Jon Yost

Jon Yost is the recently retired associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Sanger Unified School District in California. He has worked in public education at the elementary, secondary, and district levels.

There is an 'I' in TEAM

Like many educational terms, we throw them around and often use them loosely. I find we often use the term “team” in this manner.

“We are a great team.”

“I love working with my team.”

“I meet regularly with my team.”

Let’s closely examine what we mean by the term “team.” A team must have three elements in order to distinguish it from a group. For clarity, here is our definition of a team:

A team is working together interdependently to achieve a common goal for which members of the team are mutually accountable.

The second element is the easiest to understand: a team must have a common goal. For example, a sports team might set a goal of winning a championship. A teacher team might set a goal like, “100% of our students will be able to write a well-constructed paragraph at the end of this unit.” It is the common goal that drives the work of the team.

The third element, mutual accountability, is slightly less understood and more difficult to actually put in place. Simply stated, mutual accountability is the process by which members of the team agree to hold themselves and each other accountable for the decisions they voluntarily make to each other. Just like classroom rules, it is not until you enforce the rules that you actually have rules. A team must be willing to address themselves and each other when a commitment is broken.

In my experience, it is the first element, interdependence, which is most misunderstood, and often missing or superficial. I would boldly state that it is not until we put the “I” in team that we actually become a team.

The importance of interdependence

So what does it mean to be interdependent? The prefix “inter-” means between or among. “Depend” means to rely upon or need support. Put together, interdependent means “dependent upon one another.” In other words, I need you. You need me. We need each other.

What does interdependency look like in a team of teachers? What would a team of teachers look like if they were non-interdependent? Below are examples that might help you reflect upon your team’s level of interdependency.

Examples of Interdependency Examples of Non-Interdependency
Members ask each other for help when a need is discovered. Members try to figure it out on their own.
Members provide support when asked. Members are reluctant to provide support when a need is discovered
Members know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, especially instructionally. Members’ classrooms are private. What happens in my classroom is my business.
Members refer to and view all students as our students. Students are classified as my students and their students.
Accomplishing team goals is their primary focus. Individual goals are their primary focus.
Visiting, observing, and interacting between classrooms is routine and invited. Visiting, observing, and interacting between classrooms is uncomfortable and discouraged.
Members see each other as a vital source for continuous improvement. Members see other sources as their primary means for improvement.
Analyzing comparative data from common assessments is seen as a treasure hunt. Sharing comparative data is a scary experience where a weakness may be exposed
Comparative evidence of student learning is a vehicle for learning Comparative evidence of learning is used to judge each other.


When teams become interdependent, they are frequently described as being energizing and motivating. The team is often what keeps them going during turbulent times. The team becomes the most important aspect of their work. They often look forward to the day because they get to work alongside their team.


Be the individual your team needs

So you may be asking yourself, how can I put the “I” in my team? Interdependency is built upon trust, vulnerability, and humility. With it, you have the foundation for interdependency. Without it, you’ll have a team with no “I.”


Here are few ideas to help you put the “I” in your team:

  • Be the most vulnerable member of your team. When you see an area you are struggling with, set the example and ask for help.
  • If a member asks for help, communicate understanding and empathy—no judgment. Reciprocate by sharing your own weakness.
  • Don’t wait for a team meeting to share a difficulty. Walk into their classroom (hopefully, it is next door) or the lunchroom and ask for help.
  • When you discover a strategy, activity, or classroom practice that worked, walk into the team meeting ready to share your excitement with them.
  • Record data norms to use when looking at comparative data to establish a positive tone. For example, we will use data to learn from each other, not judge.
  • When you use a successful idea shared from teammate, express your gratitude and share with them how it made a difference with you and the students.

Every teacher, every day, encounters challenges. How you view these challenges often depends upon if you work on a team with “I.” Our students deserve the best version of ourselves every day. Every teacher deserves a team with an “I” in it to be the best version of themselves every day. Go put the “I” in your team!

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