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How to Build a Strong Teaching Team with a Shared Vision

02 Jun 2022 by Allison Bloomfield

What would the perfect day look like in your classroom? When was the last time you spent time thinking about that? When was the last time you talked with your teaching team about creating a shared classroom vision? Those are big questions, and you may be wondering how to answer them. Today’s guest may be able to help. 

Today, you’ll hear from Deidre Harris. Deidre serves as an educational coach for the Pyramid Model Consortium. Deidre’s worked in the early childhood field for over 25 years and has a special focus on teaching teams. Listen in to hear what she has to say about how she began to focus on teaching teams, what to do when conflict happens, and why you should write down team agreements.

 

Transcript

Kate: Hi everyone. I'm Kate Cline. Your new Teaching with CLASS podcast host. Let's take a moment to consider this: what would the perfect day look like in your classroom? And, when you did last spend time thinking about that? Maybe more importantly, when was the last time you talked as a teaching team about creating a shared classroom vision?

I know. It sounds like big stuff. Well, have no fear! Help is on the way, because in this episode, we talk with Deidre Harris about working effectively as a teaching team, developing team agreements, and creating and living your shared classroom vision. 

Deidre has over 30 years in the early childhood field as a classroom teacher, curriculum developer, instructional coach, program manager and preschool director. In her current role as Educational Consultant, she serves as an Educational Consultant for the Pyramid Model Consortium, helping programs increase social emotional development and reduce challenging behaviors.

Deidre truly understands the efforts it takes to work well as a teaching team and she's here to share ideas and strategies to support you. Let's get started.

Deidre, I'm really excited to have this conversation with you today. I love talking about how we help teachers. Teaching teams has been a passion of yours, so I'm really excited to dive in.

Deidre: Thanks, Kate. I really appreciate you inviting me on to the podcast. As you know, I love Teachstone and working with the CLASS tool. It's definitely very applicable to working with teams, because obviously, that's where CLASS goes in and measures the teaching teams and its effectiveness in terms of the interactions with children. Absolutely, the better the team comes together and work together, the stronger the impact and outcomes for our children and families.

Kate: Okay, here's the thing. You have been in the early childhood profession for a long time, in a lot of different roles. I'm just curious about why did you decide on this focus about teaching teams, supporting them, specifically. What was your experience that drew you to like, we need to focus on this, teachers need help? What was that all about?

Deidre: It didn't matter what role I was in. Just like everyone else, I started as an assistant teacher, teacher, coach, director. I've been in a variety of different roles. It didn't matter the role and it didn't matter where I worked.

Whether it was on an island in the middle of the Pacific, across the country, or even internationally now, everywhere you go, conflict within teams is just normal. It's natural, it comes up. Interestingly enough, yet, there's not a lot of work being done or training being done in terms of how do we really support each other as a team.

I saw that gap and said, let's get in and really start working because again, it's foundational. Relationships are the key. If you have a really strong teaching team, then you're going to have a really strong student and child outcomes.

Relationships are the key. If you have a really strong teaching team, then you're going to have a really strong student and child outcomes.

Kate: So, what makes the teaching team strong?

Deidre: There are quite a few factors. But if we're really looking at the foundation one, the bottom line is really being on the same page. Having the same understanding about where we're going, having the same vision in terms of what do we want for children and families, having the same idea of how are we going to get there, and then having a really good understanding of how each person or member of the team will work together to achieve that goal or that outcome, and being really, really clear about that.

Kate: That sounds like a huge undertaking. Personally, when I hear this thing about having a vision, I get like, oh my gosh, I don't think I could even do that. That sounds so huge. How do teaching teams get started in something like that? It's a big job for one person, let alone multiple people to try to articulate the vision for their classroom. What's a good way to get started?

Deidre: There's a couple of ways. One, pretty much all of our organizations have a vision statement. Really looking at that and saying, okay, what does this mean on a day-to-day basis? How does it show up in the classroom?

A great question that I like to ask teams is, if I were to walk into your classroom, what would I see you doing, what would I hear you saying, or what would that interaction look like that would represent this vision in action?

Kate: What is our why in our classroom? Each interaction we have with our children will create that over and over again throughout the day.

Deidre: Absolutely.

Kate: That's still a big thing.

