Teaching is a Team Sport

21 Jul

In our films, the hero or the heroine stand tall, on the big screen – perfect in every way, carrying the story forward. We see just the hero. Amitabh Bacchan, standing alone, fighting the goons, romancing the beauty.

The teacher too, stands on the shoulders of a large team that has made sure that learning happens in the classroom. The training that brought her (or him) here to the classroom has a significant impact on the way they doing things. Some were trained well, others superficially, others (contract teachers) not at all. Some learnt from example, while others through their experience.

The textbook she uses has had hundreds of people working on it – From designing the curriculum to choosing the material, writing and editing it. Printing, binding, publishing, distributing. Backing up the teacher, are the vast resources that went into building the school. The design, the infrastructure, the maintenance.

It cannot be done by one person alone.

Does that make it a team sport? Well, yes and no – there needs to be more.

Take the parallel of a cricket team.

The people who made the stadium are not part of the team, you say. True, but they are important to the game of cricket. The coach, the practice nets? Are they part of the team effort? Well, they do make the player what he is – but yes, these are support services. The teacher too depends on similar support services.

The team is a set of players, each having a different role to play in the field. As do teachers. The team has specialists – as do teachers. Some players become stars, others do not – by virtue of their role and performance. Those who are not superstars are also valuable members of the team – and the same with teachers.

Most importantly, team members learn from each other. They watch each other play, they share learning experiences and they help each other practice the sport. For teachers too, the value of their team is in the learning from each other.

Strong teams are made when they work together to create a strategy for winning at what they do. Teams share the workload, each working to their strengths. They agree a plan and execute it. Good teaching teams do the same. In a well resourced and well organised teaching team, each subject area will have teachers from various classes co-ordinating the learning of the students, connecting with the work done in previous classes and sharing learning information that can increase the welfare of the individual learner. They share the load, and can swap roles when required. If Sehwag is injured, and cannot open, there must be some one else to step into that role. Whatever happens, some team player has to step in – the ball cannot be dropped.

Teachers, by default, if not by design work in teams. Year groups and subject groups are forced to back up for each other. Strong learning emerges when the teaching team plays in tandem. Building and sustaining such teams is resource intensive – both money and effort are required.

And like other teams, politics plays a part. When internal politics is in play, the team is not. And every team will always have some simmering internal politics that will undermine the efforts of the whole. One of the challenges of the coach here is to manage the mutterings.

Teachers have a love hate relationship with working in teams. While they love the support, a forum and the comfort of being a part of the team, there will always be some rough edges to manage. What is true, if managed as  a team sport, teachers will learn more than otherwise. A lonely teacher is not a learning teacher. Build the teams, these are the teams that will build excellence in your schools.

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