Can’t hear yourself? Here are 5 skills every school team needs (opinion)
We have all been part of teams, whether grade-level, department, or school leadership teams. The first time I was asked to be part of a leadership team, I remember feeling very honoured. I was a brand new teacher and they wanted me on the team. To quote Sally Fields, “You like me! Do you really love me!”
I didn’t realize at that point that no one else wanted to be on the team.
For full disclosure, I didn’t always understand why I was supposed to be on some of the teams I was on, including the very first one. I didn’t always know how to communicate effectively with the people around the table because I was a young teacher and some of the team members were administrators. I certainly didn’t understand what I was supposed to bring and lacked confidence in my ideas.
Over time, my confidence level increased as I gained experience in the classroom, and I had a few leaders actively trying to help me raise my voice as a teacher leader. . This was before the term “teacher leader” was widely used. When I became director, I made sure to pay it forward by developing a leadership team that focused on the teacher voice, and we always tried to put the focus on the students in those meetings.
Over the past eight years of coaching management teams, I’ve come to realize that I wasn’t alone in my initial insecurities about being on a team. In fact, a few years ago I was on the East Coast coaching a leadership team, and after the principal left the room, a few people from the school leadership team shared that they had no idea why they were there. When I asked if they were new to the team, they told me they had been in the team for two years.
Unfortunately, this is neither an exaggeration for a blog post nor the only time I’ve heard such a thing from a member of a management team.
5 Skills Every School Team Needs
In Collective Leader Efficacy: Strengthening Instructional Leadership Teams (Corwin Press/Learning Forward. 2021), I focused on how leadership teams can work effectively with a focus on student learning. I explored status and voice issues in the book and developed eight drivers to help a team perform more impactfully.
Some of these drivers were based on pre-existing research, while other drivers were those that I developed myself or with the help of John Hattie. One of these engines that I have developed in my own work with the help and guidance of Hattie is the ability to work in groups. Hattie was focusing on this for the collective effectiveness of the students, and although I used the same phrasing, I went in a slightly different direction.
Looking at how to work in collectives, I’ve broken it down into five essential skills. The five skills that I believe are a must for every team are:
1. Emotional intelligence – is an understanding of how to reflect and evaluate our emotions and the emotions of others, and then decide on the best course of action moving forward. Goleman and Boyatzis (2017) write that there are four domains in emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
2. Communications – WOVE is an acronym often used in communication, and it stands for written, oral, visual and electronic (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001). I add non-verbal communication to this model, creating the acronym WOVEN.
- OWritten Communication – These are the notes we take during our meetings about what we have focused on together.
- Oral Communication – How we talk with each other in the meeting.
- VUsual communication – How we send visuals about our team’s work. Sometimes it’s a sketchnote or a graphic organizer.
- EElectronic Communication – The emails we send to each other but also our school website.
- NOTverbal communication – As a facilitator and coach, I pay close attention to body language around the table. Sometimes we can misinterpret body language, but most of the time it’s a handy barometer for how someone is feeling.
3. Social Sensitivity – Goleman and Boyatzis (2017) found that social awareness includes social awareness, and the skills in this area are empathy and organizational awareness.
4. Contribute to Collective Responsibility – In the book, I quoted Hargreaves and Shirley (2012, p. 176) because they write “that teachers and leaders must have a collective responsibility for all students and the improvement of teaching, rather that individual autonomy from any interference or imposed liability that eliminates professional discretion.
5. The ability to bring ideas – When we put it all together, it creates a psychologically safe space where people feel they can contribute their ideas and feel a sense of pride in being part of a cohesive group.
At the end
In a recent 3-Minute Collaborative Leader video I have on my YouTube channel and on Instagram, I explored all five skills in…you guessed it…three minutes. However, people have asked me if I could develop the idea a little more in this blog. I love that people care enough about their teams that they want to learn how to better engage with those around the table with them.
In education, we’re so used to being part of a team, but we don’t often think about the skills we need to be a highly functional team. And what we know now is that our time is very precious and life is far too short to spend that time on a team where we don’t feel valued.