Recently, I attended my annual recertification in Mandt. For those of you not familiar, Mandt defines itself as “a comprehensive, integrated approach to preventing, de-escalating, and if necessary, intervening when the behavior of an individual poses a threat of harm to themselves or others.” For me, the most important, and most utilized aspects of this training are the concepts of relational interactions and de-escalation. But while I have participated in this training many times, this time something new struck me – the importance of teamwork.

I have long thought of the people I work with as my team. We are all engaged in work with a similar purpose – to have a positive impact on our students in terms of learning and personal growth. When we’re going through the training in Mandt, we are taught about how powerful teamwork can be in the process of de-escalation and/or intervention. But, teamwork applies to so much more of the work we do in schools too!

Recently, I have had a few posts related to the importance of the work we do within our PLC team. If you want to look back at them, you can find “Habits and teaching” here, and “Thoughtful in what we do” here. As stated before, a team is defined as a group of people who are working together toward the same goal and results. My hope is that does, or will, define the PLC team that you are a part of. If you don’t know that you can currently define your team in that way, my hope is that this post will help you to build a truly collaborative team that has common goals and results they are seeking. Even if you can define your team in that way, hopefully you’ll have some things to reflect on to strengthen your team even more!

In 2013, Steve Kozlowski and Bradford Bell released a review of a great deal of research on teams titled “Work Groups and Teams in Organizations” (you can access the full piece here). Two key points garnered from this work are:

  1. Psychological safety on the team contributes to team success.
  2. When we believe our work is interdependent there is higher information sharing, team learning, and team effectiveness.

This reminds me of something else that I’ve written an awful lot about – Collective Teacher Efficacy. As a reminder, that concept says that there is a shared belief that through their collective action, educators can influence the outcomes and increase achievement for all students.

Now, here’s the reality that I know we sometimes don’t talk about openly enough – not all teacher teams are holding themselves accountable to these beliefs. Sometimes, a PLC team goes through the motions of doing the work of the PLC but doesn’t see the influence on student outcomes and increased student achievement that we might hope for. I have a couple different theories for why this might happen, but today’s will primarily focus on the work of the team.

A few years ago, John Spencer wrote an excellent blog post that ties into this concept of teamwork. That post was titled “The Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration.” You can see that post here, or watch a short YouTube video from John here. He argues that for healthy teamwork to exist, you have to have both cooperation and collaboration, so really they are not versus, rather they work in tandem with one another to strengthen teamwork.

This graphic shows a bit about what John sees as the difference between cooperation and collaboration:

Think for a moment about teams that you have been on. What do you recall about the teams that felt the most successful? What about the teams that felt the least successful? I’m guessing that for most of us, the teams we remember as being the most successful probably had a high culture of collaboration. But one of the things that John points out is that in a collaborative team, we sometimes grow stagnant.

So, for our teams to be successful, we need to be both cooperative and collaborative. How do we get there? Kenneth William, a former teacher and administrator shares that the key to making sure that our teams operate in a state that leads to efficacy we need to not only have norms for the way we do work, we must also have accountability protocols (You can see his article on this topic here). In my school, at each team meeting, we start by doing a brief review of the team norms. This is also a time for discussion about whether we need to add or change a norm.

But something that we have not yet implemented is an accountability protocol. I’ll be honest, it’s not something that I’ve thought about a lot because once we set norms, we all generally have this optimistic belief that no one will violate the norms. But setting an accountability protocol is the way we answer the question “What is our process for holding each other accountable in a respectful and dignified manner?” Maybe your team has a norm around not allowing any one person to dominate the space, and yet there is a member who continually does dominate the conversations. What do you do? If you don’t talk about an accountability protocol when setting your norms, it may feel too uncomfortable to let that person know that they are dominating the space. One thing I know about most of us as educators (I’m raising my hand here) is that we don’t ever like to come across as rude!

Here’s what Williams says are potential scenarios if we don’t address accountability protocols:

  • The norm violation is not addressed, and as a result, unspoken tension and frustration grow within the collaborative team.
  • The norm violation is addressed, but inappropriately. With no established protocol, the reaction to the confrontation becomes defensive.
  • Too early in the process, the team takes the issue to the principal for him or her to handle.

Going back to the graphic from John Spencer, what happens to the collaborative culture if one of these scenarios happens to our team? What will that do to our collective teacher efficacy? I’d argue that not having accountability protocols will prevent your team from reaching its potential. As educators, that should be very concerning. So while some of us might struggle with how to hold others accountable, a failure to do so is a failure of our team to do the work.

So pause for a moment to think about the team that you are a part of now. Is there a healthy collaborative culture? Are your students learning and growing at the rate you’d hope? Does the culture of your team feel good to all the members? Then you probably are in a place where you have been holding one another accountable as a collaborative team, but also as a team that is excelling in the work. If the answer to any of these questions is no, I’d suggest that you need to go back first to your norms to make sure you have a shared understanding of what those norms mean. No matter whether your team is high-functioning or not, you need to then do the work of setting some accountability protocols in case something doesn’t go well.

I’d love you to share your thoughts. Does your team have accountability protocols? If yes, what does that look like for your team? Sharing some ideas might spark a system for others who don’t. And if you don’t have accountability protocols, what steps can you take now to help set something up? Or what ideas do you have for ways you might hold one another accountable? Let us all know in the comments below!