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The team is the cornerstone of the learning organization. What really matters is how people make decisions and take action—how the team thinks and acts together.

Peter Senge

Productive collaboration takes both purpose and skill to be effective; teams need to be clear about why they exist (purpose) and have the ability to create and implement a plan for getting it done (skill). Productive collaboration does not occur just by telling people to work together. When teams have the skills to work together effectively and are guided by a clear purpose they save time and develop solutions to problems that can be successfully implemented. According to Conzemius and O’Neill , three cornerstones of productive collaboration and teamwork are People, Task and Process.

When all three are priorities for the team, the result is a highly productive team which yields good outcomes for students.


Successful teams tap into the unique perspectives and talents of the individuals as well as capitalize on the synergy created by the blending of the knowledge and creativity of the team members.

Some considerations of successful teams include:

  • Team members are committed to developing the interpersonal skills needed to work together effectively with others (communication, listening, problem-solving, active participation).
  • Team members are committed to maintaining technical expertise or competence in order for the team to make good decisions.
  • Team members honor the unique differences, working styles and preferences of the individuals by continuously monitoring and adjusting behaviors to include all team members.
  • Team members carefully build trust among the group so that individual backgrounds and experiences can be shared with the team.
  • Team members continuously revisit the purpose and goals of the team to ensure a positive outcome. Developing a shared sense of responsibility and commitment to achieving the group’s mission and goals is critical to the success of the team.

Teams exist for a purpose and in order to accomplish their goals it is essential that teams organize their tasks around a plan with timelines in order to achieve the desired results.

Some basic considerations are:

  • To be clear about the purpose and outcomes of the work
  • To identify and prioritize the tasks that move toward the intended outcome
  • To clarify the roles and responsibilities associated with those tasks
  • To clarify the roles and responsibilities associated with those tasks
  • To acquire the skills necessary to work together effectively

A team that has not come to agreement about how decisions will be made and how to resolve conflicts will fail to achieve their intended goals. Using well defined collaborative processes is the best way to achieve full success as a team.

Ingredients to ensure success of the meeting:

  • Standards. These are also referred to as ground rules or norms by which we agree to behave during the team meeting.
  • Agenda. The agenda should be distributed at least one day prior to the meeting. It should include input from all members of the team. Each meeting should end with reflection and creating items to be included in the next agenda.
  • Defined Roles. All meetings need a facilitator, recorder and timekeeper. It is recommended that these roles be rotated among members of the team to encourage shared responsibility. Other typical roles to be considered are reporter, encourager, and jargon-buster.
  • Minutes. Minutes provide continuity and a reference point for team members. They should be made available to members of the team immediately following a meeting and posted for others to review. This practice reinforces a unity of purpose and a collaborative spirit.
  • Reflection. This step is often neglected but important to the improvement of the commitment to the team process and the success of future meetings. It could involve simple questions like, “How do you feel about our meeting today?” or “Did we accomplish what we set out to do today?”

Building Leadership Capacity

Leadership capacity is the district’s or school’s ability to engage the entire school community in broad-based and skillful participation in learning and improvement. Leadership capacity is achieved when there is a dynamic interaction of focus, reflection, and collaboration.

When a school or a district has high levels of leadership capacity, everyone takes responsibility for improvement of every aspect of the organization. One of the key characteristics of high levels of leadership capacity is that leadership and learning are linked.

Teacher leadership and collaborative teaming naturally compliment each other. If the goal of the team is to positively affect change or implement best practices then nurturing teacher leadership is one powerful strategy for accomplishing that goal. Administrators can no longer do the work of running a school alone. Building partnerships with teachers by including them in the decision making process will only encourage collaboration and ownership to achieve the school’s goals.

“Teacher leadership develops naturally among professionals who learn, share, and address problems together”.

Teacher leadership is not about power. Rather, it is about mobilizing the still largely untapped attributes of teachers to strengthen student performance at ground level and working toward real collaboration, a locally tailored kind of shared leadership, in the daily life of the school.

What is the role of the teacher?

“Principals simply can’t do it by themselves,” David Hill, Coordinator, State Leadership Academy for Southern Regional Education Board, says. In the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), when policymakers and the public expect all students to learn at high levels, leadership academies must shift their focus from grooming individual leaders to preparing leadership teams with the skills, knowledge and staying power to drive positive change”.

Most teachers accept leadership as a reward in itself; they derive a sense of self-worth from having their voices heard, developing vision, or serving their students and colleagues.

Teacher Leaders convey convictions about a better world by…

  • articulating a positive future for students
  • showing a genuine interest in students’ lives
  • contributing to an image of teachers as professionals who make a difference
  • gaining respect and trust in the broader community
  • demonstrating tolerance and reasonableness in difficult situations

Teacher Leaders strive for authenticity in their teaching, learning, and assessment practices by…

  • creating learning experiences related to students’ needs
  • connecting teaching, learning, and assessment to students’ futures
  • seeking deep understanding of tacit teaching and learning processes
  • valuing teaching as a key profession in shaping meaning systems

Teacher Leaders facilitate communities of learning through organization-wide processes by…

  • encouraging a shared, school-wide approach to teaching learning and assessment
  • approaching professional learning as consciousness raising about complex issues
  • facilitating understanding across diverse groups while also respecting individual differences synthesizing new ideas out of colleagues’ dialogues and activities

Teacher Leaders confront barriers in the school’s culture and structures by…

  • testing boundaries rather than accepting the status quo
  • engaging administrators as potential sources of assistance and advocacy
  • accessing political processes in and out of the school
  • standing up for children, especially marginalized or disadvantaged individuals or groups

Teacher Leaders translate ideas into sustainable systems of action by…

  • organizing complex tasks effectively
  • maintaining focus on issues of importance
  • nurturing networks of support
  • managing issues of time and pressure through priority setting

Teacher Leaders nurture a culture of success by…

  • acting on opportunities for others to gain success and recognition
  • adopting a no-blame attitude when things go wrong
  • creating a sense of community identity and pride

In summary, individuals in schools, agencies, organizations, etc. will be asked to participate in teams convened for different purposes. For example, school improvement teams, IEP teams, grade level teams, etc. are found in schools. Teacher leadership, beyond collaboration strategies, enables individuals to guide participation from positions of both strength and cooperation.

Southern Regional Education Board
Education Service Center, Region XIII