Deidre: Let's break it down even further. Another great question that I ask teams, and teams can ask each other this, is what would a perfect day look like right from morning drop off to afternoon or evening pickup depending on your programming, how it works, and what services you provide? But literally just saying, hey, a perfect day would look like this, that's a vision.

Coming to an agreement with your partner or your partners, whoever is a part of that team, and say, what would the perfect day look like for us? What would it look like in the morning? What would it look like at the whole group or circle time? What would it look like during mealtime?

What would it look like during outdoor time? What would it look like, again, at drop-off and pick-up when we're having those interactions with families? Once you start describing that, that is a vision.

Kate: Okay. How does it sound in our classroom? How does it look in our classroom? Who is where? Who's doing what? Do I do that by myself and then come together with my teaching partner to see what they think, or is it better to try to hash that out together?

Deidre: There's no right or wrong to the process. You can do it both ways or either way. You can sit down together or you can do it separately and then come together. It's whatever makes sense to you and again, what makes sense for you and the other members of the teams.

The idea is let's just keep it simple. Let's not complicate it. Let's not make it bigger than it is. Let's just sit down and just even have the conversation and then go back map, meaning go backward from there now that we have this vision.

We're talking about a vision during a certain part of the day because it's easier to do that and then say, okay, what would it take for us to create that vision? What can I do and what can you do? This is bigger than just my role as a lead teacher, my role as an assistant teacher or a parent, or my role as the speech therapist because everybody's a part of the team.

We're not talking about our roles specifically. But really, how do we want to be with each other? How do we get to interact as adults to create this vision? What do we say? We say that there's this seamless flow.

We call it the dance between adults. When we start dancing really well together, our children dance really well together too. Another word for the dance is those interactions, which is what CLASS is all about. It's really looking at our interactions as adults, in addition to the interactions with children.

Kate: If I'm creating a vision with my team and we're working on this together and we want to articulate how we want our perfect day to go, what are the parallels that you would see with CLASS and how that might work?

Deidre: Oh, my gosh. You could apply CLASS right to adults, just like we do with children and adults. I just take the emotional support domain in and of itself and just think about a Positive Climate. What does that look like in terms of, again, how are we interacting with our tone? How are we supporting each other moving into Teachers' Sensitivity? Because it's not just what we do, but how are we supporting each other?

Think about even Regard for the Student's Perspective. Does everyone have a voice in the team? Are we creating that buy-in? Of course, we also want to be mindful of the Negative Climate. Again, what are the things that we're saying or doing that might detract, make things tense, or are disrespectful? Then it takes us right into classroom organization.

What are those systems that we're setting up? Is everyone on the same page in terms of our expectations for children? In terms of Behavior Management, our interactions, again, support each other. Think about Productivity. That's all systems. What are the things that we're putting in place around attention, attendance, meals, or those transitions?

Again, everyone has an idea of what we're doing so that we're creating this space or creating this time where everything is flowing, which also supports the vision. Even Instructional Learning Formats. If we're not on the same page in terms of what we want the children to learn and how we're going to engage them, then things aren't going to go as well. There might be conflict, confusion, or we're operating in different ways, which creates polarity.

The overlap from CLASS to building a team and being part of a strong team is there. CLASS isn't just for children and adults. It's for adults to adults as well.

CLASS isn't just for children and adults. It's for adults to adults as well.

Kate: Wow, for sure. It starts with that relationship as a foundation, the emotional connectedness in the classroom, how the adults are supporting each other and sharing their perspectives on things, and hearing each other as they're creating the systems in their classroom together.

Deidre: Absolutely. We know children learn through modeling. Another word for this is, how are we being with each other? Because when we're being respectful, when we're being intentional, when we're being these ways, children automatically see and start doing.

Kate: This sounds really amazing. I'm going to be a little bit of a devil's advocate here and just say, I love this idea. I have been on teams and I have watched teams that have struggled. Really, things go wrong sometimes. You can have this great vision and we like each other maybe or we're at least comfortable working together and then something happens. What do we do then?

Deidre: Here's the thing, Kate. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. What I mean by that is we're all human beings and we're working together, sometimes 6-8 hours in the same space. It's not going to be if conflict happens, it's going to be when conflict happens. When we start looking at it like that, it's not a surprise. It's something we get to plan for and be intentional around.

