Thursday, April 20, 2006

Nurturing a culture of teamwork

If I never type, hear, or say the word collaboration again, it will be too soon. I almost put myself into an apoplectic fit yesterday over that word and the lack of it that's happened lately at JIS. So I'm moving on to a less jargon-y word: TEAMWORK.

Actually, teamwork is probably more precise in terms of what a school like JIS should be striving for. That c-word is a little fluffy, a tad bit vague. Who's in charge? What does it look like?


implies that there's a coach (in the case of a school -- the headmaster or superintendent). There are team captains (principals). There are the players in the trenches -- sorry for the mixed metaphors, but stick with me -- who have the actual experience on the field (the teachers). You've got the 2nd string, learning from the veterans on the field (students). There are supporters in the stands (parents), trainers (the school nurse), facilities managers (grounds keepers), and security. You've even got a front office (the school council), controlling the pursestrings and setting the overall strategy.

If any one group in the team falls down on the job, the team won't succeed. They have to work together, in concert. The best teams are those in which all members respect each other and dedicate themselves to the greater good of the team -- even at the expense of their own personal comfort.

But what if the team isn't working in concert? How can it get back on track?


The first step is admitting that you have a problem. If JIS can honestly look itself in the eye and say, "you know, we're really working well together as an organization," then we have nothing to talk about. But I sense that there are those -- especially amongst the parents -- who are feeling incredibly left out of the process.

You may be asking, "But what if we truly don't know whether we've got a teamwork problem or not?" Good question. When schools feel that first tinge of worry that "something's rotten in the state of Denmark," they have several tools at their disposal:

  • Schools can establish a task force on school climate that includes representatives from all corners of the school -- including students, faculty, staff, adminstration and parents.
  • Schools can undertake an educational audit, a powerful tool that help schools objectively assess their realities. This is not an operational audit (which evaluates the effectiveness of an organization's finances, procedures, and operations). Instead, an educational audit examines how well a school does at creating a vibrant culture of teamwork, and how it does at the business of education: teaching students, developing and supervising teachers, creating strong curricula.... If you'd like to see what an educational audit looks like, click here for a good example of the organizational-culture section of one. And click here for an executive summary of the full audit report. And no, these don't have to be slick or expensive. Several educational foundations and universities have created high-quality, free (or inexpensive) tools for schools to use. (To give you an example, Indiana University has a survey of student engagement -- tried and tested by more than 200,000 students to date -- that gathers "actionable information on school characteristics that shape the student experience." It would cost less than $2,000 for a school of JIS' size.
  • Schools can enter into honest, forthright dialogue with the groups who feel they're being left out of the process. This is a no-brainer. It doesn't cost anything. It doesn't require bucket-loads of time setting up charters or labrynth procedures and rules. You just sit down and talk.
Now, in terms of the educational audit, some may argue that JIS has already done that with its focus group research of the moral ownership in October 2005. And they'd be part right. Those ownership audits are a good start; but if you attended any of the forums, you'll have noticed that the perception audits missed several significant educational issues. (Remember the post-it-note exercise? In the two forums I attended, more comments were targeted at the "What Else?" category -- in other words, "what the research didn't cover" -- than on any single issue of concern.)

So we've got some good information. But we should be asking, what other topics need to be explored before we're ready to pat ourselves on the back and say we've done all we can do? And again, John Carver supports ongoing research when he says about focus groups:

"This is not a sporadic or single-purpose effort, but an unending process. These carefully planned interactions are not for public relations, but for the dual purpose of enhancing board understanding and reinforcing the public's sense of ownership of its schools."

So there you have it: some suggestions on where to go from here in our efforts to work as a team on behalf of our students at JIS..... This isn't a comprehensive list of ideas, and you may think I'm a moron. Or better yet, you may have other, more excellent ideas. Either's okay. Just please explain your thoughts so that we all -- as a community -- can become smarter and wiser. After all, it's all about collab....I mean teamwork.


At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'take back the school'

I remain much less concerned about the culture of teamwork on the adult level than on the profound changes in the culture of our children at school/sports/play/parties as a result of the huge number of incredibly affluent national students.

Bigger/better/slicker/ is not the answer. JIS has a mission statement to serve the needs of temporary expatriate residents...and when that is the mission they serve-- it will be the school it once was and the school you want it to be!!

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Thanks for your comment. You raise an important issue that deserves more attention than just a "bounce back" comment, so I'll work on a posting that responds.

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been around JIS a few years. There has always been a group that were richer than the others. Usually the richer ones were the kids who had parents that headed the local offices of multinational comapanies.

It is odd that having really rich kids was never considered a problem when the kids and their parents were Westerners.

What am I missing?

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when the rich kids were the children of westerners they did not have local family members threatening, kidnapping and harrassing JIS students. that is difference #1. They also did not throw birthday parties for 100 5th graders at fancy restaurants. Difference #2. Their parents coached basketball and didn't beat up the referees. Difference #3.

I have been here a while too. In the earlier era, there may have been financial gulf between teachers/NGO folks and the 'head office' types in terms of house size and hotel choices, but intrinsic value systems were the same regarding education, volunteerism...etc.

There are terrific contributors among the National parents of course. I just feel the community and the education of JIS children have not been the primary consideration, finances have been- in terms of current admissions policies....

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Thanks to both the anonymous authors above. Your comments -- as different as they are -- highlight the need for an open, honest, thoughtful dialogue on this subject. Hopefully you've both shared your thoughts with council through its forums on the focus group research. If not, it's not too late -- email a council member!

At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when the rich kids were the children of westerners they did not have local family members threatening, kidnapping and harrassing JIS students. that is difference #1. They also did not throw birthday parties for 100 5th graders at fancy restaurants. Difference #2. Their parents coached basketball and didn't beat up the referees. Difference #3.

Number 1. Those kind of things never happened in JIS before? Western kids never threatened to kill other kids? Those western kids never got in trouble and got bailed out by their parents when the law caught after they crashed the cars they were driving while drunk on public roads.

Number 2. I am not sure what the problem is with a student taking a bunch of his classmates out to dinner. Isn't it PIE policy that if a few are invited then the whole class should be? Is it OK to invite 100 of them if it is a cheap dinner. Or five if it is an expensive dinner. I don't get it.

Number 3.I am sure bules have never gotten in a fight at any sporting event. However deplorable that event was, it has been beaten to death.

I think finances have primarily been the problem to those who are bothered by having Indonesians who have more money than they do. After all, JIS is not cheap. Do you expect middle class Indonesians to send their kids to JIS?


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