Take the plunge and be a team player

15th March 2013 at 00:00

It is a question frequently asked at job interviews - particularly, it has always seemed to me, of young women with ebullient, confident personalities: "Are you a team player?"

But it is also a question that has real relevance in schools, where the ability to listen to others, and get along with students and colleagues, is a core ingredient of classroom and staffroom success.

In a job interview the question usually means the interviewer is intimidated by the applicant. In school, the benefits of teamwork - or group work in the classroom - are well documented. But like the trepidatious job interviewer, teachers can find it easy to be overwhelmed by how to make group work succeed in practice.

What do you do with the teenager who is expert, as I was, at diverting the class, and sometimes the teacher, from an apparently dull discussion of 19th-century Eastern European politics to the question of whether oral sex is a feminist issue? How does a teacher maintain control while encouraging free discussion among pupils in a way that stimulates their curiosity, learning, listening and communication skills?

Limiting groups to a tidy size - no more than four or five in each - is one of the key strategies, as is the mixing of pupil abilities. Monitoring, that buzzword of 21st-century education, is another. At the root of it all lies trust, most of all in yourself, that you have the confidence to allow pupil-centred learning and yet are able to keep them on-topic, off-gossip.

No one is suggesting that this will always be easy. But the challenge should be stimulating and the results pleasantly surprising. Pupils are heavily influenced by their peers and are used to listening to, and competing with, their stories and tales in the playground. And they love correcting each other.

The reward comes when you see them leaving class still engaged in fierce debate - or maybe hanging back to pose an unexpected question. Then you will know that they, and you (including any ebullient women), are truly the best kind of team players.

Jo Knowsley is acting editor of TESpro

jo.knowsley@tes.co.uk @tes.

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