I feel one of the toughest things to do in a team is pull someone up for exaggerating or fabricating the truth to make them appear hard working, professional or with greater expertise than may in fact be the case or indeed to cover up the reality they may not understand the expectations whatsoever.
I just read this post by Dan Rockwell where he identifies 10 tactics that produce brilliant solutions. The two that stood out for me were the following;
Ask tough questions. One of the saddest things I’ve seen leaders do is listen to bull crap. Exposing smoke-blowers motivates people to prepare for meetings and discussions.
Terminate drifters and butt kissers. They just take up space and drain vitality from real workers. Spend time with honest hard thinkers.
It actually takes me back to a lecturer I had at University back in the mid 90’s, as a group of students we knew that we could sabotage the entire 2 hour workshop by setting our lecturer off on an unrelated tangent by prompting him with different ethical issues. He loved to talk and we took absolute advantage of this, and rarely ever had to complete our readings because we were never accountable to respond of reflect upon them. Two hours would be over before he had a chance to ask any questions about our required tasks or homework.
The same can happen though when people within a team take up air time sprouting fanciful accounts minimising the opportunity to actually get on with the real work, in an attempt to avoid the tough questions. Especially if they’re allowed to.
So here-in lies the challenge. We work with people, with sensitivities, insecurities and different mindsets including the need to be admired by peers. How do we create an environment where people can be challenged to be honest both with their peers and themselves, by asking tough questions in a supportive environment where it then becomes more acceptable to respond “I have not done that”, “I don’t know how to do that”, “I need help to understand what is expected”.
How do we make it more admirable to admit that we are having difficulty or don’t know what to do, as opposed to affirmed for making stuff up to avoid “being found out”?
I believe working as a team is crucial to the success of any venture or change, particularly in education. How much can truly be achieved, but more importantly sustained in isolation?
Professional teams are just as diverse as a classroom full of kids. We cannot expect to build or be part of a dynamic successful team if everyone shares the same views, works the same ways or has the same strengths and passions.
I always push my brother of a cliff when I talk about teams and having different players with different strengths and capacities. My brother was not “school smart”, the whole sitting, reading and writing deal wasn’t really his strength. Yet, if I were to create a team for any challenge or to get something done, and I mean ANY, he would be my first pick. My brother is a hard worker, gives his all, can problem solve independently even if he doesn’t have a clue where to start. He works with people, communicates and just gets stuff done (plus it kind of helps that I love him a fair bit). A team full of “Tav’s” isn’t ultimately ideal, there also needs to be others to spark ideas, some to challenge the ideas, some to be conservative and some to shoot for the pie in the sky.
In schools we all work in different teams whether they be structured in curriculum areas or responsibilities, or whether they come together for specific events or projects. I have been part of many teams within my school and have been truly blessed to build a fantastic group in a curriculum area for the past three years. I think one factor that remains central to my passion for education, is that whilst I may have investment in one or several smaller teams, I am part of a larger team that is our school. I think there is great danger in seeing ourselves isolated to our own small corner of the school and not honouring our role as part of the bigger picture.
Next year I leave the comfort of my familiar curriculum area and join several new teams. Whilst I may be investing in the development and growth of these different teams, being part of team Wirreanda remains a central focus. Understanding what role the teams I am part of contribute to the growth of our school is crucial and I know that we each play an integral part in that.
Taking a group of students away on camp is always an experience which requires plenty of planning, time, effort and commitment from staff. Taking a group of students with special needs away on camp just amplifies this.
People who are committed to a team or a vision, show up, follow through and stick with it even when the going gets tough!
I remember when I was young and I was playing basketball for a struggling club. We played on a Friday night as juniors and my club wasn’t exactly a winning franchise at that time. I was a fair junior player but a stand out in my club and as a result I would often play three games in a night. This wasn’t what normally occurred but due to my clubs low numbers it was needed to fill the team with good enough players. I would play my own grade U/14s then U/16s followed often by U/18s.
At that point I was desperate to leave the club for a better option. One where other players could share the load. My mother however insisted that I stay committed to my team and at least stick out the season until they could get enough players to survive without me. Of course at the time this frustrated me. I played three games most Fridays and scored most of our team points in each grade. Whilst being a lead scorer may have been enough motivation for others, it wasn’t something that I really cared so much about. I would have rather scored nothing and be on a side that played a higher standard.
Eventually the time came for me to exit and the rest is another story, but to say my scoring was less prolific instead I gained the team game I craved.
So what did this teach me?
“Dependability is more than ability alone.” – John Maxwell
A big part of committing to a team is being true to your word; if you say you’re going to do something,you do it. If you say you’re going to be somewhere, you be there. Showing your team members they can depend on you is vital. Working towards a team goal doesn’t always mean it aligns 100% with your own vision. It would be great if it did but sometimes we need to compromise a little. As a leader if I didn’t would that be a dictatorship?
I read and hear a lot of talk about motivation in education. This week alone it has filled the twitter stream on #satchatoc and #satchat trending. One tweet actually suggested that an unmotivated teacher is “dangerous”. I was quite shocked by this statement and whilst I wasn’t actually participating in the chat I couldn’t help but jump in and ask….
