Teambuilding and Vision in a New Team


Taking on your first leadership role is a complicated thing to do. I thoroughly thought about how I would embark upon this journey and spent several hours in coaching, drafting the plan of how to go about it in the best possible way to get the best outcomes. Here are a few of my experiences.

“We are taking it slowly, because we are going far”

When I got the job as Head of MFL (Modern Foreign Languages) at The East Manchester Academy, I spent as much time as I could in the school before my start date so that I could effectively plan how I was going to build the team and ensure that the team believed in me as their leader. I spent hours with my coach devising a plan to build a collegiate environment within the team and a sense of togetherness, so that we all felt that we were working towards the same goal.

Here is a list of some of the steps I found useful in building an effective team:

  1. Build credibility
    • When starting a new role in a leadership position, it is important to build credibility. Before I took up the new post as Head of Department, I came in to school and had a meeting with my second in department. I used the opportunity to outline my credentials to date, and explain the input I had had in building my previous department into what I deemed to be an outstanding MFL department. Being explicit about your experience helps to build credibility – your second in command begins to trust that you know what you are doing and understand your vision of the final product as something special. It is really important here that you do not comment on the current state of the department or team or make any comparisons to what it is now. Additionally, at this point there is no place for plans or immediate changes – just vision and credibility

  2. Start slowly to gain trust and respect
    • When I started, I got to know the team. My first meeting was called ‘MFL team qualities’ – I printed a picture of each of my staff on A3 from SIMS and asked them to write all over these images with the best qualities of their colleagues. This was a good way for me to get to know my staff in an informal manner and also to gauge what sort of dynamic there was amongst them
    • Secondly, I did a session based on what makes an outstanding MFL department. On post it notes, the team wrote what makes an outstanding department, teacher, lesson and learner. I then had this as reference and every time I brought a new idea/policy to the department, I could link back to their ideas
    • I bought everyone a notepad and a pen and wrote a personalised message inside for each of them underpinned with a Spanish quote – ‘Vamos despacio porque vamos lejos’ (We are taking it slowly, because we are going far). I wanted the team to know that this was a marathon and not a sprint and that my expectations of the team would take this in to consideration. As long as everyone was open minded and trying their best to make the department the best it could be we would go far, but slowly, making marginal gains

  3. Praise, praise, praise
    • I met with each teacher individually and I used the qualities from my ‘MFL team qualities session’ to open the conversation and summarise their best qualities. I then asked them to summarise who they are as a person and where they felt I could support them to become even better. Here I just wanted to get to know each of them a little better as a person and find out a bit about their needs/insecurities
    • Weekly bulletin: every week in the first term I popped in to lessons of all of my team and focused only on the positives. I sent a bulletin out each week sharing good practice from each member of staff – this empowered them and brought about a sense of togetherness and group celebration of successes. I also brought in a new Spanish inspirational quote each week and reminded staff of responsibilities for the week to follow (see appendix 1 – weekly bulletin)

  4. Be courageous when necessary
    • Early on, I had to make a difficult choice about staffing which meant that someone was disappointed and left the team. Having the courage to make what you feel to be the right decision is very important. Sometimes in leadership you have to look at the bigger picture and not let personal feelings get involved. This was a tough thing to do in my first term as Head of Department, but it paid off as a very strong NQT joined the team and is now thriving

  5. Find out what the needs of your team are and provide support. Do what you can to reduce workload / make their job more enjoyable
    • Our classrooms were lacking dictionaries so I ordered them
    • I had developed learning mats at my previous school that supported learners to be more independent so I printed and laminated them for all staff
    • Some members of my team were struggling with marking, so I planned a marking schedule which linked to medium-term plans. Each week staff knew exactly which piece of work to deep mark and I would check in with them the following week to make sure they were okay with it. This level of planning and checking made them mark more effectively
    • My team were all planning short term PowerPoints from scratch – I introduced a lesson plan template and my Assistant Head of Department and I planned all lessons centrally to be tweaked by all members of staff – reducing workload and ensuring quality
    • Planning. Before each half-term my Assistant Head of Department and I plan the medium term plan, print vocabulary booklets, print PLCs for each student, draft the assessment and assessment mark scheme and make it clear how we are preparing students for this assessment. Planning became very clear and transparent and this supported staff

  6. Share your vision: timeline, transparency, team involvement. Teambuilding
    • Before implementing something new, I always give rationale and how I came to the idea. i.e. I know when I was an NQT I struggled to keep on top of my marking so I’ve devised a system that will support everyone in keeping on top of their marking (see appendix 2 – example marking schedule)

  7. Identify strengths and use expertise
    • Once we were all comfortable as a team, I identified strengths and delegated responsibilities to the team i.e. one member of staff took the lead on Y8 planning and another for Y7 planning. Now, our NQT is planning everything for year 7 and doing a fantastic job

In summary, when embarking on a new leadership role it is so important to get to know your team as well as possible and work on building a collegiate environment within that team. Make sure you are clear about your vision and where you want to be eventually and give your team the peace of mind by showing that you understand this will take time. Implement new things slowly and do everything you can to reduce workload. Help your team work smarter, not harder. Most importantly, learn the strengths of your team, empower them to take ownership of certain areas and give credit where credit is due. Lastly, enjoy it! This first year as Head of Department has been a wonderful experience and I am lucky that I now have a brilliant team working really hard and pulling in the same direction.


Appendix

Appendix 1 – weekly bulletin
Appendix 2 – example marking scheme

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