This is the second in a series of three posts. Check out the first post: Teams—Don’t Go It Alone.
It takes time and effort. It can be maddeningly slow along the way. But, building teacher teams and the structures for teams is one the most important functions of a school leader. It is beyond question that teacher teams are one of the greatest difference makers in how a school performs, how teachers improve their craft, and the increase of student performance. Teacher teams make a huge difference.
The only problem is: They don’t run themselves. It takes a leader to set the expectation. It takes a leader to set and monitor the agenda. It takes a leader to sit with and support each team to break through barriers. It takes a relentless focus on norms and established behaviors to keep challenging personalities in check. But, after those foundational things are set and in place, the benefits far outweigh the efforts. Take the time to invest in teacher teams and stick with it.
PROMPT 1 = The leader is constantly vigilant with their teacher teams to be sure the meetings have positive and beneficial outcomes.
Teacher teams can’t be left unattended with hopes that things go well. Leaders should constantly be present and monitoring every teacher team to be sure that basic norms of behavior as well as positive content is part of every meeting. Leaders cannot afford to have team members check out and not be productive participants.
PROMPT 2 = The leader sets the tone and expectation of team meetings so that the social aspect of these meetings provides a very effective, “soft” peer accountability.
There is something about hearing feedback from your peers versus hearing it from a leader or supervisor. Building team structures and expectations of how people function in teams can set up “soft” accountability systems where teachers will hold themselves and others accountable simply because they don’t want to let each other down. Having set social expectations of how people function in the teams can do this. The social aspect of team meetings provides a very effective “soft” accountability because teachers are accountable to their peers (Schmoker, 2006).
PROMPT 3 = The leader/leadership team consistently discusses the topics/agendas of the meeting so that frequent use of and discussion around common formative assessments especially performance assessments is a part of every meeting.
Having a set agenda and expected items of discussion can be a powerful expectation. One of the most powerful topics of discussion to repeat again and again is student performance from common assessments. Schmoker (2006) reminds us that there should be frequent use of and discussion around common formative assessments especially performance assessments. Having teachers agree upon and then give a common formative assessment or performance assessment is powerful. Even more powerful still is to bring data and student work back to the team to share results and ideas for next steps.
PROMPT 4 = The leader sets the expectation and communicates that effective teams have clear goals/values and people understand their roles.
Teams should have established roles. Teams should have established and understood goals and vales. In fact, Levi (2001) goes on to say that effective teams have clear goals/values and people understand their roles. To be effective, teams must have a clear understanding of what they do and why they are meeting together. There should also be clearly communicated goals and values about what a team is setting out to accomplish. Leaders must help teams as they form to get these basic foundational pieces in place.
PROMPT 5 = The leader sets the expectation that trust, support and communication are staples of effective teams.
It starts from the top. It is communicated both directly and indirectly. Effective teams have trust, support and communication (Levi, 2001). Leaders must be the ones who model this. Leaders must be the ones to expect this in each team. Teams must be given attention and support to cultivate these qualities. Indeed, it takes time and attention to get teams fully functioning where trust, support and communication are commonplace but the investment is worth it. Take the time to support teams in building up their trust, support and communication by modeling it for them first.
In the next post we will look at the importance of why teams matter and how to maintain them. In particular, we will explore how leaders can build systems to sustain and support teams.
Levi, D. (2001). Group dynamics for teams. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Schmoker, M. (2006). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented improvements in teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.