Jennifer Carter
November 10, 2020

The Best Team Building Strategies for School Improvement

New Financial Data: How COVID-19 Impacted the Bottom Line of 500+ Schools [Whitepaper]
Download Now →
Download Whitepaper
Jennifer Carter
November 10, 2020

The Best Team Building Strategies for School Improvement

New Financial Data: How COVID-19 Impacted the Bottom Line of 500+ Schools [Whitepaper]
Download Now →
Download Whitepaper

Years ago, employees were perfectly fine with a steady salary and maybe a dependable pension. But over time, people have come to expect work environments to embody elements of happiness, inspiration, professional friendships, and connection to company values.

Because things like guaranteed pay and pensions are not as commonplace, people simply don’t feel the same level of allegiance to work as they did. A recent survey conducted by Indeed, a leading platform for job searchers, reports that 71% of employees are actively searching for work or are open to a new job.

Money may attract workers, but something more is needed if employers hope to retain the good ones.

How School Leaders Build Effective Teams

For schools this year, good teachers who miss these important connections may fall into burnout and job dissatisfaction that can be career-ending. Those of us in early childhood education have an advantage over many organizations. Schools for young children tend to naturally foster a feeling of hominess and adding in elements for team building naturally extends to daily operations.

The even better news is that finding ways to build a great team probably does not require as much money as some other school initiatives like outside staff development or facilities improvement. Instead, administrators only need an intentional plan and a commitment to consistency in order to institute practices that can add new vibrancy to schools.

Step 1: Define Your Mission

The first step in forming a team is identifying something that everyone can work to achieve. All schools have myriad points of galvanization, but a school with a clear mission statement and vision or precise initiatives for staff, parents, and students naturally have something to work toward.

Alas, even schools without clarity on its mission may be able to use a team-focused approach to gathering input from staff and teachers on the direction of the school.

Building the foundation of a good mission statement will define aspirations for an organization and differentiate the organization from others doing the same work. This provides an advantage against other schools, especially when this mission statement articulates measurable, action-oriented outcomes to accomplish.

Currently, we are riding a wild rollercoaster of politics and an unpredictable and an unrelenting pandemic, all while our country is facing some hard truths about social inequities. The current context can certainly seem like glass that’s half full, but in reality, these societal chasms offer a ripe opportunity for schools to define who they are, what they stand for, and how their school is unique in its purpose as it confronts some of the biggest challenges of our lifetime.

How Team Support This Work

A team approach to reimagining a school’s place in our modern work has the potential to actually stabilize or recalibrate a school’s direction, therefore fostering a sense that employees have some control and a higher purpose for their work.

Setting such big priorities may fall on one person, but shaping how that plan is executed can be a shared task especially suited for building and fostering the very sense of purpose people long for at work.

Step 2: Gather Your Core Teams

Recruiting more brain power for a school’s more global initiatives helps administrators get a fuller vantage point of the needs of the school. Remember, teams are individuals with special talents, backgrounds, and interests. Finding specialists in a school community instead of going it alone allows keen administrators to more clearly see points of need while leveraging talent within the community.

Why You Should Leverage Teams for Many Projects

This gives administrators the power to transform a school full of individual people into small, powerful specialty squads with a profound interest in moving plans, and thus the school, forward.

Mission and vision are one aspect that a team could tackle, but administrators could create the school’s playbook for many other things.

For example, school leadership may need help in overcoming difficult economic challenges. Adding teachers to a team to address such issues means that there’s a shared understanding of the circumstances about budget decisions, hiring, or layoffs.

The truth of the matter is that water cooler talk about such things can be tainted by gossip. Inviting more teachers into the conversation also signals that administrators want to extend a level of trust that day-to-day work simply does not provide.

Sure, delicate topics may require some finessing in how decision makers include others, but more voices on such matters changes the game on the level of agency in the fate of the school. It increases teacher engagement and opens up many more viewpoints for solutions.

How Teams Benefit YOU and Your Staff

A collective group of people will have more perspective than one or two individuals, but another upside of forming teams is that this creates a better environment for administrators as well.

This is great news for schools hurting from the pandemic: pay increases cannot match the long-term impact on loyalty that comes from job satisfaction. In fact, money is a reward that acts as a fuel for a temporary period.

Once the initial delight over money is exhausted, employees again lose interest in work.

When people are happier at work, fewer problems arise and administrators and teachers become allies working to solve challenges faced by the whole community. Happier employees mean that administrators have willing, and often eager helpers in the important work that makes schools better for children, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Administrators who create a space for employees to speak more freely open a new pathway to happier and more satisfied employees.

