Thursday, 12 April 2012

Teachers' teams: the challenge, the how-to!

Those who've been following me in the last couple of years already know how much I believe in team working. I'm a very social person in my private life as well, but in my job I'm definitely committed to team building, working... and teaching.

That's partly due to the fact that I became a professional teacher when I was very young. At the time, I felt I needed some kind of support and it was normal for me to turn to the more experienced teachers: and it worked perfectly, because it soon become a give&take relationship - they shared with me what I lacked (experience), I shared with them what they were sometimes losing (enthusiasm, fun, pupils' understanding, love of ICT, curiosity...).
Now, 15 years later, commitment to team working, especially in international projects, is just part of who I am. I think I've a good experience of my own by now, and I've been trying to share it during the past years.

The eTwinning world is at the moment concentrating on School Teams as well, and some colleagues asked me how to build a team in their schools in order to work on EU projects. Now, I can just share some tips coming from my personal experience. But remember, every school and every context is different, so ultimately it's the the individual teacher that knows what works best for him or her.

So, here's what I know:

1) at the beginning of a new experience (including eTwinning) there's nothing wrong in working alone. If you don't find anyone willing to work on a new project with you, don't assume you did something wrong: it's just the novelty that can be scaring. Once you've worked on a new project for a while, when your students and their families are curious and involved, other teachers will be as well.

2) Tell the others what you're doing and why, and how much you'd appreciate their contribution. That means you'll have to want them for real, so you should offer them a role in your project idea. You can't just ask them, say, to register in eTwinning, join in your project and then "we'll see": offer them a role and a responsibility and see what their answer is. Remember, they are considering joining in something new and they need a good dose of daring for this: now, you can't expect them to jump into the unknown. The more specific you are in explaining what they could do, the more likely they are to say "yes".

3) Start with one or two colleagues: a small team is easier to manage (just think of the difference in planning a meeting for three and for thirteen). Decide who does what in the project, and then let the others free to do more if they want.
Hint: international projects+eTwinning are addictive: once you get them in, and they see where they are and 1% of what they can do, they'll be more than willing to do more than they are expected.

4) Be prepared to share your ideas. That's the hardest part of it. Once you're in a team, "my" ideas actually become "our" ideas. I know this will be controversial, but since a person's ideas are his/her most precius property, I say, be careful. Good team mates will always recognize the value of your ideas and will own them to you - and of course you'll do the same with theirs. Sharing doesn't mean stealing. Never. 
So, choose carefully the people you want in your team. People you trust enough to share your ideas with.

5) Be prepared to work more (usually with no extra money). Projects and team working require adequate planning. Which means extra hours for you, but also better (often very better!) results. Up to your priorities.

6) Never ever force someone into the use of ICT, or into eTwinning, or into anything. They want to have a look and see what they can do from the outside? Fine. Remember you're not recruiting soldiers for your army. If you force or trick your colleagues into something they're not prepared to, it's most likely they'll end up hating you, your project, ICT, eTwinning... you name it.

7) Market it! Let the other teachers, the School Principal, the families, know what wonderful work you and your colleagues are doing. Think and talk of the future: what you will do next month, next year. Your team mates will start thinking of a "next project", new ones may be willing to give it a try, and families will expect it (which will probably make it real).

8) Support it! You created the project, you let the others in, now you'll have to support the project during the hard times. Long silences from the foreign partners, websites not working, personal problems of the involved teachers... your project will have its occasional dark spell, and it will be your duty to keep the spark alive. It won't be difficult. You just need some creativity and your students will do the rest.

9) Laugh, learn and enjoy. The only reason why the extra work, the efforts and the committment are worth it, is that both teachers and students learn faster, and have fun. If you're not enjoying yourself, there's something wrong: so work with the students, do your best, and next year dump that team!

10) At the end of the project celebrate your success, and then start all over again (but with more colleagues, more ideas, more students!).

That's what I learnt through the years. And - more recently - through the chatting and discussing with Monika, Mariella, Elena, Antonella and Paola. Thank you ladies. We are not in the same school, but we do make a very good team!


  1. Hi Laura,
    I remember your presentation "the X factor" in November. I immediately liked the idea of teachers' teams, even if the pressure of the curricula can be very stressful and sometimes I think any other activity is too time consuming.
    Anyway, I'm working with two colleagues at the moment on a simple eTwinning project. I hope this will eventually lead to more.
    Thank you for your help.

  2. Dear Laura,
    I thank your from deep down my heart for the tips given in this post. You have beeb able to tell apart quite a few aspects of the team building process.
    I really share your outloook and I am grateful to have found it written down in such clear words.

    1. Thank you Mariella. Most of these tips come from our common reflection. As you should know, many of your projects and many of your ideas have been a great inspiration to me.

  3. Hi Laura,
    I am very happy as I can read your blog!!!
    All posts speak strait to our heart as
    tells things we think or we feel or we do (more or less)
    in our teaching life!!!
    -Yes, everybody begin alone at first.
    -Yes, we have to talk to other teachers.
    -Yes, we are happy working with our students!!!
    -Of course there no money BUT we have the happiness and the smiles of our pupils
    -YES we are a great group now with our etwinning-friends
    and we feel strong to continue as Crisis is in our countries or around Europe... because we can talk about our problems and try to find solutions...
    THANK YOU ALL very much!!!
    Etwinning helped me very much to recover quickly after personal problems but help me everyday to understand that teachers around Europe is one healthy part in Europe and we have to work in the Future of Europe!!!
    I would be very happy to learn from you...
    Warm greetings from Korinth-Greece

  4. Thank you Marika, we share so much, in our personal and professional life, even if we never met in person!
    And I do believe eTwinning is a great place first of all for the people we meet. We can find in those people a true help and support during the difficult period in our countries - like the present crisis - and in our lives.
    And it's a place of hope. As you say, we have to work for the future of Europe.
    Thank you so much!