Supporting Teams in Large-Scale Initiatives
Given constantly changing educational environments, educators must consider the importance of effective communication to meet our overall goal of impacting student outcomes. “Communication is the key to successful collaboration in the educational environment” and is a means to transferring knowledge and skills to sustain promising practices in any large-scale initiative (Morreale, Osborn, & Pearson, 2000, p. 3). As the 2016 Summer Olympics come to a close, the Texas Literacy Initiative prepares to carry the torch of capacity-building practices that can be shared across districts. Greenville ISD can be highlighted for their success in an effective structure of communication.
At the onset of the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) grant in 2012, Greenville ISD, having been the recipient of numerous grants over the years, recognized that the intensity of federally mandated requirements added a different dimension for the district and a need for a structured system of communication. Davia Madariaga, the district’s project director, was equipped and ready to take on the charge, recognizing that this type of communication took on multiple shades. The system of communication that she implemented allowed information to be shared efficiently with all stakeholders and could be used as a model for districts seeking to refine their structures of communication.
In the first year of the grant, the majority of communication from the project director was face-to-face on each campus and then followed up with emails that included bulleted reminders or FAQs. In her 2015 Forbes article Why Face-to-Face Meetings Are So Important, Mina Chang shares, “face-to-face interactions built trust, understanding, and a real sense of shared mission” in describing her projects as a CEO. When engaged in large-scale initiatives, we must not discount the need to create the sense of a shared mission so that all stakeholders are part of a successful implementation in which trust and understanding are common practice. The importance of follow-up is also critical. Follow-up was sent within 12 hours of each campus or teacher meeting, providing written documentation for key points of communication.
Most of the communication Year 1 was specifically designed to accomplish two things: (1) understand the goal of TLI and how each campus/teacher fits within that goal, and (2) determine what actions needed to take place within the next six weeks. Keeping communication in small, chewable chunks made the TLI elephant much easier to digest! Support was constant and ongoing, allowing the staff of GISD to realize that they had an immediately available, eager, and knowledgeable support team to help them. Naturally, there was fear in Year 1 that grant implementation was going to be “dropped in their laps” with no central office support. Constant support, though tiring, let them know without a doubt that the TLI team were their support.
Beginning Year 2, a mixed model of communication was developed. Campuses still received face-to-face responses to FAQs during the first three weeks of school and a “what to expect this year” meeting with staff. In addition, a GISD TLI newsletter was added during Year 2. Each newsletter focused on two campuses and also gave general FAQs and teacher tips (generated from TLI trainings). The newsletter was sent to all administrators and Campus Based Literacy Team members on each campus. The literacy coaches, working with their CBLTs, sent the newsletter out to every teacher on each campus. These practices continue to support ongoing communication among campuses.
The staff of GISD TLI literacy coaches and the TLI project director would meet as a team each Friday to accomplish the following components:
- Vertical reflection on one best thing/misstep of the week (Each coach shares one best thing that happened on each of their campuses and one misstep that occurred. This allows for support as a team, brainstorming solutions as a team, and gives the TLI project director information on what’s going well and not so well on each campus without asking the direct question);
- Status, by campus, of TLI required work (i.e., Implementation plans);
- Review of the next week’s work and schedules;
- District-specific information;
- Calibration of calendars;
- Internal team staff development of no more than 20–30 minutes, focused on an area that the team as a whole needs (The first meeting of the year is led by the TLI project director, and then each coach leads one during the year. This sharpens everyone’s research, staff development preparation, and staff development presentation skills. It also keeps all staff abreast of current educational events/pedagogy); and,
- Team-building activity (sometimes even going to Starbucks for collaboration, coffee, and cookies).
The GISD TLI literacy coaches have, since Year 1, sent emails to teachers with teaching tips and set meeting/modeling times. The campus administrator and TLI project director are always copied on the messages so that everyone is in the loop. Additionally, since Year 1, the GISD TLI literacy coaches have touched base with the campus administration as soon as they step onto a campus prior to going to any teacher’s room or Professional Learning Community/CBLT meeting. This is a courtesy to allow campus administration to know who is on their campus and for what purpose.
Finally, there are two additional things done by the TLI project director, Ms. Madariaga,that have had a positive impact on stakeholders. First, at random times during the school year, personal emails of appreciation are sent to individual teachers and campus administration. Everyone likes to know that they are appreciated, especially by someone at Central Office. Second, at least twice a year, Ms. Madariaga requests permission from various teachers to teach a class for two class periods, meeting with them first to see where they are in the scope and sequence, developing the lesson, making any copies needed, and providing full-on direct instruction to their class. The teachers are welcome to plan with Ms. Madariaga and stay in the classroom for a direct model, but they are just as welcome to take a break. They are then provided their favorite school-appropriate beverage and a treat with a few post-it pads and pencils in a gift bag.
While commitment and dedication have led to continued success in the area of communication and support to TLI staff, the district’s project director, Davia Madariaga, states, “I’m no great leader or thinker, but I have had the privilege of serving under great leaders that continue to mentor and model leadership/communication skills, and I strive each day to be that type of leader for my GISD TLI literacy coaching staff and the staff of Greenville ISD,” demonstrating that powerful communication with stakeholders stems from the understanding that service is a privilege.
We at IPSI are privileged that Ms. Madariaga has shared her expertise and knowledge in her practices of communication through this snapshot and prior newsletters prepared throughout the year. It is our hope that sharing strategies and practices such as this structure of communication will benefit others in viewing the complexity of our work in achieving the overall goal of impacting learners.
About the Authors
Davia Madariaga is currently the TLI Project Director & PK-12 Special Programs Coordinator for Greenville ISD. She is a seasoned professional development facilitator and curriculum writer for both large and medium-sized districts. Her previous career as a government law paralegal has given her the background necessary to oversee successful state and federal programs on the district level. She is currently a doctoral student at Concordia University and where she also earned her Master of Education degree. She earned her bachelor's degree from East Texas State University in Commerce (now Texas A&M-Commerce).
Genise Henry has provided professional development and technical assistance to school districts at the national level and currently supports districts funded through the Texas Literacy Initiative as a field services manager at IPSI. Her experience at the elementary and secondary levels is foundational for her work in implementing research-based and data-driven best practices for school improvement. She earned her PhD and Master of Education at Texas State University in San Marcos and her bachelor’s degree at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin.