The Fuel of Teams: Collaborate - 3 Easy Steps (Part 1 of 3)

The Fuel of Teams: Collaborate – 3 Easy Steps

Collaborate – 3 Easy Steps for Team Transformation

Focus Area: Innovative Change

Part 1 of 3: The What and The Who

by David Horton, Ed.D.

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Part 1 of 3 – The What and The Who

“Trust is the glue of life.

It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication.

It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Steven Covey

[Note: Please see the Introduction and Diagnostic in the previous blog post before using the material in this post.]

Introduction to Part 1

This blog is specifically designed to support the strengthening of the social network and the building of relational trust in teams. Consider how relational trust is built. It is virtually unthinkable to build relational trust in and among teams and colleagues without dialogue and commitments. So how can teams create equity of time and voice regarding dialogue and conversation?

Structured Dialogue – The What

A method to support teams is found in Leading School Teams (Horton, 2017). The dialogue prompts in Leading School Teams give teams some powerful dialogues around professional topics done in a way that every member of the team gets equal time to share and give voice. A key factor in hosting powerful conversations is that purposeful dialogue allows team members to more effectively understand not only the initiative or idea but each other. And, as previously described, dialogue is a powerful way to build relational trust.

This Work is Important – The Who

We have to have leadership and collaboration in schools that can bring sustained results. These results bring with it a culture of success, inclusivity, engagement, and effort. Getting to these things requires leaders and teams who can collaborate and innovate around how to marshal resources, solve logistical problems, support positive tone, and solve day-to-day problems all while keeping everyone focused on the bigger target – student ownership of learning. And, as discussed above, students can learn more, learn with more depth, and learn at a higher rate when teachers are collaboratively working to design experiences for students and studying their collective impact. Further, teams that attend to the health of their learning network and structures build strong foundations for the process to unfold with even greater results.

School Level Learning Networks

Teams can be formed from many combinations of people and tasks. Schools often have teams formed around a common grade level or subject area. These have a narrow scope. Schools also have teams that are broad in scope such as: leadership teams, department chair teams, assessment teams and accreditation teams as some examples. Their work is more ‘school-wide’ and one step removed from classroom impact compared to the narrow-scope school teams.

The role of a narrow-scope learning network team is two-fold: classroom/student impact and team capacity. The Leading Impact Teams EAA format provides the purposeful protocols to support the narrow-scope team.

The role of a broad-scope learning network team is not classroom learning directly but rather a subset of school functions based on the needs of the school. Each of these learning teams (curriculum teams, leadership teams, accreditation teams to name a few) depends on a cohesive and flexible relationship to the district level framed initiatives and the high priorities of the school. These teams can bring in specialized data germane to their focus and provide actions and recommendations to carry out their subset mission.

District Level Learning Networks

Districts also have narrow-scope and broad-scope learning network teams. A narrow-scope district team could be when principals from schools in the district come to a district meeting to coordinate, learn, and understand the direction of the Superintendent and Board. Districts also have broad-scope teams that are acting to craft the “what” message and coordination to the entire organization.

Cohesion of Effort – Making an Impact

Consider where the greatest likelihood of making change to build strong social networks and collective teacher efficacy takes place. Usually district level change is big and unwieldy when it comes to impacting a single classroom. There are very often many levels and layers in between a district initiative and a classroom.

Further, if a district level initiative is pushed out to individual classrooms the variability in implementation can be quite high. This variability leads to a fractured approach to implementation and if the degree of difficulty is high and available support is low it could result in teachers not even being able to implement the initiative at all.

But, the district level plays a crucial role in cohesion of effort. The necessary cohesion is how the district system learns together. It’s the learning network built of those who interact with the district system. In other words, being able to clearly articulate how and what each team is learning and focused on is crucial for clarity and directional cohesion.

The Care and Feeding of the Most Crucial Learning Network – The Cornerstone of Collective Efficacy in the Organization

The most crucial teams in the entire system are the grade level or subject area teams (narrow-scope school level teams). These are the teams that have direct and constant access to students and have the greatest potential impact on student learning. In fact, the social network strength and collective teacher efficacy in the entire organization will not have its full realized effect if these teams don’t function and thrive. By contrast, when these grade level or subject area teams have the strong social networks and build a collective efficacy focused on student ownership of learning they can have dramatic impact on student learning (Daly, 2010; Bloomberg and Pitchford, 2017).

