4 Reflection Questions to Build More Effective Teams
Reflection: it’s a critical part of your own leadership self-care—the opportunity to take a look at the work you’ve done, what worked about your approach, and what might be improved for future efforts. It’s also a clear sign of emotional intelligence. The practice of reflection builds self-awareness and self-regulation—characteristics that come in handy as you adapt your leadership to the ever-changing landscape of your school, district, or the education field in general.
However, we know leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As school and district leaders, there are teams you work with on a regular basis—your immediate staff, instructional leadership team, parent and family engagement groups, and community partnerships—where reflection can be an essential part of learning and growth.
Creating opportunities for team reflection doesn’t have to be a complicated or overwrought process. A great place to begin is by working alongside your team to answer a few foundational questions.
Creating opportunities for team reflection doesn’t have to be a complicated or overwrought process. A great place to begin is by working alongside your team to answer a few foundational questions. Here are some questions we’d suggest starting out with as you’re looking to make space for reflection and awareness within your school or district teams:
“Why does our team exist?”
Of course, you most likely know the answer to that question. Your instructional leadership team is a group of teachers, leaders, and specialists focused on school improvement and increasing student achievement. Your parent-teacher organization is intended to facilitate parental participation in a school. And while these answers are certainly correct, they speak more about “what” your team is — not why it exists.
Just as you have a “why” as a school leader and your school has a shared vision or purpose, outlining a purpose or vision for your team can make the work more meaningful and relevant. With so much going on in our schools and school districts every day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disconnected—and pretty soon, we start to see things through the context of “just another meeting” rather than an initiative that’s actively trying to improve school outcomes at all levels. A deeper connection to the work will almost always result in the work being completed and continued.
Just as you have a “why” as a school leader and your school has a shared vision or purpose, outlining a purpose or vision for your team can make the work more meaningful and relevant.
“Are we organized to best serve our purpose?”
The composition of a team is critical to carrying out its mission. The attributes of individual team members—and how they work best—can be the most important piece for promoting teamwork and keeping the team organized and moving forward.
First, consider the type of people you need on your team. Every team requires a mix of visionaries, those who have the big ideas and take a long-term view of what the team can accomplish, and integrators, those who are great at translating those big ideas into action and keeping everyone focused along the way. Then, think about longevity. Do team members roll on and off the team based on specific goals or initiatives? Are there team “terms?”
Finally, consider how your team meetings are organized. Are the most important challenges or needs prioritized and discussed first? Is there a clear time for open discussion, and a clear time for decision-making? It’s critical to make sure that you’re allowing ample time for both.
“Do we have the trust that’s needed to engage in healthy conflict?”
Productive conflict is a part of team dynamics. After all, a team is a group of humans—all with different insights, experiences, and expertise—coming together to change or improve a particular asset of your school environment. Different schools of thought—and different ideas on how to best solve a problem—are important in driving to the best outcome.
For disagreement to be productive, there must be a sense of understanding and trust with how we treat each other throughout the process. That’s why it’s important to foster psychological safety in teams—where team members won’t be punished or rejected for speaking up with ideas, questions, and concerns.
For disagreement to be productive, there must be a sense of understanding and trust with how we treat each other throughout the process.
Creating a psychologically safe space within your team doesn’t mean you shy away from having the tough conversations that are necessary to solve problems and create new solutions—it simply means that your team knows one another, trusts one another, and treats each other with respect. You might consider exploring professional development opportunities to support your team in growing in this way
Psychologically safe spaces, and the trust that accompanies them, also require a focus on equitable participation. That means that the people with the loudest voices and the most cultural capital aren’t necessarily the ones whose ideas get implemented—everyone has a stake in how decisions get made.
“What can we stop doing?”
Initiative fatigue is very real—and with it often comes unrealistic workloads and educator burnout. This includes your teachers, your school staff, your district team, and you. Too often we continue with a specific practice or program because it’s something our team has “always done.” Or we haven’t taken the time to figure out if it’s effective in the context of our team’s purpose.
When we think about teamwork and assessing our workload, we often think about it through the lens of “start, stop, continue”: what we don’t currently do, but should; what we currently do, but shouldn’t; and what’s working well and should be continued.
At this point in the year, where everyone’s stretched thin and starting to think about next year, it might be good to emphasize the “stop” part of the equation. Conduct an audit with your team with a focus on de-implementation. Are there time-consuming activities your team currently does that can be halted in honor of what truly moves the needle on student learning? Is there pre-work prior to meetings that can be done during the meeting itself to maximize time? What about systems within your team that hold people back from engaging?
At this point in the year, where everyone’s stretched thin and starting to think about next year, it might be good to emphasize the “stop” part of the equation.
Reducing activity—while still ensuring your work aligns to your district or school leadership team’s overall purpose—can help with not only engaging members on your team, but retaining them long-term.
Team reflection ensures we have the insight needed to move forward
Collectively spending time reflecting on what we’ve learned, and how we’ll evolve our actions as a result, is the cornerstone of meaningful learning. When we create the time and space for this reflection as leaders and within our teams, we provide opportunities to not only talk through what worked, or what didn’t, but to build trust, foster team spirit, and improve collaboration—all of which increase team productivity and satisfaction.