The Interdisciplinary Team at the Internationals High Schools

The fourth core principle of Internationals Network is Localized Autonomy. By linking autonomy and responsibility at every level within a learning community, all members of that community can contribute to their fullest potential. This week’s entry, written by Daria Witt, the Director of Academic Affairs at Internationals, describes the interdisciplinary team, one of the key aspects of localized autonomy in our schools.

Teachers at an Internationals High School work in interdisciplinary instructional teams. Each team has four to six teachers who teach a group of 75-100 students throughout the day and week. In the same way that students are heterogeneously grouped to work on collaborative projects, teachers are grouped heterogeneously in terms of experience, discipline, language background, and gender so that all bring different perspectives to the table. Teams meet regularly to plan, to do case management for individual students, and to provide feedback on one another’s curriculum.

These teams are the primary vehicle for professional development. In addition to working together on instructional issues, teachers receive professional development in addressing the social and affective needs of their students by hearing from their team members and discussing case management strategies with the guidance counselor linked to their team. Teams often decide together on an action research question they are interested in pursuing and then conduct the research, discuss the results, and make curricular modifications accordingly. Basing professional development in the teams enhances its relevance and impact because team members can discuss their own needs and those of their students, and search for answers to questions they are currently struggling with. Teachers’ minds are open to different disciplinary perspectives as they hear about the curriculum of their interdisciplinary colleagues and feedback on their own curriculum.

Teams are also the primary vehicle for leadership development. In most schools, particularly newer schools, each team member has a specific role to play on the team (in addition to his/her own disciplinary perspective). For example, in some schools each team has not only a team leader, but also a guidance point person (in addition to the guidance counselor), a professional development committee member (usually a school wide committee comprised of one representative from each team), and other roles which vary according to the school’s needs but might include teaching and learning, school environment, or student life. Through these roles, team members participate in a distributed governance structure and assume a leadership role in some aspect of the school.

What does a team meeting look like?

The schedule at an IHS is organized so that teams have time to meet. Teams are typically scheduled to have one or two official meetings a week – although many meet more often and have lunch together every day. Formal team meetings each week usually include one for curriculum planning and development and one for case management. Teams work on projects together in order to address the academic, social, and linguistic needs of their students. These projects may take several forms:

One team member brings in a project, activity guide, or plan for a project to get feedback. In some schools, teams use the “Tuning Protocol” to give one another feedback on the project. These discussions naturally lead team members to discuss what interdisciplinary connections they could be making in their own curriculum, what skills they might all want to work on or other ways that they can collaborate to support the academic and linguistic needs of their students.

All team members bring in samples of students work to examine. Teams may look at the work of students at varying proficiency or skill levels or at the work of a single student. They may discuss patterns they see across student work and across classes to then determine which skill(s) they can all work on developing in their classes to address the needs identified in the work. If they look at the work of a single student, they may look for patterns of strengths and needs across the curriculum and for ways to support that student in all classes.

Teams plan an interdisciplinary unit together. They discuss the theme, generate their essential questions, list the skills they want to address and the academic language they want to develop, and how to address all of these in their different disciplines.

Along with the guidance counselor, teams bring in anecdotal notes, student work, and other documentation on one student or a small group of students who may be struggling or have behavioral issues to discuss what is happening with that student, the progress he or she is making, and what is being done (or should be being done) across the team to address his/her needs. Some schools and teams use protocols such as the “Kid Talk” protocol. Teams regularly engage in inquiry projects to do action research into how a small struggling group of students are doing and what interventions are effective. Discussions always relate back to curriculum and how the team can make adjustments in the curriculum to better address what the students need.

Teams plan a field trip together, developing an activity guide for students to complete during the trip that addresses all of their disciplines

Teams develop common disciplinary and assessment procedures (in line with the school policies) that support the students in doing their best possible work. Teachers also develop common interventions for both disciplinary and academic difficulties. If a student is having a problem, they do not just send that student to the dean and expect him/her to deal with it. If a student doesn’t know how to read, he/she will not be removed to a resource room or placed in a lower tracked class until he/she learns a little more—the figures out how to adjust their own curriculum, what extra supports need to be brought into the classroom (or at lunchtime or after school), and how to engage with families and community organizations to provide all students with the supports they need to be successful.

Teams develop a budget for the materials and supplies they need during the year and develop a proposal they present to the school leadership.

As teachers work in teams, they develop the skills to create a collaborative classroom because they experience the collaborative structure themselves. They are given the autonomy to do their own programming, design their own curriculum and assessments, develop their own interventions, and use their own budgets in order to support their own development which in turn supports student achievement and leads to student success.

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