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Academic Teaming

What is Academic Teaming?

Student-led academic teaming is a daily instructional model which involves students organized into small, diverse teams with clear protocols for engaging in standards-based academic work. As defined in the book, The Power of Student Teams: Achieving Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Learning in Every Classroom Through Academic Teaming (Toth & Sousa, 2019), academic teaming brings student ownership to the forefront through shifts in lesson-planning, classroom routines, instructional strategies, roles of the teacher and students, and expectations for students. Learning becomes a joint responsibility between students and educators, creating a more effective learning environment, and a more enjoyable classroom and school culture. As students work with their peers for most of the lesson, academic teaming is the engine of learning. The teacher’s role shifts to designing rigorous tasks and providing mini-lessons on foundational content and skills, so students can then take responsibility for their own learning.

Unlike a student group, which is teacher-directed, an academic team is student-led, ultimately functioning with little direct guidance from the teacher. Academic teams are designed to empower students to take ownership of their own and their peers’ learning through a student accountability system and structures for peer support. Teams gradually take on some of the responsibilities traditionally held by the teacher, such as personalizing the learning to ensure learning is accessible and equitable among all team members and supporting their struggling peers. As students learn to self-regulate their behavior and rely on themselves and their peers for academic learning, teachers then have more time to focus on tracking the student's learning. Teachers are freed up to provide additional support to those students not making progress to the lesson learning target, preventing achievement gaps before they happen. Through the student-led academic teaming model, all learners can thrive and experience high-quality rigorous instruction even in large general education classrooms. Students go beyond traditional peer interactions that ask them to pair up and process information they have learned from the teacher’s instruction—in academic teams, they can generate new learning and deepen understanding through authentic collaboration with their peers. 

Academic teaming is designed around four enabling conditions that originated from scientific research on successful teams, a concept which distinguishes academic teaming from other grouping strategies. Academic teaming operationalizes these four enabling conditions—defined team; roles and clear norms of conduct; clear and compelling purpose; and a supportive environment.

Social Emotional Development is a core pillar in our Strategic Plan. Communication is a core competency in our community informed Portrait of a Graduate. Academic teaming creates a classroom environment where students must develop their social and emotional skills, such as effective communication, around academic content. Skill development is not separate from classroom instruction but rather develops through consistent and effective use of the instructional model. Students who were once shy or non-participating become active communicators and valuable contributors to their teams. In their teams, students experience academic safety with their peers as relationships develop and social bonds within the group mature. Oral language skills and academic vocabulary develop more rapidly as student participation increases. 

The Northwest Local School District is partnering with Instructional Empowerment to support its implementation of Academic Teaming. Currently there are over 70 teachers who are implementing Academic Teaming in their classrooms. Over the next three to five years, Academic Teaming will become the instructional model used in all Northwest Local School District classrooms.

Why is NWLSD implementing Academic Teaming as its instructional model?

Academic Teaming, as an instructional model, is an intentional strategy being deployed in the Northwest Local School District to increase student achievement and autonomy, and to develop the core skills and competencies of all students by design. These desired outcomes are consistent with the District's vision and objectives, as outlined in its Strategic Plan.


Teaching and learning in the NWLSD will:

  • Provide learning experiences that empower students to contribute to a future not yet imagined

  • Inspire learners to adapt, be resilient, collaborate and problem solve

  • Create a supportive social-emotional culture

  • Provide a foundation to cultivate healthy relationships

Student Achievement Strategic Objectives: 

  • Create a learning experience that is rigorous and engaging for all students

  • Raise academic achievement across measures of success through a relentless focus on literacy across all subject areas

  • Facilitate student ownership of learning through personalized and differentiated instruction

Diversity and Equity Strategic Objectives:

  • To build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive learning environment that is accessible to all students

  • To create a safe and inclusive environment that honors, embraces and celebrates the diversity of students in our schools and communities

NWLSD Framework:

The core levers of the Academic Teaming Instructional Model are also explicitly identified through our District's Framework.