For example, some of the things that we can do is we can make team agreements. An agreement can be around when something occurs that I'm not comfortable with, I don't like, or whatever the conflict is, we can make an agreement about how I'm going to share that information with you, when I'm going to share it with you.

It could even be the agreement is, I agreed to share it with you before sharing it with somebody else so that there's no triangulation. The agreement could be, hey, I'm going to need time to vent, I'm going to need time to calm down, or I'm going to need time to just think about this for a minute. Then I'll share it with you.

Again, we call this front-loading so that there's an understanding of how we're going to handle any disagreements before the disagreement happens, so that when it happens—because again, it's a when, not an if—we have a plan to fall back on, so that even when we're upset or we have this emotional charge, we're not flying off the handle. It's like, oh, wait a minute, I agreed to do this, so this is what I'm going to do to follow up with.

Kate: If I've made an agreement with my teaching partner, then something happens, whatever, we agreed that I would be the person who mainly gets the room ready in the morning, then something happens. I fail in some way to meet that agreement. I forget to put things out. I put the wrong things out. I looked at the wrong day on the lesson plan, whatever.

Something happens that causes that agreement to fall apart. I have my agreement, so I said, I need a minute. I come back and I go to my person later, hey, I realized that I did that thing. Can we talk about that? How do we resolve it? What are our options for resolving something when it happens?

Deidre: Here's the thing about agreements or at least following the team agreement processes. Once you've made an agreement, you get to write it down because if you're anything like me, you're going to forget.

Kate: Oh, yes. I am the same way.

Deidre: Right? Life happens, things are busy. The key to any agreement is writing it down so that you have something to refer back to to help you remember. If we've made an agreement about who's going to do what, when, where, and how, because typically, that's how we set an agreement up with the five Ws, you go back and refer to it. If it's something that happens once or twice, then we consider that an anomaly. Life happens. That's not something that's typical.

If it becomes a pattern, now we have something, a document. We get to go back to and refer to. It's not, I'm blaming, oh, my gosh, Kate, you're a hot mess. I can't believe you keep forgetting to do this. It's, Kate, this is what I've noticed. We agreed on this, yet this seems to be happening. Can we go back and look at the agreement?

By doing this, a couple of things happen. One, we get to go back and look and say, maybe the agreement isn't working for some reason. It's not about the person. Maybe things have changed. The great thing about an agreement that's written is that we get to go back and tweak it. It's a living document.

Kate: Okay. Maybe we thought it was going to work this way and it doesn't work very well that way. Let's rewrite it or revise this agreement in some way.

Deidre: Absolutely. What's so great about this is once it's written—I've had a lot of groups go through this process. One team was great. They wrote back to me and said, you know what, the document works so well for us that now we post it so that when others come into a room, especially if it's a substitute or somebody's—pre-COVID, it used to be when we had volunteers in the classroom, I hope we get back there again, but when others come in, it's posted.

They can actually see the five Ws, the who, what, where, when, and how. It helps them to understand their role or how they can contribute in the classroom. It makes everything transparent and at the same time, flexible.

Kate: Let's say we go back and we look at it and we say, we don't need to rewrite this. This is really the way that it should work. I have actually failed you as a teaching partner. We're partners on this team and we're trying to do this together. I have actually made a big mistake. What do I do to come back and fix the situation?

Deidre: A couple of things. Again, as part of the team agreement process, we say no blame, no shame, no guilt, no fault.

Kate: Okay, that's a good place to start. Because if we had this conversation and we said, okay, wait, looking at this agreement, the problem is not with the agreement, the problem is with me, I actually fell down on this whole agreement and I need to...

Deidre: Yeah, so we get to get really clear about this as well. This is something I'm adamant about. When I say no blame, no shame, no guilt, no fault, that gets to be for us too. That means we don't get to do any self beat up or self-shaming of ourselves, either.

This is something I'm adamant about. When I say no blame, no shame, no guilt, no fault, that gets to be for us too. That means we don't get to do any self beat up or self-shaming of ourselves, either.

