“Are you sure?”
That’s what I asked my seven-teacher team when they agreed with our English teacher’s suggestion to submit an application to partner with Summit Learning. In my role as assistant director at Julian Charter School, an independent study school in San Diego, I had asked them to read articles from the L.A. Times and U.S. News & World Report and to review some of the Projects in the Base Curriculum.
The self-directed learning approach was intriguing; perhaps our teachers would be interested in trying out some of the Projects. The Mentoring component seemed like it had some ideas we could use. I wanted to dabble, but to my surprise, the team was ready to dive in. And so, with a little trepidation, we began the application process, which at the time was quite extensive.
Our same teacher team has now finished our second year of Summit Learning. We were a good team starting out, but our personal and collaborative adventures have turned us into a great team. Our time during Summer Training was instrumental in our growth. It allowed us to spend time together, give each member a voice, and provide each other regular reassurance and support.
Build Trust Before You Go
As leaders, we must create and nurture teamwork. This doesn’t just happen. It takes time, energy, and patience — and it starts with establishing a foundation of trust.
If teachers trust you and sense that you trust them, they will look to you as a leader and follow you through the most uncertain times. As a team, we had worked together for a number of years and had ample time to develop a strong relationship. They had learned that I wouldn’t just spring something on them, which is exactly why I asked them to consider Summit Learning, instead of telling them. With this groundwork of trust in place, we dove into Summer Training and took a chance together.
Spend Valuable Time Together
We spent a full week together engaging in productive struggle as we learned the philosophy of Summit Learning, stretched our mindsets, and became familiar with the Summit Learning Platform and curriculum. We all commented that it was the best professional development we had ever encountered.
Although we had worked together for a number of years, the concentrated time we spent together that week of Summer Training in August of 2016 deepened our personal and professional relationships.
When the team first arrived in San Francisco, I knew our week would be packed with work, so I suggested we do our sightseeing on Sunday.
We headed to the Golden Gate Bridge and took a meandering 7-mile walk through the Marina, to Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, and Chinatown. We had a great time walking and talking and just having fun together.
This simple activity set exactly the right tone for our upcoming week of working together.
Because our meals were provided at Summer Training, we always sat together at the same table. We used the time to share what we were learning, finishing discussions from task cards, and processing our excitement and concerns. When our sessions were over, we’d take an hour to rest on our own and then we’d come back together for a walk. We even had an evening playing a board game together.
As a leader, many other issues demand my time and can distract me from the moment, but it was critical for my team to know that I was fully invested and taking this journey with them.
Listen to Every Voice
When I asked my teachers what I did that was most helpful for them during our Summer Training, I consistently heard, “You listened.”
Every teacher has an opinion, and I consider it my job to make sure that each one is heard — not only by me, but the entire team. As we learned new strategies for implementing the curriculum or creating space and time for Personalized Learning Time during the Summer Training, I would often ask a question about and wait for their responses.
Usually, there were many different paths we could take when it came to schoolwide protocols and procedures. There were adjustments that would be necessary and many had thoughts on the best direction we should go, and I wanted to hear their thoughts. In any team, some are more vocal than others, so I worked to notice who was not sharing, and I would specifically ask their opinion.
Summarizing what you’ve heard is perhaps the most vital part of active listening, so I tried hard to regularly restate others’ points. This helped me confirm what I heard and make sure everyone else heard the same thing.
In my experience, when people collaborate on an idea or are given the opportunity to share their opposition to a specific direction, they are more willing to embrace a decision even if it isn’t exactly what they originally wanted.
There may be times that a leader must make a call without consultation, but together we are so much better. Each person’s unique perspective helps us understand situations from many angles, making our decisions more unified and more effective. A colleague once told me that I am annoyingly persistent at insisting people collaborate. Summer Training gave us so many more opportunities to hone those collaboration skills.
Reassure and Support Your Team
By the time of Summer Training, each teacher was fully invested and excited to make a change. We had been doing our research, exploring the resources provided, and having conversations with one another about the positive impact Summit Learning would have on our students. Even our math teacher had begun to fully embrace the curriculum.
But interrupting the status quo always means mental and emotional adjustments. As I watched my team move back and forth through a variety of emotions during the week of Summer Training, my role was to encourage and support them.
When they were inspired, I cheered them on. If they were confused or were puzzling through a concept, I listened and offered more explanation. When they grappled with new vocabulary, pedagogy transformation, and an unfamiliar Platform, I was the calm voice of reassurance that we could figure it out together.
My teachers needed to know that I believed in them and that I was confident they were fully capable of making this paradigm shift.
They also knew that I would support their efforts and help them think through strategies in their personal implementation of Summit Learning.
A Great Team Makes Each Person Better
As I reflect on this amazing team I am privileged to lead, I am so grateful for the time we had together during Summer Training. It solidified our commitment and I can honestly say that we are a team.
We depend on one another and we bring our individual strengths (and weaknesses) to the work we do each day with students as well as to our planning meetings. We all seek to understand and listen to one another.
We support and respect each other. One person is not more important than another.
As the leader, I not only believe these ideals but attempt to model them. And when we all embrace these concepts, the team flourishes.
Summer Training prepares school leaders and teachers to introduce the Summit Learning Program into their schools. Learn more about what Summer Training entails.