Podcast: Coaching to Build Staff Relationships and Teams | Steve Barkley

Podcast: Coaching to Build Staff Relationships and Teams

Coaching to Build Staff Relationships and Teams

Increasing collegiality among staff and building teams with shared responsibility for student achievement are keys to a school’s success. Does your leadership team have a shared understanding of what increased collegiality and teaming would look like and sound like? Have you identified leadership actions to produce your desired staff working relationships?  Steve’s thoughts might help you develop a goal for increased collegiality and teaming.

Read Brinson and Steiner’s article, “Building Collective Teacher Efficacy” article here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!



Steve: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.

Steve: 00:28 If I were doing goal setting as a member of a school leadership team with an instructional coach, increasing teacher collegiality and teaming would likely be one of the goals that we would develop. In an article titled, “Building Collective Teacher Efficacy: How Leaders Inspire Teachers to Achieve,” Brinson and Steiner state the fouling outcomes from increasing teacher collective efficacy: improved student performance, ameliorating the negative effect of low socioeconomic status, enhancing parent teacher relationships and creating a work environment that builds teacher commitment to the school. That’s a pretty powerful list of payoffs. I put the link to their article in the lead-in to the podcast.

Steve: 01:32 What follows is a presentation that I recorded earlier on the importance of collegiality and teaming. I hope it provides some points for you to ponder. We need to now look at teacher relationships within a school and how staff work with each other. And I like to enter that conversation using some terms taken from Roland Barthe. And Barsthe looked at school faculties and suggested that some faculties functioned like parallel play. So any of you with an early childhood background, in parallel play, kids play near each other, not with each other. So I kind of laugh, why do parents put play dates together for young kids? It’s so the parents can play together. It’s the parents that are going to be doing that. If you got three kids you’re better have three balls because it’s unlikely they’re going to be sharing them. So Barthe identified at some schools, teachers teach near each other rather than with each other.

Steve: 02:41 He described adversarial relationships, suggesting that most of the time, teachers weren’t confrontational in their relationships, but he described that adversarial existed when people withheld information. For me, one of the strongest problem areas there are when teachers hold back from helping and supporting new people, either new to your district or new to teaching. There’s this phrase I hear, “but I don’t want to interfere.” The success of those people become critical for all of us. He described congenial and suggested that most cases, schools are places that are pretty friendly. Most teachers are friendly people in schools are generally pretty positive places to work. But when teachers have congenial relationships, they’re friendly, but they don’t necessarily mix work with their friendships. So I’ve taught next to you for three years, I know things about your spouse and kids that other people don’t know, but I don’t recall you bringing a lesson plan to me and asking me for input on it before you taught it or extremely important, looking at student work. When those things are happening, we moved to the top level here, which is collegial relationships.

Steve: 04:11 And when a staff has collegial relationships, teachers are taking decision-making to their colleagues. So I’m the more collegial staff is the more my decisions as a teacher of what it is I’m doing are being influenced by my colleagues. So I’m taking a lesson plan to a department meeting and getting some input on it before I teach it. And student work is constantly being put in front of my colleagues and my colleagues are joining with me in making decisions about the best thing for me to be doing to enhance student learning. So if you think of the backwards planning process that we’ve been working with, in my mind, until a school becomes collegial, it can not reach maximum student achievement. And therefore, I believe one of the roles of coaches within a school is to increase teacher collegiality. So by the actions of the coach, they’re not only drawing out individual teacher skills, but an effective coach is building the way teachers are working with each other.

Steve: 05:31 My goal that I frequently lay out to schools is to have an initial focus of teachers making a three-year commitment to students. So a three-year commitment means I spend time in the classrooms and interacting with teachers who have kids the year before I’m going to get those students. So one, I’m starting to learn about what the students are experiencing because that’s going to influence me and my work next year, but also I’m assisting that teacher in best preparing kids for the next step in the learning process. I’m collaborating with other teachers at my grade level in a high school and now looking to interact across content areas, people working with the same group of kids. And then I’m following up in classrooms of students a year after they’ve left me. Actually, there’s no better way for me to get feedback on the effectiveness of my instruction than to be spending some time the following year with my students in their in their classrooms.

Steve: 06:42 I saw one of the greatest examples of this illustrated by a elementary principal. Her school was K-5 and she spent every Tuesday morning in the middle school that her students went to observing sixth grade students in their classrooms, talking to the kids, talking to the teachers, interacting with counselors and administrators to bring that feedback to her school. She didn’t see any way that as an administrator of an elementary school, she could really be judging the effectiveness of her elementary school’s program without observing what was happening with kids in that next setting. That led her to develop the same kinds of observations with teachers back and forth between the schools. Another way to look at relationships is to consider the term teaming. And I have found in my experience that very often, what schools have been calling teams, aren’t teams, and they’re really more like franchises.

