Put your hand in.
Right now, as you’re reading this blog post, take one of your hands and hold it out, palm down, in front of you. It’ll only take a second.
No, seriously. We’re going to make a virtual circle of hands here. Let’s do this.
Is it in? Good. Keep reading.
Now on three, let’s all imagine a really loud “Go team!” and you can lift your hand up.
Ready? One, two, three, GO TEAM!
That felt good, right?
This is when I’d love to ask you to stand up and do a trust-fall, except I’m not actually there, and you might break your monitor or laptop, and you’d then be facing the wrong way to keep reading anyway. But I’m sure you’ve got enough experience to know that teamwork needs trust.
There’s a reason teams do these activities – or some manner of these activities.
It’s the same reason that “improving teamwork” is a key component of any organization’s strategy. When everyone is working together towards a common goal, with everyone’s work coordinated in the same direction and tapping into each individual’s strengths, then any reasonable goal will be met, both more efficiently and with greater impact.
Within each district, and at each site, exists a set of teams … that work more or less well together. At the site level, we have a pretty good idea about what makes good teamwork, and we can identify a solid set of best practices to make that happen. But what happens within districts to support programs working effectively – not just in a few sites – but across the whole system?
We at the Partnership for Children & Youth were curious and set out on a journey more than a year ago to find out. We wanted to study how a “circle of hands” comes together at the district level to make expanded learning programs run like clockwork. In other words, what accounts for success in districts where expanded learning time is truly time well spent?
We did a series of expert interviews, looked through all the literature we could find, then headed out into the field for a series of site visits and more interviews.
There were different sizes, shapes and grips of hands in the circle pretty much everywhere we went. In fact, of the eight districts we visited, all were configured uniquely; with each of the districts, their community partners, and their county offices of education handling different roles and responsibilities.
But what we hoped we’d find – and, in fact, what we did find – was that there were common strategies in use throughout all of these partnerships. The hands in the circle were different, but the circle was always there, and it always meant the same thing for supporting student learning; “We’re in this together.”
Everywhere we went, when a district and its expanded learning programs were coordinated; there were five overarching, common strategies.
• The school district was building on its existing assets, and was creating a broad-based expanded learning system and infrastructure.
• The school district had set the vision that expanded learning was part of the core work of its schools.
• The school district was creating and sustaining authentic partnerships, through shared planning and management.
• The school district was supporting the system’s capacity for continuous improvement.
• The school district was clear about the critical role school-level leadership plays in creating and sustaining effective programs.
Time Well Spent
Take a look through our report, Time Well Spent to learn more about how exactly these strategies work together – and how they’re being employed in various districts across the state. And take a look at your own district. Are these strategies in place? Are any elements missing? How can you learn from other teams to achieve more?
California was ranked the #1 after school system in the country last week.
We did this by continuously striving for quality. And quality in expanded learning requires teamwork, making sure the gears are aligned – and that everyone’s got a hand in the circle – so it can truly be Time Well Spent.
For breakfast, I had a strawberry/blueberry smoothie.
Author: Jessica Gunderson
Partnership for Children and Youth.