The power of a team

This week I had dinner with teachers I worked with on Stage 3 five years ago at my previous school. When I say ‘worked with’ that’s a gigantic understatement. We were a team, ever so slightly unexpectedly, but nonetheless a team. We weren’t a natural fit, I’d just got back from London after 7 years of Ofsted and inspections and school league tables, and was fairly militant about lesson plans and outcomes and data, one teacher was a new graduate, one teacher had been teaching since before I was born and the other had come to teaching as a second career and was in her second year of teaching. Yet, somehow we were a great team. We didn’t always agree but we were honest, we asked questions of each other, we shared our ideas and resources openly and willingly, we bounced ideas off each other and we took the time to get to know each other, to build relationships. Even though we haven’t worked together in a while, at dinner I was reminded how much this team meant to me and how much we had accomplished. Practices that we established have become part of the school culture even though only one of us has remained on that stage. Approaches to teaching that we introduced to the school are embedded and these teachers confidently lead professional learning to induct new staff into different strategies. Our conversation over dinner showed how proud they were of our achievements and how invested in these practices they’ve become.

As I reflect on the teams in which I’ve worked I can see a number of common elements. Each team has been comprised of a diverse group of educators with varying levels of experience and a range of different passions. Some teams have taken longer to become cohesive or to build trust, some teams have had their ups and downs but each and every team has demonstrated to me the power of collaboration. Through these teams we’ve introduced Project Based Learning, developed protocols and systems for assessment and tracking student progress, implemented iPads across a school and so much more. Through these teams we’ve built sustainable change into schools, engaged students in powerful learning activities and had a positive impact on student learning outcomes (and for those data hungry folk out there, yes I’ve got the stats to back that up). None of these things would have been possible if it was just me, working away in isolation in my classroom. Perhaps my students would have benefitted but their experience would have been poorer as they would only have had my ideas to work with, not the rich ideas that are developed by a team working toward a common purpose.

This year my team has grown, I’m welcoming three teachers new to my school onto my team and I am excited. I’m excited to get to know them, to learn from them, to see what we can do to improve learning, to engage our students and to become even better practitioners. As I start to think about this new team I look back at all the things I’ve learnt about building teams, about providing support, about welcoming teachers, about giving feedback, about asking for feedback and remind myself of the power of a team. It’s not always (or often) easy to build a strong team, but the benefits are absolutely worth the time. I’m also handing over some of the leadership responsibility to a stage leader and I’m looking forward to supporting her as she steps up and I’m looking forward to building a different sort of a team with her as we collaborate to lead.

I’m also excited to be extending my team beyond my school. I’m fortunate enough to be working as part of the Learning Frontiers project, led by AITSL, at my school and this has enabled me to connect with educators in schools around Sydney and Australia. In 2015 I look forward to building relationships, exploring different approaches to teaching and learning, engaging in professional dialogue and developing shared practices that impact positively on student learning. The potential impact of this team is incredible as we seek to find practices that work across a range of settings and student groups.

I cannot imagine working in a school, or a system or a culture where I went to work each day, closed my classroom door and that was it. I realise just how fortunate I am, I recognise the effort that goes into building teams and I know it’s worth it. I know that this belief in the power of a team influences my practice as I find opportunities for students to develop teams, to build relationships and collaborate (for more on this stay tuned for part 2 of this post).

Have you got any teams you look back on with pride, any strategies for building teams? How are you feeling about your team for 2015? I’d love to hear from my twitter team.