008: Importance of Teamwork in the Classroom

… working successfully in society requires all people to engage in teamwork at some level, so we must teach students how to be effective team players.

In Junior High, and High School I was part of a youth program known as Young Marines. The Young Marines organisation is focused on promoting positive life choices, and to reduce drug use by youth. Some children are court ordered into the program, and many are forced to join by their families. At least this was the case when I was in. I joined the program in 1998, not through force, but because I was keen to join the Marine Corps after High School.

Young Marines, as I remember it, was an outstanding program that had absolutely nothing to do with combat training. The only “weapons” we had were wooden rifles used for drill practice. I learned a lot of life skills during my time in Young Marines, but the two greatest were discipline, and teamwork. For this post, I want to focus on the later – The importance of teamwork in the classroom environment.

In my opinion, about 80% of what Young Marines do in training revolves around teamwork. Everything from physical fitness, to drill practice. I can’t tell you how many hours were spent on the parade deck drilling, but by the time I became a Gunnery Sergeant I could march a small unit of teenagers through any series of complicated manoeuvres. I learned through this program, and later in life that to be successful in any position a person must know how to be a strong team member.

Let’s consider two key questions: 1) Why is teamwork necessary as part of the classroom culture? 2) How can teamwork be seamlessly integrated into the classroom?

Why is teamwork necessary as part of the classroom culture?

First, children go through a range of cognitive developmental stages – Piaget come to mind? Throughout this process, one of the most difficult areas for children to navigate is social connection. Engaging with others in a positive way can be tricky and stressful. However, in my opinion, during this time of growth children are more receptive to challenges that help make positive social interaction more accessible.

Next, think about your average day at school. As educators, we don’t teach our students in a bubble. We must work with other teachers when creating curriculum, with Teaching Assistants and Learning Support Assistants to support children in the classroom, and other staff to ensure the school day is managed properly. Other jobs outside education are similar – we must work closely with others to accomplish set objectives in the workplace.

Both of these points are important. Teamwork is a very socially engaging process, and it appears throughout society, especially in the workplace. Being able to work with, and adjust within a team is very important for any person to master, and if children are more receptive to learning then there is no reason to not teach teamwork within the classroom.

How can teamwork be seamlessly integrated into the classroom?

Teamwork has been an area that I’ve studied and applied throughout my teaching career. The following are ways I currently promote teamwork in my classroom:

Job Chart – This is one of the first things I implemented, my first day of teaching, and the idea was taken from an early years teacher I had the privilege to observe. The concept is simple. I have a chart at the front of my classroom, with each student’s name in each pocket of the chart. Behind the names are job labels, such as ‘Front Line Leader’, ‘Teacher Helper’, ‘Pencil Monitor’, and even ‘Back Line Leader’. Students are explicitly taught each job and its importance, and are expected to carry out their given job throughout the day. These jobs are changed daily, and students work together in order to ensure the class works as a single unit.

Marble Tray – In the last two schools I’ve worked at we’ve had houses, and students are assigned to one of the four houses (yes, like Hogwarts). I’ve taken advantage of this by creating a points system using marbles. Students can earn ‘House Points’ by following rules and routines, being kind to others, or producing great work in any lesson. I have made it so as students do things to earn points, they instead get a marble to put in their house jar/tray/container. At the end of the day we count the marbles. For every ten marbles a house gets, they earn one house point. Students can even lose marbles for poor performance. All of this pushes students to consider how their actions effect themselves, and how their actions effect their team.

FIVE B’s – Brain, Board, Book, Buddy, Boss. I have a chart in my classroom that lists these five points in this exact order. The emphasis I place on this simple poster when presented to my students is this – Students must own their learning, and work with their peers to determine solutions before they ask me for help. Keep in mind I monitor my students closely and provide support when and where needed, but I train my students to help each other with difficult problems. By pushing this method in conjunction with mixed ability tables and consistent coaching, students learn to depend on each other, as a team.

This post was a rough look at why teamwork within the classroom is necessary and some suggestions for implementation. However, if you take only one thing away take this – working successfully in society requires all people to engage in teamwork at some level, so we must teach students how to be effective team players.

Until next time!

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