A critical area of focus for any leader at any level of the organization is to understand their role in supporting the grade level and subject area teams. It would be advised for all teams and learning networks to self-assess periodically how well they are supporting grade level and subject area teams. This can generate powerful alignment discussions and action plans. Provided that there is a limited focus for growth it could bring a tremendous amount of power and direction to the organization to know that everyone is channeling efforts toward the same target.

Making Positive Change – Innovative Change

It is important to understand why change is crucial to education and more precisely that Innovative Change is the most critical of all. Innovation is a way of thinking (Couros, 2015). Innovation in education creates something new and better (Couros, 2015). So, innovation can be either an invention or a new iteration – but, as Couros (2015) reminds us it has to be new and better.

Change, more precisely Innovative Change, begins with a question. In fact, Couros (2015) pushes readers to think with questions like: “What is best for this learner?” This kind of question takes us deeper to consider not just today but the implications of what tomorrow holds for each learner. What will they need? What will they have to be prepared to do? How can they access and connect to the market? These are the innovative thoughts that can take classrooms, schools, and districts to powerful places.

Our task now becomes clear. How do we move organizations to deliver a learning experience that is truly relevant to students? This kind of thinking will create stir and disruption. It will break open discussions that the way we’ve been doing things may not be the best for the students we serve. This is challenging thinking. This kind of discussion is the very essence of Innovative Change.

This Innovative Change, and how to move in the direction of such change, is captured well by Biddle-Glass (edited by Dutton and Spreitzer, 2014) as making ‘micro-moves to discovery.’ This idea of micro-moves explains that leaders and change agents are often most successful when they take on change in small incremental steps. Biddle-Glass (2014) helps us with this thinking by describing that these micro-moves can be shared in three directions: 1) Turn toward the unfamiliar, 2) experience together what is not known, and 3) convene around new possibilities. The notion is simple, when engaging in change with colleagues think of these three directions of micro-moves and how this mindset could be a powerful guiding force for keeping a positive view of the desired change.

There are some powerful guiding principles to keep in mind regarding Innovative Change in schools. In fact, these principles of innovative change operate in organizations regardless of size, scope or purpose. These principles hold true in private enterprise as well as the public sector. Remember, change is the constant. Change happens to everyone. Change happens everyday. But, with all of this in mind, do not forget the point and purpose of it all. The key to doing the work of supporting colleagues through the change process is to create better avenues of sharing information and expertise. So, no matter who you are, where you work, and what your goals, change is happening. Change happens.


To get to a place of collective teacher efficacy and strong social networks there are some basic understandings to put in place. There are fundamental and foundational principles, traits, and skills that solid collaboration and implementation/execution of programs are built on. Leaders, principals and teams should not only possess and be organized around these principles, traits, and skills and but they should use them, revisit them, and sustain them regularly and often especially when undertaking crucial collaborative tasks. It is a critical link for district, schools and their teams to realize that teams don’t become excellent on accident. There is no spontaneous and random gathering of the elements that creates a focused, effective and efficient team. They get there with effort, maintenance, and purpose.

A Call to Action

Use the Diagnostics from the Introduction: From the Introduction to this 3-part blog you completed the Diagnostics (Appendices A1 and A2). [Note: If you did not complete the Diagnostics please stop and accomplish this step).

SELECT 3 AREAS OF FOCUS – Using Appendix B you can select 3 areas of focus from Appendix A1 and A2. It is often suggested to select areas that you found were NLU (Not Like Us) or SLU (Somewhat Like Us). Record the needed information in Appendix B.

The entire blog and resources can be found at

Group Read: It is encouraged to use this Blog Series with teams and teammates. If you work through the material this way, the “Thought Questions” are designed to be periodic “stops” and mini-dialogues with teams. Simply facilitate each Thought Questions by doing a quick whip-around with team and asking quick responses to the posed questions. It is not recommended to spend more than 10-15 seconds per person to respond. These are anticipatory questions and are typically handled in the next section.

© Copyright 2020 – David Horton Consulting Inc. and Lead Team Learn

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