Alabama Instructional Partners Talk about Skillful Team Leadership

As part of their professional development experience this school year, educators in the Alabama Instructional Partners Project are studying The Skillful Team Leader by Elisa B. MacDonald (Corwin, 2013).

We’re finding this book to be a terrific complement to our work in growing school-based collaborative professional communities (we even interviewed Elisa MacDonald here at the ABPC blog).

Here are some comments from Instructional Partners participating in our East Alabama IP Retreat several weeks ago. ABPC’s Cathy Gassenheimer asked an open-ended question: Share one “aha!” from the book.


Valuing teachers

“My aha had to do with valuing teachers where they are right now. We are always looking for ways to make improvements and often compare someone to our ideal in our mind. However, if we value teachers where they are today, and try and celebrate that, we will have better relationships and a clearer understanding of what our next steps will be.” — Melissa Kornegay, Sycamore Elementary (Talladega County)

Diagnosing team dynamics

“My big aha from the retreat was this: Just like when we put students into groups, teachers bring many underlying factors to the team. I have never thought about why teachers are acting a certain way, only how can I “fix” it. This book is wonderful!! I first said, “Where has this book been all my (short IP) life?” Then I said, “It came at the perfect time!” I think I needed to experience different team dynamics to see the real value in this book. With the help of Elisa MacDonald, I now know how to diagnose problems and respond accordingly. I am looking forward to building and working with teams at Watwood using all this new information!” — Susan Ogle, Watwood Elementary (Talladega County)

A book that’s changing our school

The Skillful Team Leader is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The timing is perfect for the stage of learning that our school is in at this time. It opened our eyes to the way teaming works most effectively and the ways we were trying to ‘team” that were ineffective.

After reading Elisa MacDonald’s book, my principal and I sat down with our teams and grade level chairs and just apologized for leading our teams in the wrong direction. We then had some eye-opening dialogue with them about what they thought effective teams should do and be. We went over values, mindset, intelligence, and skill. We decided on our team goals and norms.

We are now ordering the book The Skillful Team Leader and doing a book study with our leadership team and grade-level chairs. Things that we talked about and decided on at that meeting have been taken back to the teams and grade-levels and we are already seeing a difference in collaboration, norms set, and why we meet and do what we do.

I just keep learning every time I pick up this book and I am learning better how to facilitate those meetings and overcome those hurdles so that we have a team that participates in rigorous discourse. We had a long talk about rigorous discourse at our meeting and at first no one knew what that meant. As we talked further, they began to see what it meant and the importance of that in a team.

I am excited for the books to come in and start learning more together with our teams. Again, thank you for this resource that will change many lives of team members in schools. I know it has in mine! — Kala Carlson, Attalla Elementary (Attalla City)

Establishing high-functioning teams

I am excited about reading the book The Skillful Team Leader. Although I haven’t read the entire book yet, I believe it is going to be a tremendous help to my work as an Instructional Partner, based on what I have read so far.

My big aha while at the Fall Retreat had to do with establishing teams that are high functioning and high impact. The author provided several suggestions which I immediately connected to some of the activities we were involved in during our very first Instructional Partner Retreat two years ago. The activities helped us identify our own strengths and the strengths of others in our IP team. We also participated in protocols that helped us establish norms for the way we would do our work together. Although I didn’t think for a minute that these were just time fillers, my readings have helped me to further understand their importance and connect these things to the teams at LES.

As I was reading, it just occurred to me that many hurdles could be avoided before they begin if specific actions are taken prior to even trying to begin team work. Helping teams to establish norms and possibly identify their own style of relating while working in a group using the Compass Points resource are two examples. The goal is for all teams to be high functioning and high impact teams. I believe employing the structures suggested in the reading would definitely help achieve this goal. — Alisa Huffaker, Lincoln Elementary (Talladega County)

Handling hurdles

“As an Instructional Partner I am delighted with the book we will be using this year as we learn together. The Skillful Team Leader, has given me new insights that will help me to better partner with the teachers as we work together to have a laser-like focus on student learning. Elisa MacDonald demonstrates ways to handle hurdles that we might experience which I really like because she teaches different ways to address these areas and provides us with possible causes and ways to respond.” — Trina Pettis, Munford Middle (Talladega County)

Putting assessments in their place

I love this book and have many “ahas”. One of my favorite parts is the section titled putting assessments in their place. “The skillful team leader not only ensures members see how data are essential to inquiry, but also reminds teachers how they are essential to data.” Enough said, right? I loved being reminded of the critical role teachers play in assessment success. Like the text says, teachers determine next steps, make adjustments in teaching, and establish manageable goals all as a result of the assessment data. Coming back to school and analyzing test data is often times a stressful and overwhelming task. This section of the book was a nice reminder of the power we hold as teachers and leaders of teacher teams.

One more aha and then I’ll hush. I was reading The Skillful Team Leader and reflecting on our school’s data meetings. I realized (a light bulb literally came on:-) that our teachers should be facilitating their own data meetings and the leadership team should just be an equal part of the process. Through modeling and planning, the teachers could take over these meetings and own the process as well as the data. I am so excited to see how it all works out! — Angela Hosey, BB Comer Elementary (Talladega County)