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15 Ingredients for a Successful TEAM in a School

I was sent this infographic from my colleague Richard Mahoney over at https://www.lnkd.in/gnFpXuU which is really great at looking at TEAMS and how they function.

I put it on a post and then thought, actually I have lots of helpful ideas for teachers just starting out at running their own departments in a school setting who might enjoy some explanation and context for how these might work in a school.

Also clearly some older teachers might have a little look as well to see how things should work and how you need to set this example too.

One really crucial message is that a TEAM can never function properly when overloaded. So best to always be realistic!

  1. Teamwork – Clearly you cannot do everything by yourself, delegation to not only share the load, but also to give people a chance to use their skills and take the lead as well are clearly important. In a Science department you have lots of experts and all of you will have a degree in your subject, so make sure you use the team properly.
  2. Goals – Everyone needs a goal to work towards. I think that every department in a school needs a noticeably short and easy 5 key things to work on for the term. It should really be no more than 5 and then it is extremely easy to tie everything into that.
  3. Respect – if you don’t talk to everyone in your team in a productive way and give everyone a chance to shine, discontent will breed unhappiness. This will poison the team and stop you achieving your goals. I know of Heads of dept or Heads of school who don’t speak to the cleaners or admin staff. Crazy, as they are the key people in your school and add massive value. Also I always remember being in those roles in the past and it hurts. I always remember a customer I served at Debenhams in my Saturday job who was talking down to me quite a lot. Until I let slip, I was at Loughborough University. He asked me what my subject was. I replied “Physics”.
  4. Passion – Everyone in your team including yourself needs to have a passion for what you are doing. I have seen far too many school leaders who are simply marking out time or using the role as a stepping-stone. I remember one year I had been to Florida on holiday and clearly made a “special” trip to the Space Centre to meet an astronaut and see the space shuttle. I was simply blown away and could not stop talking about it. A Science teacher I knew just could not understand why I got so excited. Another time I went to the Natural History Museum in London and spend over 2 hours in the mineral vault. Why? Because I have passion and I am not afraid to enjoy my Science.
  5. Leadership – A lot is talked of nonsense is talked about the difference between “Management” and “Leadership”. Quite frankly I think they are both hand in hand. In a school a head of dep has to do both and flit between the two concepts. I think it is best to not get wrapped up in what you are doing, but just “lead” and “manage” things as required.
  6. Consistency – a good head of department sets out their stall very clearly. So for example when I ask for a task to be completed for Y7 on input of grades I send an email/paper memo with 4 clear steps with dates on. I then put a reminder on it, and then when it comes to Y8 I use the exact same pattern. We are all creatures of habit, especially teachers whose lives are very predictable lesson by lesson. The more patterns we have the more success you will have in goal completion.
  7. Trust – your team must trust you actually know what you are doing. We have all seen people promoted to roles where really they have no idea. You cannot lead if people don’t trust you. You also need to right most of the time. You are allowed a few mistakes (just like teaching a lesson) but if you don’t get nearly all of it right or predict it correctly as least you will lose the trust of your team. A good tip for gaining trust is be consistent and honest. Keep confidences where possible and make sure you are reading the “game” and play chess 3 moves ahead of the current situation. This allows you to be right more often and keep the trust going!
  8. Communication – If you have a 5 point plan each term, you need to keep communicating that plan, and stick to it. People in schools are often ambulance chasers with all sorts of things but if you stick to the plan and be pretty firm on it on a termly basis this is usually enough to make sure you are not turning into a “flip-flop” where you start to have mission drift and confusion. Also find a channel i.e. memo on paper / email / TEAMS and just stick to it. Move Heaven and Earth to get everyone to buy into using the system. DON’T make allowances for people make sure they follow the “one true” system. In the end you will save time.
  9. Resilience – Schools often must absorb the mistakes of others and departments, headteachers OR Academy Trust mistakes! The only way to get around this is to make sure you are firm on what you are doing, be happy to admit a mistake and move on. Also try and build in depth to your team and resources you can use for example when people are off ill, you are off ill, have a good 2nd in command! Try and avoid blaming people for mistakes, especially in public. However, always make sure in private you have the tough conversations at the time or problems can bubble up.
  10. Reflection – If you have a 5 point plan for the term, make sure at every meeting you have these key ideas reflect the agenda. Put several on the things you are looking at and try to tie these points into your plan. If they aren’t on the plan, why are you discussing them as they cannot be that important? Take time as well to reflect on how things go when you make key decisions. It is good to review and think about did you get what you required out of that situation, and if not why not?
  11. Creativity – one of the key parts of all of the teams in the past that I have been in or been in charge of is to allow the creative stuff to happen. Now, this is not to say that everyone has free reign but if somebody wants to do something, just let them have go and try it out. Also don’t under any circumstances fall into the trap of having all teachers do the same style and use the same generic resources. One of the reasons I love being a teacher is that I get to create me own resources and deploy them in my own way. We are all very different and teachers will only find “flow” when you allow them to do so.
  12. Vision – So you have the 5 point plan for each term to focus on. But, all teams in school and departments need a bit a mission statement or vision which is like the peak of Everest. Everyone can see it, we are all trying to get there, it’s a pretty steep learning curve, we might not all make it (unless we have a hand!) and it is clear. Feels good!
  13. Philosophy – In a Science department or school setting this is easy. Firstly, I have the “any parent” test. If you think that lesson was good enough for your own daughter or child, it probably is. Also, if you do everything you can as honestly and openly as you can without fear or favour then publish and be dammed!
  14. Organisation – we all need to have structure and a good leader assesses their teams carefully. Particularly for example when constructing a timetable. I always considered the needs of the organisation, team members and pupils in these decisions. However, my overarching rules was to think what will be best for the pupils and give the most people the best possible success. I also think you really need to think about your sub-teams on any task as well. If you want the work doing, you have to have a sub-team leader who is not an idiot – note the apprentice!
  15. Roles – if you are clear on a department with a list of who does what as a tick list operation you know where you stand. Just like a rota for break duty, if you have a clear plan everyone knows. It is very easy when you do termly staffing reviews to go through the list and make sure all the jobs got done. Also for staff they know what is expected on them. 

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