Weak Links Break Teams

A MiddleWeb Blog


Teamwork is a word that succinctly sums up what successful co-teaching is all about. It’s one word that speaks volumes. Teamwork is the reason that co-teaching works — and it is the reason why it doesn’t sometimes. When teamwork is successful, everyone feels included. Students feel included. And the teachers feel included.

My writing partner Laurie’s most recent post was an uplifting example of how teamwork can create positive experiences. As I read, I kept cheering for her and the people on her team who work together in ways to make everyone feel included—students AND teachers.

As I read I also wondered: What about those co-teachers out there who do not feel included — who do not live the teamwork life? Was anyone frustrated because perhaps you are not experiencing a warm and fuzzy team approach?

There I go again, thinking about the next elephant in the hallway. How are you folks doing out there who do not have a collegial teamwork experience? My mind immediately turns to these questions:

How can (and do) we make teamwork happen? What can each of us do personally to create a positive team approach?

Keep reading this post—then please share your thoughts, whether you’re searching for a better teaming relationship or you’re already experiencing positive teamwork.

My teamwork history

My own experiences are varied. As I think about the many teachers I’ve worked with and the various teams I’ve belonged to over the years, it’s clear to me that the quality of the teamwork is always an important factor in the level of student success we achieve.

Thinking back year by year, I can isolate specific places along the teamwork chain that fell short. And when it comes to teamwork, I think co-teaching relationships are only as strong as their weakest link. Does this mean that the team is only as cooperative and collegial as its most uncooperative team member? What do you folks think?

When a team works well together, it’s easy to teach successfully. The links are strong — the teachers do whatever is required to consider the needs of all students and all teachers. And even if there is one weak link in the chain, the other strong links can pick up the slack a bit and keep the team strong. When a team does not work well together (c’mon…we know there are folks out there…) I think it means that the team members have not made enough personal investment in team spirit. Or perhaps other team members are just not strong enough to pick up the slack for their weakest link.

Here are possible weak links:

  • One or more teachers on the team just are not into the cooperative and collaborative scene.
  • There are not enough resources available to help teachers to implement the kind of instruction they need.
  • There are too many scheduling glitches to foster a positive collaborative setting.
  • There is not enough administrative support to make it happen.

Can anyone think of any other possible weak links?

The success chain

Here’s what I think all teams must do in order to be successful. Teachers must overcome any weak links and find solutions for teamwork to prevail.

  • We must agree on what success looks like.
  • We must have the hard conversations about how success connects to the quality of our teamwork.
  • We must make and implement an action plan to work through any weak link issues.

Having a weak link can mean the difference between professional happiness and misery. It can mean the difference between student achievement and students struggling. And I believe the way we go about addressing our weak links distinguishes among indifferent teachers, good teachers, great teachers.

So how many of you are aware of your “weakest link”? Once you’ve identified who or what your weak link is, it’s time to then map out a plan to rise above and strengthen the teamwork chain. Have you done this in your own building?

Please share your stories with us! Laurie and I look forward to hearing your comments…

Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth Stein has more than 20 years teaching experience spanning grades K-8, specializing in universal design for learning and special education. She’s currently a special education/UDL instructional coach and new-teacher mentor in Long Island NY’s Smithtown Central School District. Elizabeth is National Board Certified in Literacy, and a contributor to Education Week and other publications. Her books include Comprehension Lessons for RTI (Grades 3-5) (Scholastic, 2013), Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL (CAST, 2016) and Two Teachers in the Room: Strategies for Co-Teaching Success (Routledge, 2017). Follow her on Twitter @elizabethlstein and #coteachat

2 Responses

  1. Elizabeth, you have written a post that took me back to many difficult team situations I have been in. One in particular was a team with many weak links. It made working together very challenging and we weren’t a team, just 5 people stuck working together. As a co-teacher it can be difficult manuevering through a different set of circumstances every 45 minutes. One strategy I tried was sharing something a teammate did in his/her classroom with another. I worked with one teacher who never wrote anything on the board. I often walked in her room and was as clueless as the kids as to what we were doing each day. We didn’t have co-planning periods then, and I think even if we had it wouldn’t have helped. I gently suggested we try writing the agenda on the board along with the homework as Mr. So and So did. It helped me know what we were doing, and in turn, the kids. There were moments when this teacher resisted, but I initiated the agenda when asked, “What are we doing today? I’ll write it on the board.” What are other folk’s ideas and strategies to help strengthen the links in team’s chains?

  2. Kiki says:

    “What are we doing today?” is the worst way to initiate collaboration. I have been teaching for eighteen years and have worked with some amazing special educators and some effortless ones. That question magnifies that you are unprepared for class. As a co-teacher what were your plans for the lesson? How can you possibly differentiate your lesson as you are walking in at the same time as the students. If I was the regular classroom teacher in that conversation, I would respond, “What are you doing today to meet the needs of our students on standard X. To truly be collaborative both teachers need to plan accordingly. This does not mean you need planning time for 45 minutes every day to accomplish this goal (another complaint that is a pet peeve.) You both are expected to know the standards and expectations of the curriculum, and don’t say “well I don’t know the content.” That’s like the regular teacher stating, “I don’t know what’s on their IEP.” Both of these comments are irresponsible. True co-teachers must be responsible for planning, instruction, and differentiation.

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