In many school districts, students either have returned, or will be returning soon. It’s an exciting time of the year filled with anticipation. While summer fun is winding down, students, teachers, and parents are looking forward to the new school year. Teamwork plays an important role in the success of schools. The challenges of teaching and learning are far too great to be approached at the individual level alone. What can schools do to build great teams? What can they do to make sure that our schools are models of collaboration? Let’s hear from a few strong school leaders who understand the magic that happens when schools foster teamwork.
As I think about the importance of building great teams in elementary schools, this quote by Stephen Covey comes to mind, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” I believe that teamwork is at the heart of the important work we do in schools, because the work is so critical it cannot possibly be done in isolation. My belief is to model the importance of teamwork with teachers through various structures, such as my leadership team and school improvement team. I put relationships at the forefront of all the work that happens and trust develops over time between all staff members. If teachers can see the results of a highly effective leadership team and school improvement team, they will believe in the power of collaborative planning for instruction and will begin to see the academic benefit in their students’ scores. Modeling, guiding, setting expectations, and asking reflective questions are critical in the beginning stages of building teams that truly know how to collaborate. In the words of Roland Barth, “The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else.” I believe this at my core, and it is my hope that every administrator will believe this also.
Lisa Koennel/@LKoennel/ Principal, Richard Henry Lee Elementary
Building great teams within an elementary school is essential to creating a student-focused positive culture. It’s paramount to develop teacher leadership through intentional empowerment as a means to grow and develop high functioning teams. When you have teacher leaders who are willing to be selfless, committed, positive, and sacrifice for the good of the team, you have the makings of a great team. It is essential to build leadership and empower from within in order to facilitate the development and performance of school-based teams. Once you’ve created leadership within each team, the functionality of the team is enhanced from within. We develop teacher leaders through empowerment and strategic placement in positions where their talents are maximized and their ability to lead has the greatest impact on their team, and thus student achievement.
Chris Gordon/@Gordon_ChrisG/Principal, Point Pleasant Elementary
Beginning with the end in mind is so important. That “end” for different people on the team involves helping everyone attain a level of success, a level of leadership or embarking on and empowering others for the roles in which they aspire. All teams work towards both long and short term goals while operating within a shared vision and meeting established goals. Both are achieved by working collectively towards the attainment of these goals while cycling through the improvement process. On a personal level, it involves that collaborative work while fostering a sense of family. Building and maintaining the team includes open communication, accountability with commitment, a positive and optimistic attitude, trust and a level of reflective adaptability. I would never ask anyone to do something I am not willing to do or learn myself; walk the talk in a way that is inspiring to others.
Denise Faidley @DeniseFaidley/Assistant Principal, Glendale Elementary
Teams, for me, need to be diverse. I need different perspectives and different personalities on the team. I need to person that is creative-minded who comes up with an awesome plan, but I also need to person that brings that plan to life by looking at it logistically. I need someone that is data-minded, paired up with the person who is going have resources and ideas of what to do with that data. As we know, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and they need to be able to build on each other. I need a team that maintains positivity, even during the hardest of times. They need to be cheerleaders for each other and most importantly, for the kids. I make this happen by making intentional decisions about who to place together and when I interview, I include the team members so we can collaboratively find teammates that work together well.
Cheryl Cox @CoxCherylcox628/Principal, Waugh Chapel Elementary/www.fridayfinishline.wordpress.com
Team building is always a hot topic in the business world and it is certainly as buzzed about in the field of education. Andrew Carnegie famously stated, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Isn’t that what every leader desires; to achieve uncommon, amazing results! We are after all in the business of education youth, a most important profession.
As far as building a team, I don’t know if there is an exact formula. However, I know that I have always focused on modeling the characteristics and qualities of a positive team member. I attentively listen to the concerns, ideas, and opinions of others. I demonstrate a willingness to assist in any way possible. That could mean sweeping the floor in the cafeteria or teaching a small group of students. I let others know that their efforts, dedication, and hard work are valued and appreciated. I encourage the team when they are down. I am honest with my team in an effort to grow them individually and the team. I acknowledge, appreciate and utilize the individual talents of each team member. In summary, I try to lead with kindness. I believe that when individuals know you care and are willing to go all in, team building is easier. Kindness and consideration builds trust and trust leads to teams working together towards a common vision.
Tamara Kelly @tamjkell/ Principal, Belle Grove Elementary
To me, building strong teams means giving teachers opportunities to have leadership roles along with providing guidance and expectations for what needs to be done. Having your pulse on what is happening while trying not to micromanage is a delicate balance. If folks feel micromanaged my thought is that you will have less buy in, if any at all. Also putting good (and consistent) structures in place will help make teams more effective. One last thought is creating an environment where reflection with thoughtful/non-judgmental questions are used to promote growth in your team members is key. This will also help build stronger teams.
In my eyes, leadership is about getting the most out of the people you are leading with the goal in mind to positively impact student achievement. If that is the case, they must have opportunities to take on these roles. The job has become increasingly complex, and we as principals can’t do it all. You must have people around you that believe in what they are doing, and taking on these roles to be active participants in effective structures. This will support your overall goal of enhanced student achievement.
Jason Otte @fishingfan24/Principal, Windsor Farm Elementary
Thanks to Lisa, Chris, Denise, Cheryl, Tamara, and Jason for sharing their sage advice. Our students deserve schools that model teamwork and collaboration. Most of us agree that these are skills that will make our students successful in the 21st century. Content knowledge and strong communication skills are important, but our children will need to grasp the importance of relying on others and working together for the good of the team. When school leaders and teachers model those skills, students learn to appreciate their value. Best wishes on a great school year!