Small Teams with Big Impact: Sharing the Load, the Laughter and the Learning

Katy Kelly, Deb Pitblado, Deb Zeagman

“Teachers do not learn best from outside experts or by attending conferences or implementing ’programs’ installed by outsiders. Teachers learn best from other teachers, in settings where they literally teach each other the art of teaching.”1

Seventeen  years  ago  two  new  teachers,  Deb Zeagman  and  Deb  Pitblado,  discovered  that they would be working together as a grade team at Pinegrove  Public School in the Halton District School Board. Since then we have changed schools, had babies, and raised our families. But the team is still together. Along the way, a third colleague, Katy Kelly, joined us. This article is our reflection about why working as a grade team is a special opportunity that provides a unique kind of professional development.

Many  teachers arrive  at  school,  go  to  their classroom, work with their students, briefly chat with other teachers at the photocopier or in the staffroom, go home after school, plan and mark on their own, and go back and do the same thing the next day. Working as a grade team can look and sound much different.

Our  classrooms  are  side  by  side. When  we arrive in the morning, we often greet each other with a new story, share a laugh, or maybe a last-minute lesson if one of us is in need. We may discuss and get advice on something that happened the day before. When the students arrive, we greet them together and begin our day. The students know, respect, and listen to each of us because they see us working together every day. We are a team of teachers and our students see themselves as a team of learners.

We have an innovative arrangement. This year Deb  Zeagman  teaches  grade  2,  Deb  Pitblado teaches grade 1, and Katy Kelly teaches grade 2/3. However, over the years we have rotated through the Primary grades, sometimes teaching the same grade, and have taken turns teaching a combined grade if needed. As a result, we understand the different grades and Primary students, and we can support each other more effectively.

Every day we build on each other’s ideas. We reflect on what works, revise, try things out, and watch how someone else teaches a lesson. If it was successful – great. If not, we analyze, modify, and change it before trying it in our own classroom.



Young elementary students wearing Caribana style headwear

To think that what began as a sign of my “happy place” and a reminder of the summer that was and of who I am now serves to stimulate curiosity among my primary students. It’s a sign that learning in this classroom will be given a fun and meaningful context.

Group of elementary students standing together at front of classroom

For four minutes and 13 seconds, my classroom was silent.