It's baseball season.

Seems about right since my work and my life has me thinking a lot about teams lately, mostly about how they practice.

I've been interviewing districts and school Leadership Team members about their school improvement work, about how Indistar has supported them in weeding out the noise and focusing on the essentials, like instruction and engagement and leadership. 

Not to be overlooked is the practice that the Leadership Teams put in on just being a team. They practice over and over again things like meeting regularly, using agendas, taking notes, sending them out.

They practice reading the Wise Ways research over and over again until they really understand what it means. One interviewee shared that she had the team members read the research out loud a time or two before they started charting on paper what they heard in that research. They brainstormed what they thought the practice meant, talked about what it meant, understood what it meant before they ever went into classrooms looking for it. Their practice prepared them.

They practice taking turns. While there may be one or two in the group who are natural born speakers, the Leadership Teams practice listening and they practice sharing. The practice of giving or accepting the opportunity to listen and the opportunity to share has expanded their knowledge, increased their confidence, developed skills that they always thought were just for other people to possess. 

They practice looking at data. Because teams practice talking about research, they are purposeful in the data they looked at. In one case, the team had been practicing with indicators related to pre and post test assessments. They decided that they wanted to know who was administering them and whether or not teachers were assessing using a variety of methods--oral, written, project-based, etc. So they asked every teacher to collect all assessments they administered in a file folder for one month. They practiced how to look at what they had collected, which revealed far too few formative assessments, which had professional development implications as well as instructional planning and delivery implications.

They practice looking at individual student data. In some cases, the principal would ask members to bring data and work samples for children in each grade who were performing below grade level. Sometimes she or he would ask for data for highest performing. Looking at the individual student data, they could make analyses and ask questions about where the student was struggling or excelling and how were we helping or enriching? What interventions or enrichments did they need and were they getting them--how and from whom? In some cases, schools arranged schedules so that students received interventions from teachers with expertise in that particular area, regardless if the teacher taught their grade level. 

The repeated exercise of teaming --even the most obvious aspects of it--didn't just improve the teams' performance. It built the teams. What happens in between the practice of showing up, of listening, of talking, of asking, of looking is trust and human interaction and relationships. What happens is laughter and frustration and joy and fear. What happens is a shared human experience. "The progress is in the struggle" as one of my interviewees put it. Whether on sports fields or training grounds or meeting rooms, we practice to get better but we can't get better without each other.

I guess the most important thing to remember is that you don't have to have the answers going in. You just have to go in and keep going in. The answers, the fluidity, will come with practice.

More About Baseball + School Improvement

A few years ago (gosh, doesn't seem that long) Sam Redding wrote an article for Education Week titled, "School Improvement Takes A Team". It's one many states, districts and schools have used to describe the difference between school improvement and school turnaround and what it takes to make them both happen. 

Call to Action

Please share with us what your team practices at every opportunity. What difference has it made to your teaming, your relationships, and your improvement? Leave a comment below or start, or start a blog in "Share Your Stuff".

Know which baseball stadium is pictured above? Leave a comment. If you're right, I'll send you a prize.

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