Friday / June 14

Teaching is a Team Sport

I had eye surgery nearly a decade ago in Phoenix, AZ. The surgery was conducted by a doctor who was well known for his work with airplane pilots and his team received positive reviews on various apps and local references. My mantra has always been that “It’s always a good thing to find a surgeon with positive reviews when you are considering eye surgery.” Now picture yourself heading into the medical office and sitting in a hospital room. Do you imagine that one doctor is going to see you?

When I started my freshman year in college I had been a swimmer for 12 years. My first college practice changed my entire perception of the sport. I got in the water and the coach said, “The people in front of you, behind you, and next to you expect you to get better as it will enable everyone to get better. Talk to each other and push each other. Don’t just trust. Trust to improve. Give feedback. Listen to feedback. We will all get better through this process. Swimming is a team sport.” To this day, I think about the following excerpt, “Don’t just trust. Trust to improve.”

In the medical office I met with three or four doctors, each checking each other’s’ diagnoses (right in front of me), they were together for the surgery, and each made visits to my room for after surgery care over the next several months. Never was I alone 1:1 with a doctor and never did I miss the dialogue between doctors. They didn’t just trust each other. They leaned on trust with one another to improve.

Swimming and medicine in many ways are intuitively shaped and perceived as individualized by nature. One swimmer or doctor is entrusted to take on the challenge of the 500 freestyle or the retina. Teaching follows a similar narrative; an individual profession that encapsulates a responsibility of molding minds and shaping character. There is a sense of “just trust” in the public eye (especially from parents) and an expectation from many in the profession. Autonomy is perhaps the most important word in the profession.

These stark contrasts of a coach’s philosophy and a medical team’s approach pushed my thinking and behavior when I became a teacher. I realized that teaching was a team sport requiring more than simply “just trusting.”  Teaching requires the conversation, the use of evidence of student learning and the transparency of working through problems of practices that yield higher rates of student learning with other people. Dialogue is the essential ingredient for improvement in the profession.

Written by

Michael McDowell, Ed.D. is the Superintendent of the Ross School District. Most recently, he served as the Associate Superintendent of Instructional and Personnel Services at the Tamalpais Union High School District. During his tenure, the Tamalpais Union High School District was recognized by the Marzano Research Laboratories as one of the top highly reliable organizations in the United States, and schools within the district received recognitions by the US News and World Report, and honored with California Distinguished Schools accolades.

Prior to his role as a central office administrator, Dr. McDowell served as the Principal of North Tahoe High School, a California Distinguished School. Prior to administration, Dr. McDowell was a leadership and instructional coach for the New Tech Network supporting educators in designing, implementing, and enhancing innovative schools across the country. Before engaging in the nonprofit sector, Dr. McDowell created and implemented an environmental science and biology program at Napa New Technology High School, infusing 1:1 technology, innovative teaching and assessment, and leveraging student voice in the classroom. Additionally, Dr. McDowell, taught middle school math and science in Pacifica, CA.

Dr. McDowell is a national presenter, speaking on instruction, learning, leadership and innovation. He has provided professional development services to large school districts, State Departments of Education, and higher education. In addition, he was a former National Faculty member for the Buck Institute of Education and a key thought leader in the inception of their leadership work in scaling innovation in instructional methodologies. His expertise in design and implementation is complimented by his scholarly approach to leadership, learning, and instruction.

He holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and a M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Redlands and an Ed.D. from the University of La Verne. He received departmental honors for his work in Environmental Science and was awarded the Tom Fine Creative Leadership Award for his doctoral work at the University of La Verne. He has also completed certification programs through Harvard University, the California Association of School Business Officials, the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, and Cognition Education. He holds both a California single subject teaching credential and an administrative credential.

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