Developing a community of learners by encouraging teamwork in the classroom.

by Megan Allen

All Grades

Introduction

I believe we can move mountains in education if we build a strong community of learners in our classroom. The best way to do that is by creating a classroom environment that encourages students to work together as a team.

In my classroom, I employ strategies that makes it possible for individual students to learn to:

— Solve problems together, offer feedback, and productively work through moments of conflict or failure,

–Discuss and analyze together how they can genuinely contribute to others’ learning, and recognize and encourage collaboration that supports others, and

–Reflect collaboratively about their learning experience, so that—over time—they can employ these learning strategies themselves and better manage their own learning outcomes.

With these systems in place, students feel more comfortable taking academic risks. Their academic conversations improve as a result, and everything runs much smoother in the classroom.

Reflections

What I did well…

I think that whether we are working with children or adults, it helps to keep learning active. We all love to learn in a hands-on manner. Even if we don’t feel like moving around, once we are up, laughing, talking and engaging as a team, we are enjoying the learning journey. I also think that taking a step out of education, engaging in learning, then stepping back into education and applying the new learning is refreshing. It helps to step out of something we are seeped in to see it more clearly. That’s why I love to look to the business world or the sports world to dig into leadership in my work with adults.

I also think that by leaving so much of the learning and exploration to the learners, letting them lead in conversations and questions, that I practiced constructivist learning. The participants created their own meaning while I facilitated the journey. It is a hard thing to let go of total control as a teacher, but this discomfort reaps benefits in the end and becomes easier with time.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

As I watched the video, I realized that I made a lot of assumptions regarding definitions. Do we all think of teamwork the same? Do we all have a common language around community? The next time I facilitate this lesson, I would spend some time having the participants create their own definitions. How do you define a team? Teamwork? Community? Risk? I think by spending some time teasing out the meaning of these terms, we could dig into the specifics of the lesson even deeper-we can get to the heart of how to develop these concepts in ourselves and our classrooms.

I think it would also be interesting to have the participants or students engage in mini-case studies to develop some of the definitions. We could jigsaw and then engage in some examples from videos, articles, etc., to further tease out what great teams do. One piece that was not shown in the video was a whole group discussion of the Navy’s Blue Angels working as a team: the mini-case studies in small groups would have been a great follow-up piece. 

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I work with adult learners full-time now, so I am always thinking about how student learning translates to adult learning, and vice versa. I have done this lesson with adult learners, but I want to push myself to stretch the group’s learning. To go deeper. I think I could grow further by adding in a book study on the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, then developing some more activities based on this great read. Also, I want to dig into the nuances of building safe communities for risk taking, team building, and community. I think I may have oversimplified these ideas in the past, when there is so much behind each word. There is so much we can think about as adults that transfers to the students in our classrooms. The book Strengthsfinder is a great tool for adults to think about the strengths they bring to a team: I wonder how this might apply to student learners? How can we help individual students think about their own strengths, areas for growth, and what this means for their work with others? How can we help students really explore roles within teams and communities? These are lingering questions that will help direct my learning as I think about the scope of community building in the student-and adult-classrooms.

 

About Megan Allen

Megan M. Allen is a National Board Certified Teacher and the 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year. She currently is serving as the director at Mount Ho...

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