Posted on April 18, 2016
Over two decades ago, as I made the transition from teaching high school U.S. History to middle school World Geography, I never imagined that my instructional framework would undergo such a radical change. Not only was I challenged by the notion of working with younger minds, but as a middle school teacher working within a team of teachers, I was suddenly faced with the challenge of planning instruction with other core teachers (Math, Science, and Language Arts) within my grade-level. This meant that every lesson I planned and delivered was done with my grade level colleagues and students in mind.
Let me explain the reason for this transformational time in my career. Historically, high school teachers often work in isolation -- as we often say at Mid-Pacific; working in silos. So, as a high school teacher, I planned and delivered instruction with a focus on delivering lessons and completing textbooks. Once in a while, I had a discussion with an English teacher about a book that students were reading in hopes that we could make an instructional connection. When that did not happen, I still had a task -- to teach my lessons and finish the textbooks.
As I made the transition from working in isolation to planning and delivering instruction within a team of teachers (interdisciplinary teaming), lessons began to look noticeably different. Although my high school students were learning, I discovered that the middle-level interdisciplinary experience seemed to provide my students with a much broader context for learning. Moreover, as a teacher, I had ongoing access to a wealth of instructional methodologies. By collaborating with colleagues on a regular basis, I began to discover ways in which I could address the needs of various learners, the importance of assessment, alternatives to classroom layouts, and design to enhance student learning.
In the early stages of my teaching career, I viewed interdisciplinary teaming as utterly unnecessary. As a U.S. History teacher
guiding students successfully down the path of recalling a world of facts, testing and writing extremely complex essays were the hallmarks of an accomplished teacher. Through the power of building instructional connections, I evolved as a creative teacher and my students were the beneficiaries of my transformation.
I felt compelled to share this story because of our most recent middle school faculty meeting. Although the meeting opened with a few moments discussing housekeeping items, the majority of time was allocated to working within interdisciplinary teams to share ways in which the newly adopted Learner Profile can be directly connected to student learning and outcomes. While the task of discussing outcomes might seem somewhat typical for schools, it has been particularly meaningful for our 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade teams because of the focus on common language and understanding through the lenses of interdisciplinary teaming. Our time together has set the stage for exchanging specific ways in which our faculty can ensure student learning, and of equal importance, ways in which their colleagues might enhance their instructional knowledge. While it is important to have ongoing discussions around the needs of our students, we also understand the importance of creating space for teachers to learn and grow professionally.
At the core of the middle school's philosophy is the fundamental belief that learning is most meaningful when it is delivered by a team of teachers who work collaboratively to ensure student success. The time spent in the teams are given to planning and discussing lessons within the larger context of various subjects. However, instruction takes on it greatest meaning when the team of teachers, not only discuss subject related information but share strategies for improving teaching as well. Overall, when working among colleagues to build interdisciplinary connections, students experience learning holistically, rather than existing in a vacuum, and this also enables our teachers to be on a path to professional growth.