My Team is on the Floor

hoosiersIn a scene from the classic basketball movie Hoosiers, coach Gene Hackman substitutes for his star player who is shooting the ball too much instead of passing and executing the offense as practiced. Even when another player fouls out, Coach Hackman opts to keep his star on the bench and play with four players. When the ref informs him that he is one player short, coach Hackman responds, “My team is on the floor.”

While the playbook for basketball is much different than teaching, leaders of schools that are primed for growth typically are in a position to confidently state: “My team is on the floor.” In talking with school leaders this past fall, I heard three common competencies of that core leadership team:

  1. Shared Mission and Vision: The team shares in the mission; that is, there is agreement around the table as to the population of students and families educated in the school and what the school community is ultimately aiming to achieve. More so, team members are humbled by the complexities of mission, not as an excuse, rather as a compelling motivator that the vision for the school has to be intentional (nothing can be left open to chance), appropriately expansive (a school can not do it all, yet needs to be responsive to critical needs) and open to adaptation as when roadblocks arise.   Finally, the team is driven by a set of outcomes that demonstrate success and honestly admits when they have not met the milestones and benchmarks that lead to those outcomes. This understanding is especially important for a core team that is considering how growth and expansion could disrupt success and is determined to evade that risk.
  2. Trust: The oversight and responsibilities of some leaders in our small schools is extensive enough to be distributed across several positions in larger schools. Where they may be a separate team for facilities, campus ministry, counseling, athletics in some schools, single team members wear one or more of these hats at the same time and often respond to immediate needs that impact the full school community. Team members are not in a position to say “I do what I am told” or “Just tell me what to do.” Rather, there is profound trust that each team member is discerning how to move forward based on “what is in the best interest of the students and families we serve.”
  3. Continuity: Given the small staff in our schools, high turnover and constant transitions on the leadership team absorbs momentum each year as valuable time is spent getting up to speed and cycling through the same challenges without moving deeper. (Of course, this could happen with a core team that has been around a few years and is stuck in a rut.) Typically though, if a team has been deeply engaged in the mission and has built trusting relationships through working together for a number of years, they are in a position to ask, “What more can we do?” As one school leaders said, “we can finally get to all the things that we were not able to do in start up.” Whether it is the development of manuals, procedures and/or policies, extended partnerships or more expansive programming, this continuity creates stability, builds organizational capacity and leads to growth.

This core team is not just the leadership team though. It is a pleasure to observe a team of faculty and staff in action when it is working at full throttle. Right from the start of the school day, expectations are set for all members of the community. Roles are defined and everyone understands how their role contributes to the daily and long-term success of the whole. The team is invested in flawlessly executing the plan for the day, made clear by the intentional flow and practiced rhythm to the day. In the classroom, the pacing of instruction is appropriate for learning and there is momentum that builds from one lesson to the next. Every moment is utilized to maximize student achievement, academic and otherwise. Team members respond appropriately and calmly as unpredictable situations arise and communicate effectively using verbal and non-verbal cues as necessary. There is a joyful and disciplined tone within the team and, at the end of the day, a shared commitment to become better and more focused where needed.

“My Team is on the Floor” is more easily said than done. In future blogs, I will share advice from school leaders for getting the right team on the floor, followed by the more difficult question, how do you keep the right people on the team.

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