Toby Arritola

Toby Arritola is the principal at Mountain Vista Elementary School in Aurora, Colorado. With more than 20 years of experience as an educator, Toby specializes in and advocates for developing PLCs and a healthy school culture.

Better Together

“A small team, committed to a cause bigger than themselves, can achieve absolutely anything” (Sinek, 2020). Over the last year, with all of the turmoil and change in the world, one thing has remained constant:  our unwavering dedication to student growth and achievement. Within that statement, the most important word is “our.” When we, meaning our collaborative teams functioning within a Professional Learning Community, come together for students, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish…even in the face of a year many would call difficult, to say the least. 


As our school district joined many districts across the nation in making the determination to move to remote learning this fall, my leadership focus turned to the established components of our school culture that would be integral for teacher and student achievement and growth in these new and challenging times. Based upon student success already cultivated by collaborative teams, we knew our collaborative teams would be the thread to pull us through this new journey. 


So, how do collaborative teams continue to push forward in uncertain times and circumstances? 


We must remember that a change in location does not change our collaborative culture and focus upon high levels of learning. Even online, we lean in, we are vulnerable and honest about our needs for growth as educators, we learn from one another, and we trust one another. “One characteristic of high performing teams is they are always looking for continuous improvement” (Bailey and Jakicic, 2019). The current uncertainty we encounter on a daily basis certainly gives teams new challenges for this continuous improvement. As we see these challenges in a positive light, we continue to build collective teacher efficacy and focus on how we can continue to get better, one day at a time, for our students. Collaborative teams truly ensure the existence of job embedded professional development on a daily basis, whether virtually or in person.  


Without doubt, the cornerstone of our ability to continue to provide each student with learning opportunities to meet specific needs has been our continued dedication to work in collaborative teams. Often in our building, collaborative teams meet several times a week, and I believe our continued success in an online environment has been the continuation of these conversations…even in the virtual world. Teachers continue to meet in collaborative teams to share needs of students revolving around the 4 questions embedded in units of study, and rather than becoming frustrated and overwhelmed, they become inspired and excited to face challenges ahead and celebrate the growth of their students. Teachers learn from one another about how to teach online with meaningful learning opportunities, new tools for instruction, innovative ways to collect and track student data, how to hold small groups and individual conferring sessions to target needs, and more. Teachers do not learn this from outside professional development, but rather, they learn this together from one another. They’ve become online coaches, cheerleaders, and advocates for one another’s students just as they would have in person. Our students are still “our kids, not my kids.” 


I would assert that as a leader, collaborating with instructional coaches to intentionally plan time for collaborative teams to meet, honor this right work focused upon the 4 questions, and participate hand in hand with teachers is an integral component to student success.  “Collaboration is when people work together interdependently to reach a common goal. It involves capitalizing on each team member’s strengths, talents, expertise, and skills to work for the greater purpose of accomplishing the goal” (Kramer and Schuhl, 2017). While the changes and obstacles of the past year may have been daunting, we cannot forget teamwork will see us through. It’s certainly the season to celebrate teacher talents and expertise, look to one another for growth, and build together for our students. 


Bailey, K., Jakicic, C. (2019). Make it Happen: Coaching With the 4 Critical Questions of PLCs at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. 

Kramer, S., Schuhl, S. (2017). School Improvement for All: A How-To Guide for Doing the Right Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

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