Group Roles Aren’t Just for Students

Establishing and maintaining a department-wide culture of collaboration and learning is no small feat. But high level support, discourse, and planning are not only achievable at a department level, but is well worth the time and engagement.


As the first day of school looms, it is a great opportunity to think about your own department roles. We spend countless hours thinking about and monitoring the roles of our student groups, but then often find ourselves sitting in aimless department meetings that collaboratively fail because we don’t take the time to work through adult roles in the same way we do with student roles. By pausing now to focus on how a department of teachers collaborates and supports each other, we can simultaneously model collaboration and establish a department with the capacity to improve instruction and student learning.


Below I’m offering up two possible structures for department roles. The first is operationally-based; the second is advocate (or discourse)-based.


Operational Roles

Advocate-based Roles*

District Face: We chose not to have a typical department head as we felt that we were sharing many of the responsibilities, but we thought it was important to have a consistent communicator with the district office. This person attended the district meetings and relayed important information. 

Advocates: We had two academies at our school and we felt it important to have one person per academy that was the liaison to that academy’s administrator. This person needed to be forward thinking and willing to advocate for scheduling needs, funding, test scheduling, and also (and maybe most importantly) to get administrators into our classrooms to see and understand the work we were doing.

Momma Bear: Again, we had two momma bears, one per academy. This person was in charge of checking in the personal well-being of our department members. Whether it be a birthday, rough day with a student, success with a risky lesson, the momma bear was there to support and cheer.


Social Chair: We quickly realized that tough department conversations were far easier if we really knew each other outside of the classroom. When you know each other well enough to know outside interests and maybe even go on a run together, hit up a yoga class, or watch Monday Night Football, coming to a common understanding during a heated curriculum decision was far more feasible and far less personal. So, our social chair was in charge of scheduling a monthly (or every other monthly) happy hour so that we had some precious time outside of the school building to shoot the breeze and learn about each other.

District Advocate


Technology Advocate

PrBL Advocate

Equitable Groupwork Advocate

Peer Reciprocal

Observations Advocate

Systems Advocate

Family/Community Involvement Advocate

College & Career Advocate


*These roles gave us each the freedom to bring these realms to the forefront of conversation whenever they might be neglected. Without being a nag (it’s your advocate duty after all), each advocate gets to bring up something that he/she is passionate about and that is also vitally important to the work we hope to achieve.