Go team!


The title of our staff’s latest shared Google presentation was, “Go Team Brecknock!” I’m not sure what compelled me to name it that, but I think it’s because the first hour of our morning (before we provided teachers with sweet freedom to collaborate with their grade level peers for the remainder of the day), our discussions focused on the “state of our school,” an overall look at some data trends, where we are, where we need to go, and how we’re going to get there. We are a team, working toward the collective goal of improving learning experiences for all children.

No single person can move a school, therefore team dynamics become critical. We modeled our own professional learning community work after DuFour’s model. One of the “big ideas” of Dufour’s PLC is A Culture of Collaboration:

Educators who are building a professional learning community recognize that they must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all. Therefore, they create structures to promote a collaborative culture…. For teachers to participate in such a powerful process, the school must ensure that everyone belongs to a team that focuses on student learning. Each team must have time to meet during the workday and throughout the school year. Teams must focus their efforts on crucial questions related to learning and generate products that reflect that focus,   such as lists of essential outcomes, different kind of assessment, analyses of student achievement, and strategies for improving results. Teams must develop norms or protocols to clarify expectations regarding roles, responsibilities, and relationships among team members. Teams must adopt student achievement goals linked with school and district goals. –What is a professional learning community? (DuFour, 2004)

What makes a strong team? What makes a dysfunctional team? I’ve seen both in action, and I’ve been part of both. As administrators we need to recognize the characteristics of effective teacher teams so we can build capacity within them, strengthening the organization as a whole. To further extend this collaborative power for learning, teachers can and should incorporate team-building and team problem-solving activities into their classrooms with students.

A team of researchers from Centre for Innovation in Education from the Queensland University for Technology set out to identify the characteristics of effective school-based teams through the lens of micropolitics. Their findings are relevant for schools and school-based systems dealing with school-based management and similar reforms/restructurings in that they developed a tool to assess and enhance the effectiveness of teams. Critical reflection of team dynamics should include a look at the

  • clarity of the team’s role and objectives
    • competence and credibility of the team members
    • uniformity of members’ values and their commitment to team work
    • interpersonal relationships and communication among members and between members and other staff
    • accessibility of professional development opportunities for the team and for its individual members

    Developing strengths in these dimensions will better establish school teams in that they will be more prepared to engage in decision-making processes, develop better relationships among colleagues, and embrace future possibilities rather than focus on current realities (Cranston, Ehrich, Reugebrink, & Gaven, 2002).

    I am generally pleased with the collaborative efforts my teachers are making. Each team is finding their way… each team member is defining and honing his/her role in that team. One area where we need to develop is in our team leadership/coaching roles. Team leaders were appointed and attended professional development sessions on coaching and adult learning. This experience was not enough to impress upon our teacher leaders the essential components that exemplify a true leader. They need continuous exposure to new ideas, time to conduct peer observation and reflections, and time spent with administration to work at defining and refining the shared vision and goals of the school. Most of all, these team leaders need to extend trust to all members of the team and school, and need to be trusted by all. This aspect requires a lot of work and dedication on everyone’s part.

    Finally, I’d like to share @l_hilt’s Dos & Don’ts of team dynamics….

    • Do seek to act upon that which you can positively change. Don’t be negative and dwell on things you cannot.
    • Do be a giver. Don’t be selfish.
    • Do understand that “the way we’ve always done things” is not necessarily the best way to help students learn. Don’t get sucked into a solitary cave of complacency.
    • Do communicate clearly, accurately, and respectfully. Don’t hide your feelings about a situation or make them known maliciously.
    • Do be open and accepting. Don’t be defensive.
    • Do realize that you are not the most important part of the equation. Don’t forget for one second that the child is.

    Collaboration Inspiration

    How do you focus change efforts to create a more collaborative and mentoring culture for both educators and students? This was the topic of the 7/13 #edchat, and it sparked quality conversation among participants.

    I have worked in both self-contained elementary and middle school team teaching environments, and I truly believe that I developed as a professional, took more risks with my teaching, and became a more skilled communicator when I was a member of a teaching team. It is far too easy for educators to fall into their own, safe routines without much considering how things could be done differently. The scary this is, this routine and sense of complacency can continue for years upon end.