Step 3: Planning for Success

Keep in mind that each step in an employee’s experience should reflect the school’s commitment to truly building on the star qualities of each individual employee. Hiring, interviewing, on-boarding, professional development and dismissal all play an important role on reinforcing how each piece of the team coalesce to form a singular unit that’s focused on the things that the school needs in order to function well.

A group approach to these elements supplants the need for outside staff development because people will be groomed in-house.

This is where the intention and planning come in because such development will only work with ample opportunity, coaching, and support to grow current skills. Using a wider spectrum of voices makes a school’s decision-making more well-rounded and reflective of the whole school community.

Administrators are working harder than ever to manage around the obstacles in early childhood education, but they have the power to make it better for everyone, including themselves.

Clearly, there are chances to build teams in a school, and in reality, no one ever says that they don’t want a great team and happy environment. In action, however, what’s said and what’s done often needs more alignment.

Ubiquitous pages from the team-building playbook (such as things like coaching, peer to peer help, collaboration, and professional assessments) make random appearances at schools instead of being implemented with true purpose and planning.

How to Reframe Tasks as Team Projects

Fixing this for a higher level of impact does not necessarily require a complete overhaul of a program. Simply adding team elements to existing processes signals the importance of group participation to teachers and staff. The outline below includes ways to convert solo duties into team jobs.

These tasks are traditionally given to Administrators and Owners. Though each task listed is absolutely essential, they’re also time eaters. These are tasks that directly involve staff, making them perfect for sharing with a team.

  • Hiring: Forming a hiring committee that meets to decide on the help a school needs when a position opens means that more people are invested in the process.
  • Performance Evaluations: 360 Teams that include more than one person who write observations of job performance.
  • Enrollment and Tours: Train classroom teachers to observe and chat with families to see if they are a good fit for the current.
  • Food Program Oversight: Work with school cooks and aides who serve food to create menus, keep records and account for food consumption.
  • Supply Ordering: Write out a checklist with floating teachers and allow them to have autonomy to check supplies, write buying lists and order supplies.

How Teams Positively Impact This Work

Spreading responsibility allows administrators to have more eyes looking for shortfalls in the program.

For instance, a collaborative team of teachers for curriculum development guarantees more voices on the academic direction of the school. Teachers will make contributions based on individual strengths, interests, backgrounds, and worldviews.

Opening up activity and book selection means that your program can better include voices of marginalized groups in ways that are sensitive, inclusive, and poignant. As the current mood of the country demonstrates, leaving such voices out can have devastating effects on the morale and reputation of an organization.

Orchestrating these thoughtful teams for intermittent tasks such as curriculum development have the potential to strengthen the core of a school, yet their infrequency won’t add much overtime or coverage.

Administrators don’t always have to lead the teams either. Team captains work well with clearly defined outcomes, leaving administrators in more of a coaching and collaborator’s role.

Step 4: Unearth Each Member’s Superpowers

Although teams work toward a central goal, the unique skills and talents of the team members are key to a well-equipped team. Teams have a clear goal; they work together; and they need members that fit for maximum effectiveness.

Reserve judgement and pressure during initial stages of forming teams while roles are being defined. At the recruitment phase, administrators are only out to scout for talent that can be fostered.

People will appear to have many attributes in common, yet as the administrator gets to know more about each teacher, that one special, perfect, harmonious skill will percolate to the surface.

Question staff about interests, skills, education and passions outside of work. These questions don’t have to be regularly scheduled, but they do require intentionality.

Conversations like these may take place during hiring, in short sessions during breaks or lunches, or over time as part of the evaluation and support process.

In any case, intentional time spent in conversation with teachers offers administrators an opportunity to know everyone as a unique person with something special to add.

Such conversations also deepen the relationships of administrators and teachers due to their easy, non-punitive and non-evaluative nature.

A Message for School Leadership

For the most part, school leaders know that they cannot teach everything, do everything, or oversee every second.

Yet, many of us spend a good deal of time with a finger on every aspect of the school all the time. That can be exhausting. Though it may be hard to trust others with more responsibility, moving toward a team-oriented management style helps us confront some difficulties of staff retention and staff work satisfaction.

The shift starts with those making decisions about the school. We have to devote the time and come up with something that works for our particular context. Elements of team building are universal, but the action plan for building an effective team doesn’t work as a template when administrators want something that will have a deep impact on their particular school.

The starting point of building a team does require a fair amount of time in contemplation of commitment to create teams.

Ostensibly, each administrator must decide if she is willing to cede some of the power of decision making and if she wants to devote the time to team development.

If the answer is yes, take the time to think of what’s important to get out of these teams: Leadership development? Distribution of workload? Morale building?

With a clear purpose, the strategy will shape itself organically. These are all worthy for consideration. Forming collaborative teams in these times is not only practical, it is important for everyone’s happiness at work.

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