Falling apart? Find a way back!
After binge watching the new Beatles documentary “Get back!”, Fab 4 fan Michael Iannini thinks again about what makes great collaboration possible.
The problem with collaboration for leaders
What always drove me as a teacher, and today as a facilitator, is simple: “How can I make this lesson better?” How can I ensure every student is better able to understand and apply what I want them to learn and do? The process that motivates and inspires me the most is when I open myself up to feedback and ideas from others. When I do that, I grow as an educator and my students get something better than I could have produced alone. That said. I often struggle to tap into my colleagues collective wisdom, especially when what I want doesn’t align with their immediate interests!
How then do we collaborate with team members when they may feel stretched beyond their capacity and may not be similarly bought into the prospect that you see.
I spent a recent holiday binge watching “The Beatles: Get Back” documentary and it has done more than just inspire me! It has evidenced every aspect of transformational collaboration that I teach and coach about. Strangely, I connected this documentary to teaching teams almost immediately.
I am not sure if it was John’s meeting with an agent to explore his solo career or Paul’s restlessness, George’s reluctance or Ringo’s fence sitting, but these four distinct states reminded me of a typical teaching team who have lost their shared purpose. By 1969 Paul knew this would the band’s final phase of great collaboration and was trying to assert himself to realize the goal he assumed they all shared. I began to relate the challenge Paul was having to that of the many teacher leaders I work with struggling to motivate their team members to collaborate.
The leadership lesson became most obvious when George quit the band in January 1969. At that moment, they could have all walked away and focused on their solo careers – just as teachers can easily retreat to their classroom and focus solely on their students. But, despite George’s departure, the three remaining members wanted to bring closure to what they had started. They used this common interest to re-evaluate what they could achieve and how to achieve it. They then approached George with a new proposition that took into account his needs, which ultimately brought him back. This process also got Paul to reflect on how his restlessness was impacting the band, resulting in his being more open to a new approach and outcome.
In the space of 8-hours, I watched a team, with a lot of baggage, regroup and produce some of their most prolific music ever. The Beatles did this all in the space of 4-weeks and delivered a live performance on the roof of their recording studio to top it all off.
Give peace a chance
Do you feel like Paul right now? Then it’s incumbent upon you to get the team to work purposefully. You want to achieve something as a team that will improve teaching and learning but don’t want to force it. You want everyone to put students at the center of the team’s work and their individual differences aside. So, how do you get a team that is stuck, where team members are disengaged and despondent, to collaborate purposefully throughout the whole year?
Lessons for teachers
Jere Hester, in his superb New York Times Essay, condensed the 8-hour documentary into 7 recommendations for sparking collaboration. This advice can be related directly to teaching teams that are stuck, or – even worse – finding it difficult to even be collegial with one another. The only loser when a team doesn’t collaborate and work purposefully are our students. So, if you truly want to put students at the center of your work, consider the advice in Hester’s brilliant advice:
- Set an audacious goal with a very short time horizon. Something that all team members can get excited about and get a quick return on.
- When the going gets tough, come together and identify what is working for the team and do more of it. Get buried in some planning that will immediately benefit each team member.
- Mix structure with improvisation by establishing clear work processes and then empowering each team member to develop their own prototype for what they envision the outcome will look like and how the team can achieve it.
- A change of scenery and/or goal can help, especially if the prototyping process and subsequent discussions are bringing new information and obstacles to the surface. Iteration is essential to achieving audacious goals.
- New blood can freshen things up. There are other teachers in and outside your school that can bring new perspectives and energy to the team. Find them and invite them into a few meetings.
- Always be working. Every day, commit time to the project and share with the team what you are learning and excited about.
- Creativity can be repetitive and boring, until it’s transcendent. Failure is an option; in fact, it is encouraged, BUT keep working your project until it satisfies the needs of all your students and elicits the desired artifacts of learning.
Michael Iannini is an education management consultant that is recognized by the Council of International Schools as an expert in Strategic Planning, Governance, Human Resource Management, and Leadership Development.
He is the author of Hidden in Plain Sight: Realizing the Full Potential of Middle Leaders, and coordinates professional development for a network of over 250 private schools in Asia for the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools and Search Associates.