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Always Strive to Be a Better You

T2: Togetherness and Teamwork


Any good coach will tell you: "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." No, wait, that's from the movie Bull Durham, but it might be an accurate quote from a good coach.

What a great coach will tell you is that the team excelled; the coach made simple moves to allow the players to demonstrate their superiority, and together they got the job done.


In today's schools, our challenges are more complex and intricate than ever before. This we know. Similarly, our knowledge about instruction, curriculum design, assessments, multiple learning styles, brain functioning, and school structures is complicated, comprehensive and, frankly, exhausting. It's too much for us to take on solo.

[content block] Thus the importance of togetherness and teamwork. Quotes such as "many hands make light work," "two heads are better than one," and "it takes a village to raise a child" could not be more apropos than they are in today's schoolhouses. We need each other.

There is a Kilimanjaro-sized mountain of research (that's right, 19,340 feet of it) supporting the creation of teams and the development of learning organizations to propel our schools forward in the pursuit of greatness, higher levels of learning, and increased efficiency. It's so clear, so obvious, and so commonsensical that any arguments to the contrary are null, void, moot, and nonsensical. So let's move on. Together.

The first step of successful teamwork is the establishment of teams, which makes sense even if you can't spell Kilimanjaro.


Teams come into being in one of two ways: they are preordained or ordained.

Preordained teams fall from the sky in perfect formation because that's the way they were meant to be, like grade-level teams (elementary), core subject teams (middle school), and departments (high school). There is a gravitational pull in every school that sorts teams into their primary spots.

We call these A Teams, and every staff member belongs to one.
Ordained teams are the ones that we as principals and school leaders establish. We see the need, we notice the relationships, we perceive the connections, and we put these folks together. These can be vertical teams, cross-department teams, or any of a million other varieties of compilations with common characteristics.
We call these B Teams, and every staff member should belong to one of these too. B Teams offer balance and perspective.


This may sound as if it's not well thought-out, but trust me as I provide four simple words of advice: Let them work together.

It's really that simple, too. Build time into the regular contracted schedule for teams -- A Teams and B Teams -- to meet and work collaboratively (defined by yours truly as "work done in partnership with a common goal"), and create repeated opportunities for true collaboration to occur.

There is a Grand Canyon-length list (that's right, 217 miles) of ways to establish built-in teacher collaboration time. That can be done by using substitutes, specialists, altered bell schedules, bus delays, common prep periods, stipends, or other carrots. We just need to be creative and talk with our peers about setting it up. As principals, it is our job to set it up.

"What a great coach will tell you is that the team excelled; the coach made simple moves to allow the players to demonstrate their superiority, and together they got the job done."

Then we need to honor that time. Away with the impromptu staff meetings, the emergency pull-outs, the rearranged schedules, and the other interruptions that we "can't avoid." If collaboration is so necessary and helpful for teachers, let's treat it that way and, well, let them work together.


Nothing is more frustrating than a team with no goals. Sports teams have it easy: their goal -- winning the championship -- is built in. Are our goals in schools as easy to identify?

The tricky part is that each individual teacher will have goals that sit upon three different hierarchical layers

  • School-wide goals. These should be obvious, but they're not. It takes time to isolate and elucidate an all-systems goal. The questions we ask of the staff during the process should include
    --- What is non-negotiable to us?
    --- What will we do no matter what?
    --- What do we expect to accomplish through our work?
    --- What is our "Hedgehog Concept"? (Jim Collins, in Good to Great, defines this as the clarity and drive with which the organization will produce long-term results.)

  • A Team and B Team goals. These (preordained and ordained) teams have their own challenges, their own focal points, and their own interests. Their goals, while aligning with the school-wide, hedgehog-concept goal, will likewise have a particular slant. This is good, and this is where the real action is. If the teams have focus and clarity of vision, they can move mountains. (Vesuvius, for example, which, according to dated rocks, is at least 300,000 years old).

  • Individual goals. As unique and special human beings, every member of the teaching staff brings different experiences, preferences, training, strengths, weaknesses, and vices to the job. It is our responsibility to work with each individual to connect the dots between the school-wide goal, the team goals, and the needs of that individual to belong, improve, and perform within those frameworks. So individuals have their own, duly related goals.


In reference to goals, we have all heard the acronym SMART -- Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Timebound. We know what the terms mean, but the one that frequently muddles our goal-setting process is the T. Timebound.

In the school setting, our mindset is to assign designated lengths of time to goals -- often a full 10-month school year. The problem there is that, though tidy for record-keeping purposes, rarely is there a goal that requires precisely 10 months of development, work, support, tinkering, evaluating, and revamping to be successfully achieved.

Effective goals are unique, fluid, flexible, and shifting. If an A Team only needs to drill deeply into problem-solving strategies for six weeks to complement the school-wide "Math Hub" goal, then let them work together for six weeks, analyze their results, and extend or select a new goal. There are more goals buried in the netherlands of poor time-framing than there are bodies adorned with concrete boots at the bottom of Lake Tahoe (and that is a lot, according to local legends).

The true issue is the development of individuals, teams, and teaching staffs to better meet the needs of our students. We, as school leaders, can demonstrate that we share those goals, and that we have the flexibility and with-it-ness to allow for teams to chart their own course and navigate their own waters, even if they flow like the Sebaskachu River in central Labrador (which meanders like crazy but follows one undeniable hedgehog concept: gravity).

Then let them worktogether.

Always strive to be a better you,

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World