Whilst I will leave that post for another day, it concerns me that we place such high stakes on being motivated when there will be some times, (just like when I was a kid playing basketball) that commitment to the team may need to come first. I wasn’t motivated by potential success or the quality of the “game” we were building. I just had to push through and play the best I could because I was part of the team. So when we say we need to support kids to be more resilient to show more “grit” doesn’t commitment play a role in this?
Just some thoughts, I would love further considerations…
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
I am already convinced that we need to surround ourselves with people who challenge and/or inspire us. I have written about it several times on this very blog. When I read this quote from Jim Rohn though, it really struck me that we have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to the people we work closely with. By this I mean we need to support those around us to develop and grow to raise the average among us.
I often hear criticisms regarding attitude or performance of faculties/groups within schools and I wonder how many individuals within that group actually “fit” (deserve) the criticism. If removed and placed within a more positive environment, would they then rise to the average of the new group? Is it our responsibility as leaders to ensure people who find themselves in a group that is resistant or negative get opportunities to engage with others outside this group, to be inspired or to see the grass can be greener?
As I have written before, I believe a positive culture must be intentional. It needs a belief system that is chosen and specific actions put into place to support these beliefs. I think it starts with a group of people agreeing to have a conversation about their vision and deciding ways to construct this together.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)
In the second last week of term I met with all the staff in my team. The premise was a “Professional Practice” meeting but the intent was to develop a better understanding of our passions, interests, concerns and how we can utilise these to develop ideas for improvement.
I would consider our team a fairly tight team. Whilst we are only in our infancy as a faculty but we have taken time to be more than just workmates and I think there is a genuine sense of appreciation for the team that is developing.
I try to make it a priority to provide a voice for everyone in our team regardless of labelled positions. Our two support staff (SSO’s) are distinguished because they are referred to by their first names (as opposed to our teachers who prefer titles Ms/Mrs) but I try to consistently send a message that we are all equally valued. I always include SSO’s in our staff Professional Development and thus it was essential that they too have an opportunity to express themselves via a professional conversation.
For each professional meeting I constructed questions under the headings; Vision, Classroom Practice, Innovation, Support and Future Aspirations. I shared the Google Doc with each member of my team and we agreed on times to meet.
Whilst I did not have an expectation for each team member to prepare written responses to these questions, they each made notes of some sort and we addressed each point to guide the conversation. Each of my team reflected that they had not previously been involved in such a consultation and were unsure as to how to prepare. Some chose to discuss the questions with each other whilst others chose to reflect independently.
Many of the questions provided an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the year so far and the positive impact we are having on our students. Further questions allowed for an expression of personality and passions whilst yet others provoked current concerns or misunderstandings. (You can see the Google Doc for teachers here and the SSO one here – minus staff names)
Some of our conversations were in line with discussions we have engaged in previously, however there were several surprises! Questions that provoked the most revealing dialogue included:
What are you passionate about? How is this represented in your classroom?
What do you want to be remembered for your time at Wirreanda?
These two questions provided a chance for us to construct ideas for a shared vision and what we want to achieve. It also highlighted things that staff did NOT want to be remembered for. Working with students with disabilities means we are often required to complete personal care support. One of my staff confided that she did not want to be remembered exclusively as the person who provided care support, but as someone who was integral in the establishment of our faculty and who was valuable in supporting student learning. I think my mouth must have fallen open at this point. I can’t express how much I value this individual and the positive impact she has on our learning environment. To ever think that she would be remembered for this alone would break my heart. This moment was extremely powerful for me. It made me more aware that I would need to ensure her contributions to our learning culture far outweighed any functional acts we perform when working with students with disabilities.
There were several other moments like this throughout my conversations. Had there not been a strategic opportunity to an open conversation to raise these ideas, I would have been non the wiser.
What ideally do your students look like at yr 12 graduation? (skills, understandings, relationships)
Is there something you are currently doing that you are not sure is serving a purpose?
These questions brought about discussion based on how we can make experiences for our students more relevant and personalised. It meant we could reflect on what was really important and what was just “stuff” we thought we were “supposed” to do. Again this revealed some great insights to our different ideas and how we can bring them together to develop a shared understanding. It also meant we could identify ways I could support my team and what help we would need to access beyond our physical walls.
This is the first time I have structured professional conversations like this and I felt it was extremely beneficial. It was valuable in identifying ways we can grow as a team and ways I can improve in supporting each member in their personal development. It enabled me to gain insight into how staff see themselves and how they feel their skills and ideas are utilised. It also highlighted some gaps in communication with each other and I saw immediate changes in the classroom as a result of this. My commitment now is to respond to this new insight by implementing strategies and changes and maintaining a positive, constructive dialogue with our vision for students at the centre.
We will have another “formal” reflection opportunity at the end of the year where I hope to develop the questions further. I would love to hear of practices/structures/ideas other teams have for reflecting and facilitating professional conversations.