What we get to do is acknowledge. Here's the agreement for whatever reason and that's what we get to talk about. What is the reason behind this agreement? Again, if it's something that's non-negotiable, it's not negotiable. Then I get to figure out what it is that I get to do to make sure it happens and or I also get to ask for support.

Maybe I don't know how to do something or maybe I get to ask for clarification around doing something because I thought you meant this. Actually, it meant that. That means we get to go back to the agreement and actually clarify it even within the agreement so that everyone is clear what was meant. What it does is it actually helps everyone to stay responsible and accountable.

Kate: Okay, without blaming, without shaming, without, what was the other one?

Deidre: The guilt and fault. Feeling guilty or laying fault.

Kate: Okay, right. It's from both sides. It's myself. If I'm the one who realizes I did something that was not according to the agreement and/or I see that my co-teacher is doing that, I'm not pointing fingers and saying it's your fault, blah, blah, blah. It's like, let's go back and look at this agreement that grew out of what we said our vision was.

Deidre: Absolutely, yes.

Kate: Recommitting to this vision, to this agreement or we're tweaking it in some way to make it either the vision might be off or the agreement was off, but we can fix that. We can change that. We have that relationship already built, hopefully.

Deidre: Yes. I want to step in for a quick second because I think I really didn't speak to the importance of it being written down. I know what I said when it gives you something to refer back to, but there's also some psychological reason for doing that as well. That is when we write something down on paper, we consider it a neutral document or neutral tool. It's much easier for us to look at a tool and address the questions, concerns, or issues with a tool than with each other.

Kate: Right. It's about our commitment on this paper, not you and me as flawed human beings that we naturally are.

Deidre: That's one of the big questions that I get, but I don't want to hurt their feelings or I'm really not comfortable having this conversation. If we're both looking at a piece of paper, it doesn't seem quite so personal.

Kate: Right, because as soon as it gets personal, it can get very ugly. I've seen it go very sideways with teams.

Deidre: Yes.

Kate: What are some wisdom you have around, maybe I have worked with someone for many, many years and we've never been on the same page? How do I approach this idea, maybe, with them?

Deidre: That's a great question. Typically, if I'm working with a team, I would have some curiosity around that in terms of what stopped you from having this conversation because I always start with vision. This would be like a second question or a conversation a little bit down the line.

What stopped you in the past from having this conversation? Because something must be happening there. Most of the time, especially when we're working with someone side by side for hours at a time, we tend to have these conversations naturally. We know about each other's families, we know what we like, what's going on in our lives. These are all part of the same conversation.

Something is happening or not happening if those conversations aren't happening organically or naturally. Aside from that, to start a conversation, again, it gets to be really easy and conversational. Hey, I was just wondering, what would a perfect day look like for you? What do you think about this?

Kate: That could actually even be a way to build a relationship, where there may be a lack of relationship for a team that's well-established that doesn't connect or a brand new person on the team. It's an opportunity to articulate something you may never have taken that time.

Deidre: Absolutely.

Kate: I have one last question. It may not be the last one, but here's another one. This is very hard with two people, but it's even harder when you have teams of three or maybe even four or five like in an infant room where there's morning staff, afternoon staff, shared caregivers, and all these things. How do we get more than two people on the same page without creating little cliques or excluding people and things like that?

Deidre: We know with three people, triangulation automatically happens. Typically, somebody gravitates to one member versus the other member. Again, that's actually how the team agreement process got started. It was when I was working with triads, teams of three, and everybody gets to contribute.

When we talk about the five Ws, the who, the where, the when, the what, and the how, it's by person and we'll go through the day. It might be the most challenging part of the day. For example, usually, when we're talking about challenging behaviors or routines, typically, it's either at whole group time or transition.

Let's go with the whole group or circle time and we get to talk about who's doing what, where, when, how, and literally writing that down, and then having conversation around how do those three people work together so that classroom flow is seamless and we're all on the same page, so that when children come to us, we're all saying the same thing to them.

Kate: Yeah. There's no better way, like you were saying, to model for children than if we're on the same page too. Everybody gets a voice in the way the team agreement gets made. It sounds like a process articulating that vision, articulating those steps of the Ws. It's really a way of building that relationship.

