can see what their kids are doing, and also see what their kids have to say about it. Portfolio-based student-led conferences are an ideal format for pulling the school and family team together.
  • Plain English Assessment. Today's assessment tools, tests, and report cards are a mystery to both students and parents. That means that two important members on the team have no idea what learning is being delivered. Sometimes, teachers don't even understand these tools. But the "plain English" approach I have used in both the SAGIS and 3P Grading System approaches has overcome this. This also speaks to the notion of meaningful learning. Obviously, learning that no one understands cannot possibly be meaningful.
  • Formal Parent Education. I've done a fair bit of this and it always goes very well. Yet few schools that I know have formal parent education programs, and I really don't know know why. Teaching parents about the techniques and curricula teachers are using, seems like a natural way to gain their support. My favorite homework assignment: "Teach one of your parents how to do what we learned today in class."

It may take time and creativity to figure out how to pull your team(s) together. And as class sizes rise, the volume of effort required will rise, too. But it's worth it. When parents are supporting you at home, your life is a lot easier, and so are the lives of your students.

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