Carol A. Bartell; foreword by Linda Darling-Hammond

Where Teaming Did Not Meet Needs

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Where Teaming Did Not Meet Needs
    Although participants believed that teams met personal and professional needs through several indicators, teams appeared to be less helpful in relation to other personal and professional needs. With the exception of Lynn mentioning developing review materials for the state test, there were no comments about how teams support new teachers' assessment needs within the domain of professional needs. Lynn's example of brainstorming about Muslim literature and Dr. Kirk's lamentation about how she wishes she could provide more money and resources to teams were the only comments connecting teaming to resource support for new teachers. The findings indicate only two reported incidents where teams helped new teachers motivate students. Both were in reference to student issues, as in Janice's story of isolating failing students as a team.

    There were even fewer indicators of personal needs represented in the data. No one directly portrayed teams as reducing stress levels, although there were seven comments about reduction of frustrations, as in Ron's comment: "You can just talk about your frustration about working with my kids." There were literally no comments about teams supporting new teachers' sense of autonomy in their teaching. This lack of commentary on autonomy seems intuitively logical because teams are collaborative ventures. A finding that appears counterintuitive was the absence of comments about teaming developing a sense of belonging. No participant directly indicated that teams enhanced a sense of belonging in the school. Upon further analysis, however, the research team counted the times new teachers used the terms "we" and "our" in reference to their team and the school in contrast to the pronouns "they" and "them" or "the team" or "the school." With the exception of one comment by Jack, the 8-year veteran new to the school, new teachers used the collective pronoun to address their teams or the schools. Finally, although teams in general provided support in interpreting and navigating school expectations, little was said about how teams outlined the norms and expectations of the team itself. It was this lack of team expectations that foreshadowed negative issues related to teaming and teacher induction.

Issues Related to Teaming as an Induction Element

    Three issues appeared to diminish the value of teaming at diese two schools. These issues were: (1) lack of strong team leaders, (2) a need to improve team communication and team building skills, and (3) improving integration of curriculum within the teams. The first issue, lack of a strong team leader, subverted many of the ways teams met personal and professional needs. Ron's experience was an exemplar of weak team leadership. Ron was a member of a three-person team with one other new teacher. Mike, the lead mentor at SMS, explained:

The team leader has not really wanted to be a team leader. And has offered very little guidance to the two teachers on that team who happen to be new teachers. They have expressed to me great frustration. So, they have elected me to come to for any questions they have because they don't feel like they've gotten a lot from that particular team.

    From Ron's experience he stated, "I think for me the bulk of my frustration came from my team leader not wanting to be the team leader. There were a lot of things we just couldn't find out what we needed to find out." He related a story as an example:

The first so many weeks I was doing things wrong. I was eating breakfast in the lunchroom with the kids and then they'd dismiss to home base and people were saying, 'You're supposed to be standing outside your classroom waiting for those kids to come.' Where was that written? You know so because somebody, your team leader, was suppose to tell you.

    Even with leadership issues, Ron reported a positive perception of his overall experience with the team: "Once I found out who to go to for information about stuff, you know, I kind of took the leadership for the team, it all worked out. We accomplished things related to kids."

    Improved communication and training for teams emerged as a second issue surrounding teams. Jack, the veteran new teacher, felt training in team building and communication techniques would enhance team function. He suggested:

Well, there's a lot of stuff out there on team building and team research, the whole storming and norming stuff. I think people probably need some help storming, there are some teams who, they just kind of avoid each other and don't ever bring the issues to the table.

    Two new teachers, Janice and Ron, exposed the final issue related to teaming--limited integration. They expressed interest in having teams do more with integrating curriculum and instruction. Janice succinctly expressed both new teachers' sentiments when she said, "We don't always integrate [curriculum and instruction] as much as I would like." They both expressed similar feelings as Mr. Thomas when he said, "The way for students to learn is for teams to work very closely together, because we all know that integrating, going across curriculum, that's the best way to learn."