    We embarked on the PLC journey last year in our school, and it of course was not without its bumps along the road. We got creative and ran a whole new master schedule, where grade level teams now had “specials” at the same times throughout the cycle. This allowed for two days out of six that could be earmarked as “common” planning times. Within the confines of the contracted teacher day, there was not a lot of flexibility to provide teachers with additional collaboration time. We learned about the characteristics of PLCs, developed team norms, discussed what collaboration looks like, developed team feedback sheets, etc.

    In the first year, I felt as though teachers did embrace the “idea” of collaboration, and many commented that they appreciated having common planning times so they could “touch base” with one another during the day, but very few teams experienced true collaboration during these times.

    Our school’s leadership team noticed this, and the reasons became clear that from the teachers’ perspective, their planning time was “theirs” and they should not be held accountable for meeting with others during that time.

    While, in my opinion, there are just so many things wrong with that line of thinking, I have already addressed that concern in a prior post, so instead I ponder ways of righting that situation in a hopes of helping my teachers create a new mentality and attitude about collaborative planning. The first thing our admin team did was to schedule PLC time for each grade level team, once per month, for 1 hour at the end of the day, where two support specialists and myself covered their classes for that time. This tactic proved successful, and many of the teams truly immersed themselves in student data and planning for instruction to help meet the needs of students. The downside to this plan is that I could not be a participant in these meetings, nor could my support team.

    A realization made through an interaction with Michelle Sumner @edtechdhh during #edchat was that some teachers would rather just close their doors to collaboration due to all of the personal “planning” they feel needs to get accomplished, however if they engaged in the team approach to planning, the time spent on clerical/mundane “planning” tasks would decrease significantly. I have to help them see the benefit of collaboration!

    The purpose of this post is to encourage those building leaders and teachers who thrive for collaborative opportunities to keep searching outside-the-box for solutions to the lack of time and opportunities that typically plague, in particular, an elementary teacher’s schedule and resources. I established a wiki for our school to encourage collaboration within the first few months on the job- I believe we had one post. My teachers aren’t ready to collaborate in that type of environment… yet. I think as their comfort with the tools grows, we can make it work. As teachers see the value in collaborating among themselves, my sincere hope is that they will infuse the power of team thinking and doing in their classrooms with students.

    Thanks for reading! I leave you with a little collaboration inspiration and please comment as to how you have achieved success with all forms of collaboration in your schools!

    All Things PLC

    Classroom 2.0

    The Educator’s PLN

    The Lesson Study Project

    The Benefits of Teacher Collaboration

    What is Teacher Collaboration?

    Teacher Collaboration on WikiEducator


    Our school is good. It’s always been good. Kudos to my students, parents, and teachers for their success thus far.

    Soon, good is not going to be good enough.  I know, I know, test scores aren’t everything- but we are accountable.  As the stakes rise, our reading performance may indeed not be “good” enough.

    I want to embark on the PLC adventure with my staff. We’re starting slowly. Reeeally slowly. At the end of my first year, I made some changes in staffing, trying to put together the strongest teams of people possible in each grade level. My support specialists/data team staff are phenomenal. I couldn’t ask for more. They “get it.” They realize how to use student data to drive instruction. They are starting to help teachers better realize how formative assessments can shape instruction to best meet the needs of all learners. My counselor is top-notch. My support staff works hard. Parents are supportive and involved. Students are on board and do their best.

    We are ready to take this journey.

    The team mentality in my building is hit or miss in certain grade levels. There has historically been a lot of competition among individuals in the grade levels as well as those who are comfortable just “being.” Being alone in their classrooms and in their work. Being content with what has “always been.” This is no longer acceptable. I am a fan of competition – I was a collegiate athlete and know the positive effects competition can bring.

    For those of you that participate in true PLCs and have experienced the power of PLCs in your school, I’d love to hear from you: what steps were taken to begin this process? What were the most meaningful aspects of the professional development provided to you to learn more about PLCs and their impact on student achievement? What resources did/do you find most valuable to use with your teaching team? What obstacles did you encounter? What did you most need/want from your administrators to help you with the process? Any other information you feel would be beneficial for a principal to know would be much appreciated.

    Good to great. That’s where we need to go. Long road ahead, but we are talented and dedicated enough to do it. I am looking forward to leading the charge.