Creation of a Crew
It’s easy to read about what makes an effective team, or how to build a collective commitment, but from personal experience, it is much harder to cultivate. There have been times I have been a part of a team that seemed to effortlessly evolve - we got along, we worked well together, and our students were successful. However, these times have been rarer than I would have liked. Unfortunately, I have also been part of teams where there was competition and conflict, and as we all know, competition and conflict can wreak havoc on a team, as well as undermine the culture of a school. More often than not, it takes significant effort to create a team culture.
Several years ago, I felt the most isolated I had ever felt during my entire teaching career. I returned to my school after a secondment at another school, had been placed on a grade I had never taught before, with a team of teachers I had never taught with, where I was the only new person to join the team, and with a supervisor I had never met as she had started at the school while I was away. I have a tendency to withdraw when anxious or stressed, but I recognised that in order to survive in this situation, I had to reflect on what I needed and what I could control. So I purposefully left my classroom at break times to go and interact with my colleagues, socially as well as professionally. I shared my ideas and asked their opinions. I offered help or support when it was needed. I invited collaboration and cultivated open communication. I modelled the behaviour and connection I was seeking with others. And it worked. I began to feel some sense of cohesion within our team, and once more a feeling of belonging within my school.
In the years since, I have become part of a different team. I believe we work well together and are extremely effective. Despite how it may appear from the outside, this by no means, comes easy. The dynamics of the team have been quite advantageous to some members, but have been a challenge to others. The placement of teachers in classrooms can either naturally allow for collaboration or can be somewhat isolating for others. A basic need for all human beings is a sense of belonging, and while some people may be relatively happy on their own, from my perspective, I have had to be very intentional about creating connections, in order to meet those needs within myself. As Brene Brown would say, it has required a willingness to rumble with vulnerability, to be open and honest, and oftentimes, to nurture letting go and acceptance. Being part of a team and feeling supported by your teammates is one of the best feelings one can have at work. A group of people aren’t a team because they work together – they are a team because they respect , trust and care for each other - and this outcome is only achieved through intention.
The greatest strength of our team is our collective commitment to our students. We view each and every student, in each and every class, as ‘our students’, and we take joint ownership of their learning. We collaboratively analyse data, identify student needs and plan the learning experiences to meet these needs. We work together to implement lessons, grouping students across the cohort and taking responsibility for all students. There is power in a group of people who work together towards a shared goal.
We also have common core beliefs and a similar vision for education - we are passionate about raising kind, caring and active young people who know how to advocate for themselves, champion others and make a positive impact on the world. Our aim is for student engagement, agency and empowerment. The range of experience, strengths, interests and talents of team members are recognised and respected, and we take advantage of this diversity in order to enact our vision. For example, an interest and strength of one team member is gamification, and we utilise this to design engaging lessons. We have someone who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about digital technologies; and another who’s skills and interest lie in social and emotional learning. We've had a team member is Indigenous, and she supports us to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, culture and perspectives in learning. My passion and expertise lies in developing a reading community, of course including the teaching of reading, but also infusing a love of reading in students. With the right team dynamics, decisions and diverse personalities in place, everyone wins.
So how did we become a crew? Like so many others, after reading ‘Teach Like a PIRATE’ by Dave Burgess I was inspired! Inspired to provide uncommon experiences for my students, instead of just lessons. Inspired to do whatever I could to engage students in learning. Inspired to be great. Once the decision to teach like a pirate was made, I charted my course and set sail! There were many days where I watched as students were fully engaged, laughing and having fun while learning. Receiving cards from students, and overhearing conversations in the last week of school, where students said how much fun they had this year, was the icing on the cake. Upon returning to school the following year, I announced that I was ALL IN PIRATE, and decided to recruit a crew! As Dave says, “All pirates travel with a crew; you can’t sail, navigate, and fight battles all on your own.” Everyone needs a crew - a group to belong to, who will support each other, and who will work together to achieve a common goal. Luckily for me, the members of my team were willing to jump on board and sail with me, and have continued to do so each year, even as new members join the crew. This common identity consolidates our sense of team, and is a reminder that all crew members are vital to keeping our ship afloat and on course to successfully navigate our journey.
We are stronger and better collectively than we are individually. Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf: Lead Like a PIRATE