Working with others, I’ve found as I age and mature like a great cheese or fine wine, is a crucial life skill. Whether it is working with a spouse or partner or working with people at a job, being an effective teammate or group member is vital to the success of the partnership or business. If I don’t communicate with my co-teacher and provide her with feedback or important information she needs to know, then we would not have a sixth grade community that functions like a well-oiled machine. Being a team player is a very important skill that all people must learn. However most schools and businesses do not teach the skill of being an effective member of a group; instead, institutions expect that people know how to work together. Many people do not know how to work as a group or team without practice. They need to be taught how to be a group member. Most people need to learn and practice effective communication, patience, compromise, delegation of tasks, and teamwork in order to be an effective team player. Just like all great athletes or authors, people need to learn how to and practice being effective group members.
In the sixth grade, we take pride in the fact that we teach our students how to work together effectively as a team. They learn how to communicate effectively, delegate responsibilities, be patient with one another, and compromise when necessary throughout the course of the year. After a full term of learning the basics of teamwork and practicing these skills in various groups without the pressure of being graded or assessed, we have them complete two group projects in both Humanities and STEM class. One project is done in a larger group with six of their classmates, while the other group project is completed in smaller groups consisting of three to four students. The goal is for the students to practice applying the skills we spent all fall learning about. Our school’s counselor worked with the boys on a weekly basis during the fall term learning how to communicate and compromise effectively when interacting with one another. They also practiced how to delegate tasks through the group activities they completed with the counselor. Only once the boys had solidified a foundation of teamwork skills did we have them complete more extensive, graded group projects. This process seems to have worked much better than in year’s past. The students are more effectively tackling and completing these group projects as they have already learned how to work together as a group. It’s quite amazing.
Today in Humanities class, the students put the finishing touches on the big debate project they will be presenting tomorrow in front of students and faculty members. The boys will perform issue stance reports in hopes of convincing the audience members why their group’s presidential candidate would be a more suitable choice to lead our country. During the last few days, the students have revised their speeches and practiced rehearsing what they would say. Today they had one final chance to rehearse their speech and discuss, as a group, the expectations they have for the big debate. What will the dress code for their group be? What will they need to do outside of class tonight to prepare for tomorrow’s big show? The boys provided each other feedback on how to best recite their speech aloud to the audience. They read over each other’s speech to be sure their points were accurate and powerful. They made sure they were ready for tomorrow. It was epic to watch them work together to accomplish various tasks.
Had we not taught the boys the importance of leadership, collaboration, delegation of tasks, and effective communication, would they have been able to work a well as they did on this project? Would they be able to execute what is sure to be an amazing class debate tomorrow without understanding how to work together as a group? No. Students need to learn how to do something before they are expected to practice or apply the skill. We should not expect that our students have learned teamwork skills in their previous schools or grades. We should start from scratch and help them create a strong foundation of teamwork skills. Our boys worked so well on this project because it was engaging and because they knew how to function as a group. Group work skills must be taught, like anything in life. Just as I can’t expect that my son will know how to drive the first time he gets behind the wheel of a car, I can’t expect that my students know how to work with others effectively when they enter my classroom in the fall.