Self-Directed Teams Contribute to Sustainability
We received a question from a school where teachers were upset that the administration seemed to be dictating what was to occur at their team meetings. Teachers resented being micromanaged, and administrators felt that teams needed specific directions and focus to ensure teachers used the time productively. Here is how we responded:
Assume good intentions on the part of both teachers and administrators and search for common ground. Both sides should be able to agree that if teachers do not use the collaboration time for the purpose intended (that is, if they don’t collaborate on the right work), there will be no gains in student achievement. Both sides should also agree that teams must become self-directed if the process is to be sustained when the principals leave a school, and micromanaging does not contribute to sustainability.
We have found that the best approach is for principals and team leaders to agree on the work to be done, a timeline for completion, and the evidence that teams will present to demonstrate their work, and then give the teams autonomy to determine the agenda for any particular meeting. When teams are unable to provide that evidence, then the administration can step in to help them address whatever problems they are experiencing.
For example, if you go to http://www.allthingsplc.info/pdf/tools/CriticalIssuesForTeamConsideration.pdf you can get a copy of the 18 critical issues we contend represent the “right work” for collaborative teams in a PLC. Some of these issues are addressed annually, and some are recursive--or are repeated over and over as part of a continuous cycle. For example, a team will create team norms and SMART goals for the year only once. They will establish the essential outcomes for a unit, agree on pacing, and develop preassessments and common formative assessments repeatedly for each unit.
So, our advice is to have the principal and team leaders agree on a timeline for when the work is to be done, create clear expectations regarding the product that will be created, and let teams set their own agendas until there is evidence that they are struggling. For example, the timeline might look like this:
- After your second meeting: Present your team norms and SMART goal.
- After your fourth meeting: Present the essential outcomes for your course and for the first unit you are teaching.
- After your sixth meeting: Present your first common assessment.
- After your eight meeting: Present your analysis from your first common assessment including areas of celebration, areas of concern, and your strategies for proceeding.
- After your 10th meeting: Present the essential skills for the next unit and a preassessment for those skills.
And so on. In this instance, the first step is done once during the year. The other steps could occur for each unit. The team understands the expectations for providing evidence of their work but has some latitude in what happens at any given meeting.
The approach we are presenting works best when leadership is widely dispersed, and so we recommend that principals work directly with team leaders to clarify expectations and help resolve problems, task by task. It also demands that principals demonstrate reciprocal accountability, Richard Elmore’s phrase for the premise that if leaders are going to hold others accountable for completing work and achieving goals, then leaders are accountable to them to provide everything they need to contribute to their success. For example, for each product a leader asks a team to create, the leaders should be able to address:
- Why questions: Why should we do this? Can you present a rationale as to why we should engage in this work? Is there evidence that suggests the outcome of this work is desirable, feasible, and more effective than what we have traditionally done?
- What questions: What are the exact meanings of key terms? What resources, tools, templates, materials, and examples can you provide to assist in our work?
- How questions: How do we proceed? How do you propose we do this? Is there a preferred process?
- When questions: When will we find time to do this? When do you expect us to complete the task? What is the timeline?
- Guiding questions: Which questions are we attempting to answer? Which questions will help us stay focused on the right work?
- Quality questions: What criteria will be used to judge the quality of our work? What criteria can we use to assess our own work?
- Assurance questions" What suggestions can you offer to increase the likelihood of our success? What cautions can you alert us to? Where do we turn when we struggle?
We have attempted to provide principals with everything they need to answer these questions for each product in the second edition of Learning by Doing.