“I look at each year in basketball as an integral part of life. Each season is a journey. Every journey is a lifetime.”
- Mike Krzyzewski
I recently reviewed an impressive list of achievements of student athletes in our district. It was very impressive indeed. Their success is the result of talent and commitment, family support and a collaborative team of teachers and coaches. These teachers and other professional staff are the same group of professionals who also develop communities to support learning in our district.
It takes a village to raise a child. Many leaders have communicated these words of wisdom. They remind us that we can envision, implement and achieve much more when collaboration is a key factor in our everyday participation in society. Collaboration is an important key to success for all students. It is an essential ingredient in an educational environment that demands nothing less than that every student can and will learn in our classrooms. That is the essence of our DREAM. We must work together to build communities that are conducive to sharing ideas, knowledge, theories and information. Only within these communities will our system develop to its optimum and further help our students achieve at their optimum level in all instances, and reap the benefits of the experiences of those around them. We must openly communicate about what is working well and about areas in which we need to improve – in our pedagogy, instructional practice, assessment and all components of student and adult learning.
Randi Stone and Pru Cuper in their book, Best Practices for Teacher Leadership, (Corwin Press, 2006) proposed the following activities and actions for members of Collaborative Teams.
1. Create a Vision Statement and Strategic Plan
If we want to know the path on which we will travel, we must first choose a destination. This is an opportunity for educational leaders to engage in a dialogue with the other members of their school and district community. We have collaboratively developed out DREAM statement which for us encompasses all that we will work to change, improve and maintain over the course of the next few school years. Our DREAM of “Learning without Boundaries” speaks to our commitment to the success for all learners in life and not just in school.
2. Implement Your DREAM
Once a community has created its DREAM, it is incumbent on the team to collaborative implementation of that plan. We are extremely blessed in our district to have such a large group of leaders which includes administrators and teachers in our schools. We are also extremely lucky to work with the strong group of coordinators of Staff Development and Student Services. They continually remind me of the power of competence and knowledge tempered with the appropriate process and theory. It is the appointed and self proclaimed leaders of our district that help guide us to implement our DREAM.
Early in my career as a teacher, I was introduced to the work of John Glasser by my mentors. Glasser, better known for his theories on student discipline and self regulation, also examined effective collaborative teams. In his book Leading Through Collaboration: Building Groups to Productive Solutions, Glasser describes great teams as those with a particular chemistry, based on such qualities as:
a) Joint commitment to shared goals
b) Trust of all members to understand their roles and get the job done
c) Shifting leadership based on task and circumstance
d) Excellent communications
e) Understanding each other’s needs and perspectives
f) A sense of humour
g) Willingness to set aside differences and to work together for the greater good
According to Mr. Glaser, none of these qualities suggests an unusual alignment of dynamic elements, but the combination of the characteristics implies that there is something happening that causes each individual to let go of his or her view of the world to become part of something bigger and broader. He further suggests that there are four fundamental elements for creating coherence within teams and groups. Acquired en masse, with the appropriate tools, they offer some powerful skills for producing agreements in groups of all kinds. The fundamentals include:
a) Aligning the team
b) Focusing on the vision
c) Searching for solutions
d) Reaching agreements.
Glaser offers a comprehensive set of tools leaders can use to facilitate powerful processes that help diverse constituencies generate and own solutions. Glasser could have been describing the dynamic, collaborative, teacher led teams that support student athletes and all learners in our district.
“Enthusiasm, that certain something that pulls us out of the mediocre and commonplace, and fills us with power. If we have it, we should thank God for it. If we don’t have it, we should get down on our knees and pray for it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson