Saturday, 24 November 2012

Teaching Teams: the safe net

As many of you may know, I'm one of those teachers who are actually happy to be one, despite the crisis, all of the red tape, the stressful routine, the neverending meetings, you name it. Now, I think that's because I've found in my career a safe net that provides me from falling at times, and that keeps me motivated and supported at all times: that's teaching teams.

I’ve been teaching for 15 years now, first in private schools in Italy and abroad, teaching Italian as a foreign language, then in the Italian public schools, as a secondary teacher of Literature, History and Geography.
And all the way, I’ve been fond of team working (both among teachers and students), of international cooperation, and of edu-tech.

Every single year of my career has been marked by a different kind of collaboration with my colleagues, my pupils, and my international partners. And year after year, the net – the virtual dimension of “being together” – has gained a central role in my teaching. That is to say, I’m more and more involved into teaching and learning together with people (teachers, students, experts) that are actually not in my classroom.

But let’s see the steps of my team-building process in the public school:

1. First - edUtopia: at the beginning of my career in the public school, teaching in a Lower Secondary school, back in 2000, I taught in a course with extended time. This means the students had 36 hours/week: 5 in the morning (mon-sat) + 6 in the afternoon (two afternoons of 3 hours each). It was a paradise, as teamworking was officially recognized: in fact, in the afternoons there were hours of teamteaching – Mother Tongue + Foreign Languages and Mother Tongue + Maths/Science. Our Ministry of Education understood how important it is for teachers to work together in order to have the pupils learn (understanding the connections between different subjects) and, but I’m not sure the Ministry was actually aware of this, the teachers actually learnt a lot from each other by being together in the same class. Teaching Teams were a great professional development tool at zero cost (think in terms of teaching styles, assessment, etc.). We made our first steps in the world of European projects together. We worked with our first partners and started sharing online. Do I need to say that our best projects were born here? out of collaboration among colleagues off- and on line?

2. Next – why paying two for one? The edUtopia period lasted some five/six years, enough for me to learn a lot and to miss them badly now. Then of course, as everywhere in the world for what I know, governments decided to cut on “unessential expenses” – read: education and services. Paying for two teachers at the same time was considered to be crazy, so if we wanted to go on in our collaboration, we had to do this in our spare time. Or we could do it – we were lucky at the beginning – with the support of Local Authorities that paid for extra hours of co-teaching. It was no more official, still we had some hours to actually share in the classroom. By now, we had partners throughout Europe and having them with us, during our lesson, quickly became something normal. So, in order to learn from other professionals, we could not only turn to each other, but also to our net-colleagues. We run lots of successful projects (and as you know, by “successful” I mean those projects where students learn & enjoy, not only those actually awarded) and we learnt a lot ourselves.

3. Today – praise the “safe net”. In a time of crisis, and of spending review, do you think there’s any room for two (or more) teachers being together in the same classroom? Do you think we can invest on education? So, just forget teaching teams, unless you want to do everything in your free time (which we often do, because we care!). But here’s the good news: after years of sowing, we can now harvest. And our crops are our partners, a net of colleagues scattered here and there in the world, who share, and discuss, and learn, and teach with us, every day, through the web. This net of teachers, met through eTwinning, Comenius and other international projects, is today our safe net. I think it is correct to say that LLP is today for any European teachers the best provider of professional development opportunities: formal ones – Comenius in-service training, eTwinning PDWs and LEs … - and informal ones, mainly through eTwinning. And then, there’s the web, and fellow teachers and edubloggers all around the world. So, teaching teams are today wider and wider nets, that can turn into safe nets at times.
At least, that’s what happens to me every day. In this blog first of all, and then in eTwinning (in Groups, in the "eTwinning e la realtà" teachers' room, etc.).

So I thank my colleagues, those I meet every day in my school, I thank my colleagues and partners troughout Europe, I thank my friends blogger, met online, here and there, in the strangest ways, and I thank all of the students I’ve met in my life. I thank you for what I keep learning (and teaching) every day with your help.
Luckily, we are each other's best resource in a time of crisis.

Learning is a social process, and I’m happy to “go social” with you.


  1. Hi Laura,
    this is an interesting story and I share most of it. It could be interesting to know, more. For instance, to have a proper study on the development of formal professional development during the crisis.
    Do teachers have time for it? (and money, because in Italy recognized professional development is mainly offered by universities and it is very expensive)
    Or is the teacher-to-teacher the only net we can rely on?
    Thanks for your reflections, that always raise questions...

  2. Thank you Enrico,
    you know I agree with you. Yes, I would be extremely interested in getting to know if teachers during the crisis can spend money on universities courses (which means, thousands of euros). On the other hand, that's the only opportunity to get some "points" for your career, so stakes are high.
    Anyway, I do believe for most teachers the primary source of professional development is what you call teacher-to-teacher. And It's not necessarily a bad thing.
    After all, a fellow teacher knows what we need better than any academic expert (my opinion).

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  4. I can remember all these phases (and also before). I've worked with the "extended time" module for more than 20 years and it worked beautifully. I think obviously quality matters, but "less school" can never be considered "better school".
    And since we work together, you know how much I miss the period when we had our offical hour together.
    I think co-presence is a great tool for teaching students that there are no barriers between different subjects.
    I hope our government will think twice, but not likely...

  5. I enjoyed reading your article about cooperation in your career. In my country ( Spain) people feel quite depressive nowadays and in my school this year there is not a positive attitude between my colleagues any more, so for me the net cooperation is like a life-jacket I need to use, so thank-you for sharing your proudness about our job. Cheers !

  6. Hi Laura and Alberto,
    I completely agree with you. We live a difficult period when teachers are very pessimistic, and it's important to be proud and happy of our job. Let's see the bright side of it as well!

  7. Very involving article Laura! I share your point of view and I believe pride and optimism are very important in our profession in such a difficult time of crisis. And I'm happy to read the comments of teachers from all around the world who share our same ideas!

  8. Dear Laura,
    I like a lot this your post. And to read about edUdopia. I believe, investment in education could be an investment in the future of our pupils and countries as well.
    I like the idea of team teaching.
    And yes, we are lucky because of our European projects. I don't know, who was the great person to dream first Comenius Programme and eTwinning, but I really would like to thank her/him. And to the others, who undestood, how important is to feel this kind of experience to pupils and teachers / local communities in our countries.

    Teaching together in teams, collaboration..we learnt a lot here.Great experiences! I liked a lot in our last Comenius project the idea of Guest lessons. In every partner schools we had real contact and real lessons with other colleagues from our Institutes and from the visited partner schools.And I liked to be together with children. :)
    It was interesing and important to have the opportunity to know other kind of schools/education system, sharing our ideas, have fun and learning together.
    Thank you Laura for our great European adventures, and thank to all colleagues who like to share ideas, collaborate, and follow their dreams with pupils,