Secrets to Successful Teams: Q & A with Paul Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford

Paul Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford developed the Impact Teams model as a collaborative, 3-step process for teacher teams to analyze student evidence of learning and plan next steps for instruction. As consultants, they work with schools and districts across the country to develop classroom and team protocols that maximize the expertise and impact of teacher teams. We sat down with them to ask some common questions about teams.

Q: What are some common reasons why some teams succeed while others flounder?

  1. Lack of support from school leaders. Teams need dedicated time weekly to analyze student progress and to consider the degree of impact and effectiveness of their strategies and/or actions on student groups. Key to this focus is a building leader or leadership team that value and prioritize teacher collaboration as key to improving student learning. That means dedicating and protecting team meeting time, supporting team facilitators through on-going PD to hone their facilitation skills, participating in the meetings not as an expert but as a learner, and protecting team time from ‘other school business.’
  2. Lack of team trust. In a recent 3-year study (Project Aristotle) on team effectiveness, Google, where almost all work is done in teams, found that lack of team trust was a common issue in the less effective teams. Psychological safety – conversational turn taking and empathy – matter!
  3. Lack of group norms. Norms are the unwritten rules that ensure team members have equal air time, i.e., equal participation. That is one of the hallmarks of productive teams. When one or two people monopolize the discussion, all sorts of negative things happen – resentment, tuning out, feelings of being disrespected and marginalized by those not talking, and worse, missing opportunities to learn from each other.
  4. Lack of curriculum alignment to build quality assessments. The curriculum house needs to be in order for teacher teams to implement clear paths for learning. And to have deep conversations about what students know and can do and why (or why not), teams need to create and/or have access to quality formative assessments that are rubric-bound.

Q: What are some things teams can do to stay on track?

  1. Start as you mean to go…collaborate with the administrator(s) on anchoring the team process in shared beliefs and common purpose.
  2. Build trust: Be intentional and transparent about the importance of trusting one another. Sharing your mistakes and challenges is psychologically risky so to do so requires a safe environment. Talk as a team about the importance of trust. Practice sharing something personal. Take a team trust survey (many free on-line versions) and see where your team stands on trusting one another. Have a plan about building trust and check back in every 3-4 months to see how you’re doing. Most importantly, do not underestimate the importance of trusting one another when doing this very important work.
  3. Set norms and actually use them: Norms are agreed-upon behaviors that the team collectively determine. Like the golden rule, create norms that ensure you are treating others the way you want to be treated. And actually use the norms at each and every meeting. The team facilitator starts and ends the meeting with the norms. At the beginning of the meeting, there’s a quick reminder of what they are. At the end of the meeting, the facilitator takes a quick survey of how each member thinks they did on using the norms for that meeting. Ex: On a scale from 1 to 4 (high), hold your fingers up on how we did on 1) promptness; 2) preparedness; 3) participation, etc.

Q: How can teams know if they are making an impact on student learning?

Ahhhh, and here is where the rubber hits the road. But be very clear, this is not top-down accountability to see which teacher has the highest score on the last assessment. This is about learning about what works! With the 3-step protocol: Evidence~Analysis~Action the team looks at each of the 3 or 4 learning groups through this lens to see what strategies/actions worked ..or not so much. It’s a dialogue that results in the team’s determination about what has impact and on what group. The team has agreed on the pre-determined evidence (success criteria or rubric) and the action (strategies) is/are collective. It’s not uncommon for teams to periodically calculate the effect sizes of the impact to gain a clearer understanding of the degree of the impact.

Most importantly, the students are involved in this discussion in their classroom through the self and peer assessment practice in the formative assessment process. The students are monitoring their progress, the students have voice in analyzing what is working, and the students share with each other and their teachers the degree of impact on their learning.

Q: How can team members make sure that the work they do in teams is connected to the work they do in the classroom, and vice versa?

That is what is unique about the Impact Team process. The universal protocol used in the team meeting is the same as the protocol used in class. Evidence~Analysis~Action is the core of the formative assessment process in the classroom. This is a student-centered protocol as well as a team protocol.  The Evidence the team is analyzing comes directly from the self and peer assessment process in the classroom. Teachers bring to their team meetings the four learning groups folders (beginning, progressing, proficient, exemplary) in which the students sorted their work. The team discussion is anchored in the Evidence from the classroom formative assessment process. The Analysis is based on student progress (why and why not). The Action is around what do teachers need to do to support the *self and peer assessment process in the classroom. It’s a simple but powerful process that ensures both students and teachers are involved in deep and lasting learning.

*Assessment capable learners = 1.44 effect size (.40 = about one year’s growth in one year’s time)

Thank you! For more about Paul and Barb’s work with teams and the Impact Teams model, click here to request more information.

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Paul Bloomberg is a national consultant specializing in school turnaround and school transformation. As a school administrator, Bloomberg was instrumental in turning around three schools in San Diego County. Currently, Paul is the Executive Director of The Core Collaborative, a professional learning network specializing in student centered approaches to learning. He is also the former director of Transformative Inquiry Design for Effective Schools and Systems (TIDES), a nonprofit based in San Diego, CA. He is an experienced school improvement coach and trainer. Over the past three years he has supported over 10 districts/schools in their transition to Common Core through coaching, professional development and curriculum support.

Barb Pitchford is a national consultant specializing in leadership for school improvement. During her 30 plus years in public education, Barb has worked at all school levels – high, middle, and elementary – as a teacher, counselor, and administrator. For the past 10 years Barb has worked as a professional learning consultant specializing in powerful and practical leadership for improved learning for both students and teachers. Currently, Barb works with Corwin Press as a consultant specializing in John Hattie’s Visible Learning work and is the Executive Director of Professional Learning and co-founder of The Core Collaborative. Barb’s passion is supporting schools to use their greatest resource, their teachers, to build knowledge, skills, and confidence to ensure success for both students and teachers. Based on the research around collaboration and formative assessment, Barb specializes in developing Impact Teams to improve teacher quality and student achievement.

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