Team work and the importance of successful school staff team building are the subject of this ezine for primary school leaders by Jane Golightly

Workforce reform has seen changes in roles and responsibilities which have challenged traditional thinking about how schools are staffed. Ensuring that we focus on and respond to the learning and wider needs of children also brings opportunities for schools to think creatively and put in place staffing structures that best meet the needs of the children at the school.

Recently I have been reading about personalised learning and its definition. The debate about what the term really means – and whether it has outlived its usefulness (see Let’s not get personal by Mike Baker, BBC, 21 November 2008) – is continuing. Meanwhile, perhaps now more than ever, we need to look at the experiences children have before, after and beyond the classroom. For schools this means even closer multi-agency ways of working so that we can unlock the right support for every child – and to achieve that, we need to have the right people in the school to do the job and work together.

In this and following e-bulletins we will focus on the core elements of successful team building.

The ingredients of team building

An independent study into school leadership (2007) carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the DCSF, confirmed that schools need people with the skills and knowledge that are fit for purpose. If you are responsible for the composition of the team you have probably invested a large amount of time in putting together what you hope are the right people, in the right place at the right time. When it doesn’t work out we ask, where did we go wrong? Which parts of the process do we need to improve? Could we have done things differently? And it is important to ask these questions. If we want to achieve value for money from what is probably our most expensive resource, we need to take time to revisit some of the essential ingredients that must be in place to ensure that teams are fully effective.

The recipe isn’t complicated but if it is to be successful, core processes must be tailored to the different roles and responsibilities. Here’s a reminder of the basic ingredients you should always include in three of the core processes:

Recruitment and retention
Responding to expressions of interest is your first communication with your future staff. Always check that the job description and person specification fit the role and responsibilities, are up to date, accurate and informative. Do provide sufficient information from a range of the school community, to attract interest in the post. This could include information from children about their learning and recent newsletters, as an indicator of the school’s relationship with its community. Invest time in the interview process. Let candidates know what the professional experiences and opportunities may be in the school. This will help them decide if they are right for you just as you are considering if you are right for them.

New staff need to feel welcome and supported through a planned induction programme which takes place early after appointment. Effective induction provides a programme generic to all staff as well as elements specific to role. Senior staff must fulfil their responsibilities in this area and follow-up the effectiveness of the induction process and what else needs to be done. Too often we hear staff in schools say that they did not make good progress in a post because they were not sufficiently supported in the early days of their new role.

Performance management
All staff need time to talk about and reflect on their work in a planned and structured way. The performance management process is a legal requirement for some members of your team and must be fulfilled – but what about other team members where this is not the case? When do they have their opportunity for a confidential discussion about their performance, to support them in improving their work? By making sure these systems are in place we can be proactive in addressing any problems and concerns and bring about improvement rather than go through a capability process.

I cannot conclude without emphasising one of the most important ingredients. What do you do as a leader to make your team feel special?

People often remember how they have been made to feel, rather than what is said. Your team members, whatever their roles, will thrive on genuine praise and a culture of celebrating individual and collective success. Perhaps you jotted a positive note on a whiteboard about something you liked in a classroom when you were walking around school after everyone had gone home? Imagine the delight of staff and children in that room when they arrive the following day and see your comments. Or it could be a note for the cleaners to say how clean and bright the school looked when you arrived that day. Leaders have a responsibility to make staff feel good about their work. Too often people choose to leave their job or don’t give 100 per cent because they haven’t been told often enough how much their contribution is valued and how they are helping to raise achievement for all children.

Find out more

Visit the Investors in People (IiP) website for a more structured approach on improvement through people.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education