Let’s Talk About Teams

Education is full of teams, pastoral teams, curriculum teams departmental teams, faculty teams but how much time do schools spend on developing the leaders to develop their teams.


At a most basic level, there is the Foreman model of Group Development  ( 1965) with its forming–storming–norming–performing stages.  This has been, and I feel, a really useful place to start especially for the new leader or for the classroom teacher with their use of group learning.  I think that in the current educational environment and the potential creation of more teams outside of the traditional faculty/department model it is important that those new leaders are given the understanding of the process of forming a team/group but this rather “old ” research will not be the focus of our talk about teams rather Google’s work on teams in their Project Aristotle.

Project Aristotle looked at team effectiveness.  Much of what they found is highly applicable to education so why are schools not developing this knowledge in potential leaders before they become actual leaders?  In New Zealand, as we move into the exciting new landscape of Communities of Learning ( CoL) how many  CoLs have someone to develop those skills in the “new leaders”

The image below summarises the most important aspects for teams.    If we reflect on teams that we have led or teams that we have been in how would they rate in respect of what is below?

Google's Team Dynamics

Psychological safety is crucial but how do we know if we have it in our teams.  Do we as middle leaders have time to identify it? As a middle manager both the research and the talk from Amy Edmonson got me thinking about the team that I lead, how I lead it and whether the team that I lead is effective?  How do I, or should it be the organisation that measures the psychological safety of the team or does that matter so long as the results are there?   I would hope that I have developed the three feature that a psychologically safe team should have according to Amy Edmonson from her TEDx talk.  These being

  1. Framing problems as learning problems
  2. Being open about and talking about failure
  3. Model curiosity

In reality, whether I think I do this or not is a question not for me but a question for the team I am in.  The joys of the middle leader.

Middle Manager or Middle Leader or Does It Matter?

Are we middle leaders or middle managers?   What’s in a name? A brief review of literature seems to suggest that the terms are interchangeable and include “Middle leaders (subject leaders, middle managers, heads of department, curriculum coordinators) ” (Bennet et al, 2008)  given the introduction of Communities of Learning (CoL) another couple of titles could be added to that list, Col Teacher (across schools) and CoL Teacher (within school)  So returning to the original question I don’t think the title matters ( except possible to ego’s) it is the people,  role, the culture, the capacity of the individual and organisation for learning and change .

How can the title be reflective of the culture and reflect a school’s position in relation to change and the subject (content) versus skills debate  I would suggest that in schools where we have the more traditional titles such as  Head of  Department style titles that it is more likely to have the traditional silo-based view of subjects whereas schools that are transitioning between subjects v skills  have changed titles to Heads of Learning ( the more progressive element) followed by the specific learning area  ( more traditional element).  At the more “radical” end of this is the schools where the titles have lost the subject specific designation.  It is interesting to note that north of the bridge in Auckland New Zealand  we have almost that complete range,  but even the schools that are aiming to be the more radical with their view of the curriculum still have not quite broken free of the yoke of subject designation ” Learning Design Leader ”  (  followed by subject designation)  but in fairness it is worth noting that there are schools like Hobsonville Point and Albany Senior that have other middle leader designations which are reflective of their colleges educational kaupapa  eg “Big Project Leaders, Team Leaders

This brings us to a convenient link back to Communities of Learning  and the opportunities that these allow for the development of leadership capability outside of the traditional structures of Heads of Department ( curriculum ) and Deans/Heads of Year ( pastoral)  with the titles of Community of Learning teacher ( although it has the sub designation of “Expert Teacher”).  This designation of the Expert teacher is an interesting area for discussion which will be touched on in a later post as it takes us into the arena of  Hattie’s  research in the field of “expert ” and ” experienced” teachers.  I am lucky enough to work with teachers who will be “expert” before they are  “experienced”.  With such a break from the traditional structures that the Community of Learning positions make it will be critical, in my opinion, for not just the “right people” for the position to be selected but the “right ” preparation for these people.  These individuals may have the innate abilities/characteristics but unless they are given the knowledge to lead change before they start then the system will have just maintained the status quo of middle leaders/manager development which is that gets them into the position and then do some training/learning.    I would suggest that one of the elements that could be introduced would be more learning about the process of change before the leaders start.

Currently, the Hapara Trainer course ( I am not on the payroll) is one that offers such an approach which an engaging mix of practical work with Hapara ( a learning platform) and how to lead change combined with developing the adult as a learner.  As a teacher with 20+ years, I found the learning within the course stimulating and definitely got me thinking much more about middle leadership development ( and so one of the reasons for the blog) and would highly recommend it not just to learn about the platform but to develop professional knowledge.

The post started with a question “Middle Leaders or Middle Managers does it matter? Ultimately to me, I don’t think so but what does matter is the abilities that make up the person that has a middle leadership post and more importantly how the system develops those abilities for the good of the learners, both teachers and students.