Deidre: Yes. It takes all the guesswork out of everything. It's not just for your members of the inner core of the team, but the itinerants, the speech pathologist that's coming in, or the occupational therapist that's coming in. They also get to be included in the team agreement as well. It'll just be specific to the time of day or the frequency of which they're providing services. Everyone who touches the children in that classroom gets to be on the team agreement.

Kate: Yeah. What an inclusive way to create a healthy, connected environment for our children.

Deidre: Yes.

Kate: Let's think about our three big takeaways here. We talked about the importance of this vision and building a relationship. Especially, we made some parallels to the emotional support domain, which was very nice. Then we talked about making those plans, really articulate what's going to be like, and plan for when, not if, conflict arises. Then I was wondering, what do we do? How do we support each other when things are going really well? It's not all bad, right?

Deidre: No. I have to say, as early educators, I don't know that we do this very well. This I'm referring to is celebrating our wins along the way or giving acknowledgments. We spend all of this time and effort on professional development. We say it all the time, positive specific acknowledgments for children.

We get to do the same for us as adults. It doesn't matter if the win is small. Yes, Johnny got on the potty today. What did we do? We're celebrating Johnny, but what did we do as a team that supported Johnny in doing that? Yes, Kate, you got him there. You made sure that he was getting to the potty before he had to. Way to go.

Just celebrating those wins, the small wins and the big ones. Oh my gosh, all of our children have accomplished this milestone, whatever the milestone is. Then breaking it down, what did we, as a group, do to get to that outcome or that result to happen? That's key.

Again, we're not so good at acknowledging ourselves. But yet, when we do that, do you see how the energy just changes and the joy comes in? It's fun and it's like, yes, we're doing this. Now I call, we've got gas in our tank. Again, it's a when, not an if. When those not-so-good days happen, we've got things to draw back on.

Kate: Exactly. We have that stronger relationship. We have some successes under our belt. We have confidence that we can move forward through these days that we've seen good days. Good days will continue.

Deidre: Absolutely.

Kate: We want to celebrate teachers because all of the news all the time is about how teachers are leaving the profession. Surely, that is happening, but there are teachers who are staying. This I think would be so helpful to them to think about how they can create this vision for their classroom, celebrate each other, have the gas in their tank for a new day, a new week, a new school year pretty soon. It could be soon. We're going to be wrapping up the school year and everything.

Thinking about that sort of encouragement for our teachers who really are committed to this profession. They want to stay and they want to make healthy classrooms for their children. What parting thoughts would you have? If you have 30 seconds to offer some encouragement to teachers and teaching teams everywhere, what would you say?

Deidre: I'm going to take it back to celebration and acknowledgment. In the state of Hawaii, they talk about pau hana. Pau hana means it's the end of the week, we get to celebrate. Even if all we're celebrating is, yay, it's Friday, look at what we did, look at what we accomplished, and go back and say, not just say, oh, it's Friday, thank goodness, the week is over. It's, oh, it's Friday and we are able to get this done. We are able to do this. This is what we saw or this is the results that came up.

Pau hana means it's the end of the week, we get to celebrate. Even if all we're celebrating is, yay, it's Friday, look at what we did, look at what we accomplished...

Basically, we're talking about being in gratitude. Many people do this already. They have some type of gratitude journal. Pau hana is the same way, to be in gratitude for each other, whether it's daily or at the end of the week, but making it more often than just, it's Teachers Day. Doing it on a regular basis, being really consistent with our celebrations and acknowledgment, I would say would be my final thought.

Kate: Wouldn't it be nice to have a classroom gratitude journal, a teaching team gratitude journal, where you could celebrate all of those things and write them down? Because we like saying the importance of writing things down. Write down what we appreciate about or the accomplishments we made that week or that day.

Deidre: I think that's a great idea. We're already taking observations for our children on a regular day, what's another couple of sticky notes. I still use sticky notes sometimes. What's another couple of sticky notes of the things that we're grateful for in terms of the team and celebrating that at the end of the day or the week? It's an awesome idea.

Kate: I'm so glad we had this chance to talk together today, Deidre. So much is there in this conversation that I believe people will take away and be able to put to use for their own classrooms, which is what we want people to do.

Deidre: Yes. Again, it's been my pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me. I love the conversation and the topic.

Kate: Yeah. Thank you so much. Be well.

Deidre: You're welcome. You too.

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