While I was planning for the year-end reflection training, I was reading the book The Art of Coaching Teams: Building Resilient Communities That Transform Schools by Elena Aguilar. The book is a great source of team-building ideas and it did help inform some of the activities for the training I planned and implemented. I recommend this book not only to coaches and principals but also to every single teacher out there. Teaching is to a great extend forming, developing, and growing teams. It is the art of getting the best out of team members for learning is a collaborative process.
Reflection: The Starting Point of Year-end Training
The starting point of a productive ‘Year-end reflection’ training is a reference to the topics discussed and agreements made at that very same time the year before. As a facilitator/coordinator of the training, hand out the “What we have achieved vs What we haven’t achieved” form and go through the Minutes of Meeting, recorded at the previous end-of-year training session, while teachers classify the commitments accordingly. At this stage, there is no point to dig into the events to find the reasons for not following through on commitments and not accomplishing some of the tasks. Primarily what we are aiming at is finding out ‘To what extent do our commitments result into actions and how much of what is agreed upon remains to be done. Are we facing an issue of commitment or an issue of an ineffective follow-through system?’
In the first case, we might be facing a problem of teachers/employees not responding to demands by choosing commitment. The reasons could be numerous but for the most part lack of commitment comes as a result of a lack of passion, enthusiasm, or energy. It could also be merely a question of insufficient time.
Consistent follow-through practices can ensure that the agreements reached would be effectively carried out.
Appreciation: Focus on the positive. Focus on the strengths. Use an Assets-based Approach.
As pointed out by Elena Aguilar, “we can think about change in two basic ways: we can focus on what we are doing wrong and try to do less of it, or we can focus one what we are doing right and try to do more of it. By focusing on strengths, talents, competencies, and things we are doing right we are far more likely to make long-lasting change.”
The following activity invites teachers to identify, on a post-it note, the qualities and attributes of their colleagues and add at least one note to the column designated for each individual. If you work with a small team, you can let each teacher go through the points they have written and openly provide their colleagues with feedback thus planting the seeds for a positive work culture of recognition and respect.
During the very first training of the year, partnering teachers were paired up and asked to give each other feedback in terms of the qualities that have enhanced their teaching experiences. By encouraging teachers to acknowledge each other and to connect in a genuine way, schoolmasters can nurture a culture of appreciation.
According to Elena Aguilar, when appreciating others, it helps to be specific by naming the action, behavior, or quality one appreciates. Such exercise represents an opportunity for every teacher to let their partner know about the positive impact they have exerted on them and the qualities they appreciate. At the end of this activity, teachers reflect on the feedback received and weave the feedback with their self-perception to arrive at a composite of who they are and what their most pronounced individual strengths are. The idea is to let everyone focus on the positive and to allow members of the team to come to see their own worth, their potential, and their ability to complement one another.
We cannot develop children into confident and competent leaders without attending to the teachers who work with them. Shifting the focus toward teachers’ strengths would inevitably boost the confidence of teachers which would naturally become projected onto the students. When teachers perceive themselves as leaders, they model the traits of enthusiasm, positivity, and drive for students.
At this point, teachers were tested and asked to name the strengths of their colleagues which were discussed during our orientation.
Reflection: Develop Solution-oriented teachers
Without focusing too much on what the team is doing wrong, time needs to be set aside for revisiting the problems faced throughout the year and how they have been (or haven’t been) solved. We need time for reflection and learning that allow us to explore the root causes to our challenges and to make change. One out of every couple of issues stems from miscommunication, misunderstanding, or lack of information. In our case, there was a clear misunderstanding of expectations between shareholders that is largely due to the fact that the institution we work for is affiliated with another educational institution.
At this point, we want to start from the core and work toward the periphery. We want to remind ourselves as to what our purpose is, what our goals are, and what makes us unique. We need to draw a clear line between the two institutions while bearing in mind to what extent they share common ground. Have we agreed on what results must be achieved and do we monitor whether we are on track or not? Have we communicated and do we keep communicating this clearly to the stakeholders (parents of current and prospective students)? At this stage, we look at the touch points/information sources (daily photo albums shared among teachers, bulletin board, monthly newsletters shared with parents, daily reports shared with parents, weekly meetings among teachers, etc) between shareholders and make sure that the information between the different touch points is consistent and is communicated regularly and clearly.
Due to the nature of the organization, teachers participate in different teams (language teachers, development teams, grade-based) and attend their respective meetings. As a result, some people know something that other people don’t know and communication flow is impeded without useful information being properly and timely disseminated. The weekly meeting, however, represents the single moment when the members of all teams/groups get together. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to make the most out of the single hour of shared weekly meeting by keeping everyone informed through structured agenda template. Incorporating brief academic and behavioral report at the very beginning as well as development team report
Establishing the norm ‘be solutions oriented’ starts with frequently revisiting major problems that were faced and the way they were tackled.
Who/what are we? Who/what are they? Use a Venn diagram to illustrate the similarities and differences between the kindergarten and the English school. What do we have in common and what sets the two institution apart? How to not get sidetracked and how do we know when we get sidetracked?
One of the simplest yet most powerful and impactful question to ask your team-members is: “What would make your work (teaching, planning, communication) better?
If we are to dissect the ‘Recap of the Year’ session and sum up the ‘demands’ of employees into a few words, these would be: Feedback, Communication, Collaboration. Being aware of our needs should help us determine what actions we need to take to meet those needs. The questions that naturally arise in response to the identified needs are essentially questions that paint the bigger picture of how a company is managed and how it views its employees. More in the following blog post.