Leadership and Teams - My Reflections and Yours

 Maureen and I have been writing a lot about leadership in our weekly blogs, and Sam has written recent emails to all of us specifically highlighting the importance of the Leadership Team. All of this got me to thinking about my experiences with leadership and teaming during my 42 years in education.  And it also got me wondering about how your teams work in your schools. First let me tell you about my experience with leadership and teaming.

 I got my first job as an elementary classroom teacher in 1972. I taught a combination 3-4-5 grade classroom of 37 students in an open classroom setting. It was a very large elementary school of almost 1,000 students.  We were divided into six K-6 groupings, each with its own team leader.  This arrangement allowed us to function in family units in which we had the same group of students for the seven years they were with us.  Sometimes we even looped with our students and had them for two years, a real luxury and benefit to teaching and learning.

 Robert (Bob) Marshall was our principal and were we lucky to have him. His challenge was how to realize his vision across the entire school. Not only were we one of the first schools to use an open classroom and multi-age approach. We also were attempting to innovate by using trade books for reading instruction and experimenting with new teaching techniques and methods. It was a great place to teach!

 Whole faculty meetings helped establish the mission for the school, but the real work of everyone understanding and embracing the mission required something more.  He wisely established a Leadership Team (although we didn’t call it that at the time) that met every other Friday morning for two hours.  The purpose for these meetings was to discuss and decide school policies and procedures. Sure, the district defined some policies and procedures, but there were many decisions to be made at the school level, particularly because we were trying to be innovative. Bob could have made these decisions unilaterally, but he was a wise leader and believed that distributed leadership would accomplish his vision by:

  • Empowering his entire staff
  • Including everyone on the staff to have a voice in decisions that affected all of us
  • Developing strong leaders throughout the school

 The LT was the first step. It had representation from:

  • Classroom teachers from all grade levels and all family groups
  • Administrators
  • Counselors (yes, we even had a counselor in an elementary school back then)
  • Reading teacher
  • Special Education teacher
  • Team leader representing the arts and PE

 There may have been other members, but I can’t remember any more  (it’s been a few years!). As team leaders (which I was for one year), we were expected to bring issues back to our team to get their input before making any decisions.  This step was crucial in the process because it honored everyone’s opinion.  Even if decisions were made that not everyone agreed with, at least everyone felt they had been heard.  In addition, it valued the opinions of the people closest to the students, the classroom teachers and specialists.

 In addition, it was important because the staff needed to be unified.  Why did we need to be unified? Well, because we were trying to be innovative, and, boy, was Open Education and reducing reliance on the basal readers innovative and controversial at the time. As you can imagine, there were critics and the district office wasn’t totally convinced this was a good thing.  So the staff really needed to be unified.

 OK, so enough about my experience and me.  I’m interested in what is happening in your schools. Please reply to this blog or in Your Reflections  or Share Your Stuff.  Following area few questions that might serve as inspiration for your contribution (but don’t be restricted to these questions).  Feel free to share your own experiences about your LTs.

      How do you decide who should serve on your Leadership Team?

      Who serves on your Instructional Teams?  Are they only classroom teachers?  If you have specialists on these teams, how do you decide which specialists serve on which teams and how do you organize this?

      How do you create your schedule to allow your Leadership and Instructional teams to have the time to meet?

      What external and internal challenges have you had to address to make it all work? Are there still some issues that challenge your school?  Pose your question and maybe someone else can offer advice.

 Thanks, everyone, for the good work you are engaged in doing for our students!

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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href="http://www.paulaxtell.com">www.paulaxtell.com</a> and via email at paulaxtell@mac.com.
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