How I learned building great teams sometimes requires heavy lifting, literally.

Our guest blogger today is Uniit Carruyo,  an early childhood educator and author of Team Teaching in Early Childhood: Leadership Tools for Reflective Practice (available from Redleaf Press). Here she ponders the elements of a productive team.

Photo by Joey Steinhagen

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For much of my twenty-plus year career in early childhood, I have been a classroom teacher. Over the course of the past three years, I have served as an administrator in various roles. Hands down, the most challenging role I have ever had to fill was as the Interim Executive Director of the Montessori school where I spend my days. For six months, while the school conducted a national search for an Executive Director, I filled in-wearing more hats than I thought possible. In my small, non-profit school, being the ED meant keeping the school on the tracks, from plunging the toilets and shoveling sidewalks to overseeing the financials on a daily basis.

Redleaf Press; $24.95

While interim, I was invited to attend a regular meeting for non-profit leaders. I will never forget the first meeting. I walked in the conference room at our local public library to see leaders of organizations from all over the county. Schools and day care centers were represented, along with a host of other organizations that serve the public. I was in a room full of leaders. Being an introvert, I stayed on the edges of the room while I got a sense of group norms, got myself a cup of coffee and settled in for the meeting. The guest speaker that day wanted all the participants to be able to see her slide show, which was being projected at the front of the room. This is when something truly amazing happened.

With very little communication, this room full of leaders all jumped from their seats and started moving the tables around. There were about 40 people in attendance, and I was astonished to see every single person in the room start helping immediately. Some picked up a side to a table, some pulled chairs from the stacks along the wall, some moved chairs to make room for the new table arrangement.

“There was not one person standing idly, not one person skimming their phone or making small talk.”

There was not one person standing idly, not one person skimming their phone or making small talk. The transformation of the room happened quickly, smoothly and the participants settled in to listen to the guest speaker. While the lecture was engaging and informative, the thing that struck me the most was that small moment of cooperation.

What was it about this group of people that made such cooperation possible? I asked the group that very question during the Q&A, and they laughed good-naturedly at my wonder. “Trust”, answered one participant.

“We’ve worked together a lot, so we know what needs to be done”.  “Maybe it’s because we’ve all done some heavy lifting to get where we are today”, another responded.

“We’ve all done some heavy lifting to get where we are today.”

To me, this moment sums up what it takes to cooperate and get something accomplished. Trust, combined with a team of people who are all willing to work hard for a common goal, equals productive teams. These are exactly the qualities necessary to have a smoothly running, high functioning classroom. In the moment I described, the stakes were low; a comfortable seating area for a room full of adults getting ready for a lecture.

In early childhood classrooms everywhere, the stakes are very high. A group of young children, constantly absorbing every bit of information around them, whose physical and emotional safety are in our hands. Teachers are entrusted with the most precious of tasks: educating the next generation of leaders.

In order to do this important work, we have to devote some time and attention to developing our teaching teams by practicing compassion, empathy and reflection.

I was happy to recently hand over the title of ED to someone else. I also fully intend to continue to move tables and chairs whenever there is a need.

Here’s to taking action together and building healthy teams!

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