Steve: 07:51 You see, I went to a second grade team meeting, five teachers. And as I listened to them work, I realized I wasn’t in a team meeting, I was in a franchise meeting. And what I mean by that was they exchanged tips and strategies, but when they left the meeting, they went back to their classrooms only with responsibility for the learners that were in their classrooms. You see, if five second grade teachers are actually functioning as a team, it means that there’s a hundred second grade students and each teacher has a responsibility for the success of those hundred students. That’s what the second grade team does. I may be working with 20 of them back in my classroom, but my responsibility spreads across to the rest. In some schools, teachers are working mostly individually and I can generally tell when that’s happening, because the conversation from the teachers is this is my time, I should be doing my work. Just being at a meeting kind of ruffles that.

Steve: 08:53 Now people are beginning to move from individual to franchise when they help each other. So now at that grade level meeting, when you talk about a struggling student, we might take some time to offer suggestions and strategies to you, but you don’t have a responsibility to share with us what it is you’re going to do, you don’t have a responsibility to have used any of the ideas that we share and you don’t have a responsibility to tell us what’s happening. We’re kind of being nice. It’s not a bad step, but very often that’s as far as some schools go and they’re calling that a teaming. Now, when you move to franchising, people are designing things together, but they’re implementing them individually. So we might come up with a common assessment that we’re going to use in the algebra one unit test.

Steve: 09:57 And so we might design the assessment together, but we implement it separately in our classrooms. We may not share our student scores even with the rest of the team. We may not share our student work samples with the rest of the team. That’s franchising. Now franchising begins to move towards team when teachers modify an individual teaching decision to a consensus that we’re going to implement because we think it’s better for students. So for example, a freshmen community in a high school decides to use a particular note taking learning strategy. And it’s not the one that I would’ve picked myself, but I do believe it’s better for the students if we, as a group are reinforcing that same strategy rather than each of us doing different things. So that’s beginning to move towards team. But I really don’t get to team until people are taking a shared responsibility for student achievement.

Steve: 11:09 So one of my best examples was being in a high school math department meeting when the principal came in and laid down the names of a group of students who had failed the state’s end of course required test. And his statement to the math department was that he wanted them to develop a plan. That’s very interesting. He wasn’t looking for the two teachers who would be teaching the classes that those students were in to to develop a plan, he was looking for the plan to be developed by the math department. So now the two teachers who are teaching those students are in effect implementing the team’s plan. So at this point, you have teachers going into the classrooms of those two teachers and observing learners, collecting information, and bringing it back to our department meeting as feedback for how our plan is progressing.

Steve: 12:10 What modifications or changes we might want to make on our plan based on what’s happening. I found two things that helped to move people across this continuum. And the first is that I need to develop trust and that trust is built from vulnerability. And so, often as a coach, you are in a situation where you make yourself vulnerable in order to start the trust process. If your school is new to coaching, you’re going to look for school leaders, teacher leaders, who are willing to make themselves vulnerable before trust has been built. I actually use that as my definition of a teacher leader. The teacher leader is someone who’s willing to make him or herself vulnerable when the trust hasn’t been built yet. And because those leaders step into that role, that’s how trust begins to grow, where they now make it easier for other folks to step into that role.

Steve: 13:24 And the other thing that I found critical to move across here is action. People don’t want to go to another meeting, they don’t want to spend time in a coaching conference where nothing happens afterwards. So that doesn’t mean that we have an answer or a solution, but it means that we’re moving to the next step of taking action. So if we’ve been discussing a problem for some time, and we don’t know what we should do, we probably have a list of questions that we may want to go explore. Not uncommon for me to be in a coaching situation with a teacher where some questions emerge about particular students or group of students not being successful learners. And we aren’t ready to know what to do next, but we are ready to spend more time observing those students and identifying their behaviors now, comparing their behaviors to other learner behaviors, to begin to look for clues, and then we’ll develop an experiment, no guarantee that it’s going to work, but as we implement that experiment it’s action. So I can’t guarantee a teacher that what we’re going to do is going to work, but I’ll guarantee you that I won’t drop it. If it doesn’t, we’ll be back continuing to look at how to move ahead.

Steve: 14:56 As instructional coaches and school leaders, we should be implementing some purposeful – key word there, purposeful, leadership behaviors to promote and support collegiality and teaming among our staff. I encourage you to start with a look at the next month or two and consider adjustments you might make in scheduling, planning, or assigning tasks.S Changes that would encourage shared responsibility and collegial efforts. I’d love to hear your ideas and your questions. Drop me a note at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.

Steve [Outro]: 15:42 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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