Before we get down to the business of Indistar, we want to wish everyone a happy holiday, whether it’s Christmas, Chanukah, or the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (January 3rd), and a Happy New Year. We hope this season brings you rest and peace and a bright outlook for the New Year.

 Now, onto business.  We talk a lot about the importance of teaming, from the Leadership Team to Instructional Teams to the School Community Council. We’ve written about the essential importance of the Leadership Team.  For this week’s blog I’d like to dispense with presenting more about the importance of leadership  (for now) by quoting Robert Marzano in his book What Works In Schools: Translating Research Into Action (2003).  His main three chapters are about School-level, Teacher-level, and Student-level factors.  In his concluding chapter he addresses the issue of leadership. He unequivocally states that leadership represents the single most important factor in school reform. He goes on to say that “The strongest reason for separating leadership from the model of factors is that it influences virtually every aspect of the model presented in the book.” OK. We get it.  The principal and the Leadership Team are essential.

 But what about those Instructional Teams?  Don't they play an important role in improving teaching and learning?  Doesn’t ADI say that “Indistar® is premised on the firm belief that district and school improvement is best accomplished when directed by the people closest to the students. While the state provides a framework for the process, each district team and school team applies its own ingenuity to achieve the results it desires for its students—students it knows and cares about.” 

 So who are the “people closest to the students?” That would be the classroom, reading, special education, ESOL teachers and specialists.  And these teachers working together are the Instructional Team referenced in 17 Continuous Improvement Indicators. They collaborate to:

  • Develop and refine standards-aligned units of instruction for each subject and grade level (ID13, IIA01)
  • Develop and review pre- and post-tests to assess student mastery (IIB01, IIB03)
  • Develop and share materials for standards-aligned learning activities (IIC01, IIC02)
  • Make decisions about each students placement and instruction based on timely reports (IID05)
  • Use student learning data to assess strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum and instructional strategies, plan instruction, and identify students needing additional support or enhancement  (ID13, IID08, IID10)

 It sounds relatively straightforward. Yet we know a lot of hard work is required to have highly functioning Instructional Teams do these things well so they translate into effective teaching and learning. So what are characteristics of successful collaboration?


First and foremost is (you guessed it) leadership.  School leaders (principals, Leadership Teams) must genuinely support and encourage collaboration. 

An interesting finding was if leaders talk about collaboration but don't provide the structure and time to actually collaborate, this undermines teacher trust.

So just talking the talk and not walking the walk doesn’t work. Which leads to the second important characteristic – Time.


The 2012 Met Life teacher Survey stated that more than 6 in 10 teachers reported that the time to collaborate had decreased or stayed the same from 2011 to 2012.

Yet teachers interviewed in another study identified time to reflect on teaching practice and structured time for collaboration as two critical factors supporting change.  Sadly, the National Staff Development Council found the United States “is far behind in providing public school teachers with opportunities to participate in extended learning opportunities and productive collaborative communities.” 


When school leaders demonstrate support and encouragement for collaboration and provide the necessary time and resources, teachers report improved:

  • observational skills,
  • classroom management and group techniques,
  • ability to get kids actively engaged,
  • questioning,
  • use of technology,
  • and positive student/teacher relations.

 When teachers report these improvements, they lead to greater personal and job satisfaction, and, most important, improved student achievement.

 View the attached video of a fourth-grade Instructional Team as they demonstrate the kind of high-quality engagement that comes when the principal supports and encourages open and honest collaboration in a trusting environment.  Yes, the principal attends these meetings. She’s sitting at the back right of the table.  She’s our very own Stephanie Bisson, Educational Specialist for the District of Columbia and New Hampshire.  This Instructional Team includes the classroom teachers, Title I math, ESOL, and special education teachers and the principal.  They are reviewing results of their geometry pre-assessment to determine the needs of their students.  They also share materials that will support teaching their unit of instruction. Perhaps viewing this video, which is from Indicators in Action, with your team will spark discussion about how to move to the next level of effectiveness in your building.

Instructional Team in Action (Click #11 upon opening this link)

 In addition, here are a few questions to consider about collaboration in your school:

 What is currently done in your school to facilitate teacher collaboration for your Instructional Teams?

 Are your Instructional Teams meeting regularly (twice a month or more for 45 minutes each meeting) to conduct regular business and monthly for 4-6 hours and whole days before and after the school year to develop and refine units of instruction and review student learning data?

 What can be done to increase the time and resources necessary for effective Instructional teamwork?

 What professional development is need by your Instructional Teams to improve how they function (running effective meetings, communication, etc.) and is it being provided?

 What structures have you put into place and what practices have you used to ensure effective Instructional Team collaboration.  Please share you ideas and insights in IndistarConnect by entering a comment at the bottom of this blog and/or starting a discussion in the Discussion section.  To create a new Discussion, click the plus sign in the upper right hand corner, add a Title, and begin typing in the text box.  If you have any problems, write Mark Williams, Maureen Mirabito, or me and we'll help you through it.  We want your ideas!


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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href=""></a> and via email at
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