Factors present during the devolopment of exemplary interdisciplinary teams in middle level schools

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this study was to identify common elements in the experience of exemplary interdisciplinary teams in middle level schools, to assess their value in team progress as perceived by teachers, to determine to what degree the results support current theory, and to identify variations in exemplary teams' practices. In this study, an interdisciplinary team is a group of two to five teachers responsible for instructing a common group of students in the core subjects--mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts--during a four or five period block in the daily schedule, with two planning periods daily--one for team planning and the other for individual planning.

Interdisciplinary team organization is one system widely acknowledged as a method of promoting collaboration for teachers and small social groups for students. However, to benefit teachers and students, these teams must operate effectively. Erb and Dada (1989) have proposed a complete model of team development measures, including four domains of teaming--organization, attention to students, shared responsibility and growth, and instructional coordination-- and factors which promote team growth. Teachers' perceptions of these factors' importance can help persons developing effective teams.

Team members at twelve Virginia middle level schools were surveyed and observed. Sixteen teams from small, medium, and large schools serving a variety of socioeconomic groups qualified as exemplary teams by their activities on all four domains. Analysis of team practices revealed that coordination with non-team teachers, use of uniform discipline policies and scheduling guidelines, and observing peers' teaching and proposing staff development programs were activities conspicuous by their absence on exemplary teams. Analysis of the qualitative data revealed that exemplary teams concentrated on one of three different areas--administration, curriculum, or change to new activities--and that some teams might use collaboration to perpetuate poor pedagogical practices. Teachers valued training, support, and activities in their teams' development, but reported school organization and decision making structure as less important. Analysis includes a model relating nearly 60% of the variation in team expertise to team members' respect for individuality in the context of strong team identity, and whole-school work environment.