Teaming and Other Elements of Induction

    Even with the issues of team leadership, better training, and more integration, teams provided a complimentary mechanism to other elements of these induction programs that helped meet new teacher personal and professional needs. In the umbrella study to this investigation, we noted how mentors, administrators, professional development, orientation, grade level, and content meetings, as well as teaming, provided a matrix of multiple supports for new teachers. Teaming provided strength through different indicators and, for some, in different ways. Overall, teams were more likely to help teachers negotiate school expectations and student management issues than did other elements of induction, such as mentors and administrators. Yet, when team leadership was lacking, Ron was able to turn to a mentor to meet his needs. As indicated by our broader study, administrators and mentors were seen as meeting new teachers' personal needs to a greater degree than teaming. New teachers viewed teams, however, as more powerful in developing collegial relationships because of daily contact and proximity. Although this appeared to be the case for most new teachers, when asked who was of greater emotional support to her, mentor or team, Lynn quicldy replied, "Oh, my mentor. We really hit it off."

    Even experienced mentors varied in their view of how valuable each element of induction was to new teachers. Fiona felt that she was more effective as a team member to new teachers than hi her role as mentor, "Because I'm in closer contact with them [new teachers] everyday. We meet everyday. We teach the same kids. We have, basically, the same problems." Pam, however, expressed her belief that she was of greater support to new teachers as a mentor than as a team member. She felt because she and her protיgי shared the same subject specialty, she could better meet professional needs in terms of curriculum and instruction. From the participant perspective, teams seemed to provide additional and complimentary tools to help meet new teachers' needs in relation to other induction elements at these two schools.


    Interdisciplinary teams helped meet the personal and professional needs of new teachers as perceived by the participants at the two middle level schools in this study. Personal needs were met primarily through emotional support from camaraderie and collegial relationships and helping teachers gain a sense of competence. Teaming was most helpful in meeting new teachers' professional needs chiefly through supporting management practices of new teachers. These management practices included school policies, procedures, and clerical requirements as well as supporting teachers in classroom management and providing strategies to deal with student issues. In addition, teams helped meet professional needs by providing a forum to share curriculum and instructional practices. Teams also provided a home base where new teachers could seek advice and help from other team members on issues of both pedagogy and management. Participants suggested that these outcomes of teaming were due to the regularly scheduled planning time during the school day, the proximity of team members within schools, and sharing the same students. This study also supports the contention that teaming complements and supports odier elements in the induction programs of these schools, such as mentors, administration, professional development, orientation, and grade and content meetings.

    Our findings support earlier research concerning the value of collaborative practices in the induction process. Johnson and Birkland (2003a) explicitly suggested that collaborative practices may be of greater value in the induction of new teachers than mentoring when they stated, "[S]chools would do better to rely less on one-to-one mentoring and, instead, develop schoolwide structures that promote integrated professional cultures with frequent exchanges of information and ideas across experience levels" (p. 608). Smith and Ingersoll (2004) found that improved retention of new teachers occurred when collaborative practices were implemented in conjunction with mentoring and administrative support. Research to date has yet to specifically examine types of collaboration, such as interdisciplinary teaming in middle level education, as an effective mechanism in the induction of new teachers.

Interpretation and Implications

    In a national study of principals, Valentine, Clark, Hackman, and Petzko (2002) found that middle level principals value interdisciplinary team organization as a structure that was important in the effective instruction of middle level students. However, how many middle level school administrators recognize ITO as a potentially positive induction tool? Is teaming acting as a tacit form of induction in middle level schools, one that may or may not operate as an effective induction element? In this study, principals recognized ITO as a valuable element in their induction programs and support it as such. Yet, even they did not provide the leadership that might have enhanced ITO as an induction mechanism. Administrators did not implement orientation, team building, or communication training within the team organizational structure. The issue of weak team leadership surfaces as a barrier to the effectiveness of teaming as an induction practice.

    This study is an introductory exploration of interdisciplinary team organization as a collaborative induction practice. It appears promising as an effective and complementary tool to other induction processes, such as mentoring, in the support of new teachers. Further research is needed to explicate the value of this school structure and similar collaborative practices in the induction process of new teachers. Use of the personal and professional needs framework may be useful in such investigations. From this investigation, however, it was clear that interdisciplinary teaming was an important collaborative induction practice that provided support for new teachers' personal and professional needs in these two schools. We encourage continued recognition and investigation of this broadly implemented middle level practice as a potentially effective tool in the successful induction of new teachers.

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    Dana L. Bickmore is a recent doctoral graduate in middle school education, StevenT. Bickmore is a recent doctoral graduate in language education, and Laurie E. Hart is a professor, all in the College of Education at the University of Georgia. Correspondence concerning this article may be sent to

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