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Vertical Teaming is Essential

Jordan Catapano

Teachers often have a student for just one year, and the way that year operates is based on a series of assumptions.

Teachers assume that any given student enters their class with a certain set of skills learned the previous year. Teachers also assume that the skills they teach their students will set up those students for what they will need to enter the next year.

But how accurate are these assumptions?

If teachers do not truly know what skills their students received the previous year or will need the subsequent year, then they have very little information about what they ought to be focusing on this current year. Their class exists in an educational vacuum.

The way to solve this dilemma is through vertical teaming: the Open and consistent communication with teachers of surrounding grades to ensure that students are receiving a step-by-step, year-by-year, scaffolded curriculum. This means that a third grade teacher is talking to the second and fourth grade teachers, and a sophomore teacher is talking to the freshmen and junior teachers of the same subject. Vertical teaming can also extend much further, from elementary to middle through high school curriculums.

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Here are the best ways to take advantage of vertical team work:

  1. Use the same language. Make sure that the techniques, skills, content and resources are all referred to by the same terms, year after year.
  2. Identify who teaches what. If a teacher knows that students should be learning specific information the year prior, then they can treat it as review and build appropriate curriculum based on it instead of feeling like they need to start from scratch.
  3. Start at the top. Begin with the school’s highest year (so eighth grade for a middle school, for example). Consider what you’d like students to have mastered at that point, and work your way down through the years to determine what steps are needed to get students to that final point.
  4. Design teaching off of what you know students know. The more a teacher connects new material to what students have already learned, the better the students will understand it.
  5. Share everything. Work with your colleagues to share ideas, information, resources, techniques, terminology, and problems. The more you communicate with one another, the better you’re equipping one another to serve as the strongest possible link in the chain.

What ends up happening is that the skills a teacher targets become much more concrete. Instead of feeling like they have to “do it all,” they can trust that their colleagues will get students to a certain point of achievement, and then trust again that once students move on their learning will continue.

And the payoff is even larger for students. As the skills they master one year serve as the foundation for acquiring more skills the next, this only further solidifies those skills and ensures that they are truly mastering material rather than learning meaningless details in isolation.

It’s called a vertical “team,” which means, just like its name implies, it’s a team. When teachers come together to maximize student success, they work towards the same goal and collaborate to ensure seamless transitions for students from year to year.