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Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child


Staff Relationships and Collaboration

Shared leadership and ownership practices cultivate trust-filled staff relationships and facilitate high-quality collaboration. Fostering a sense of trust and belonging among staff not only buffers occupational stress, but also promotes job satisfaction, well-being, and engagement in shared beliefs, mindsets and goals. When staff members feel connected, well and engaged, they experience a greater sense of shared efficacy and proactively seek each other out for support. Some traditional change leadership practices (e.g., high-stakes accountability measures, exclusionary decision-making processes, and top-down improvement initiatives) can threaten this sense of well-being in adults or devalue it, exacerbating challenges, amplifying inequities, and causing the change process to slow or halt as individuals retreat from the shared effort into more comfortable, familiar or individualistic patterns of thinking and action. Strong staff relationships and collaboration ensure individuals feel part of a larger network where they are working together to solve problems and overcome obstacles (e.g., by sharing resources, valuing diversity, equity and inclusion, seeking out ideas, resolving conflicts, keeping promises, prioritizing well-being, and appreciating one another). Through their relationships and collaboration, staff develop collective expertise in whole-child development and work toward achieving comprehensive, holistic student outcomes together in ways that mirror the physically, emotionally and identity-safe environments they seek to create for students.


Cultivating Staff Relationships

Strong staff relationships may organically form (e.g., two grade-level teachers who work closely together may take the time to learn about each other and provide supports for each other, or one department may consistently celebrate the accomplishments of teammates), but there are not explicit, schoolwide efforts to cultivate meaningful relationships among all staff members.

As a result, there may be pockets of meaningful relationships among staff members, but there may also be some staff isolated without support networks, cliques, or the cultivation of relationships only in groups where they naturally happen (e.g., among school leaders, between co-teachers, with others in the same subject area, with other new staff, or with identity-alike staff).

Supporting Staff Trust and Belonging

Clear, co-created norms, policies and procedures that support positive staff interactions may not be established, modeled or consistently followed by staff in the school community (e.g., how to resolve conflicts, engage in critical conversations, request support, proactively negotiate deadlines, share responsibilities, share resources, or make apologies).

Alternatively, norms, policies and procedures may be developed in exclusionary ways and may conflict with culturally affirming and sustaining practices (e.g., staff dress codes ban cultural attire or reinforce one set of cultural norms over another). As a result, staff do not experience a consistent sense of trust and belonging (e.g., conflicts among staff members may happen frequently with little resolution, individuals may withdraw themselves from the larger school community, staff may not believe what others tell them, or they prefer not to collaborate).

Supporting Staff Well-Being

Staff are not supported to prioritize their collective, holistic health and well-being (e.g., mental health, life satisfaction, and social, emotional and cognitive well-being) as they work toward school goals.

Norms, policies and procedures often impede self-care and personal well-being (e.g., pressure to work when sick, frequent requests to stay late, unreasonable workloads, communication norms requiring evening and weekend responses, restrictive leave policies, and recognition systems that reward and reinforce unhealthy work habits). Or, efforts to support well-being may be reactive and perfunctory (e.g., creating a temporary wellness challenge after staff report feeling stressed).

As a result, the school may experience low reports of job satisfaction, high staff absentee rates, and low staff retention rates.

Facilitating Shared Efficacy via Staff Collaboration

Staff have inconsistent or ill-defined structures and expectations in place for collaboration, resulting in individualistic approaches to work (e.g., lesson planning in isolation, a lack of communication around student interventions, resistance to sharing work or ideas, and disinterest in learning from one another). When collaboration does exist, it is part of a forced accountability setting (e.g., collaborating only during meetings where you are required to collaborate).

With a lack of rich collaboration opportunities, staff may inconsistently implement new strategies connected to school goals or routinely switch back to familiar and comfortable strategies.

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Cultivating Staff Relationships

Strong staff relationships organically form and there are some explicit, schoolwide efforts to cultivate meaningful relationships (e.g., there may be a process for welcoming new staff into the school environment, such as staff mentors and school tours), but those efforts can become deprioritized (e.g., because of perceived time constraints, competing initiatives, lack of interests, overly booked schedules, and lack of adult spaces in the building).

As a result, there may be times in the school year when staff are able to connect and get to know and support one another, and other times when they are working in isolation, disconnected from support networks, or actively discouraged from spending time on relationships for fear of loss of productivity.

Supporting Staff Trust and Belonging

Some clear norms, policies and procedures that support positive staff interactions are co-created (e.g., teachers decide how they want to collaborate on lesson plans, or staff may agree on what the communication norms should be when emailing or texting for support), but others are created without the involvement or input of the larger community.

Alternatively, individuals may be held accountable to the norms, policies and procedures for interaction in inequitable ways (e.g., some staff may be addressed by leadership when they have not met an expectation, whereas others might not). As a result, there may be patterns in terms of which staff do or do not experience a sense of trust and belonging (e.g., staff of color may report feeling less of a sense of belonging, or staff who are not part of the leadership team may feel less trust).

Supporting Staff Well-Being

Conditions in the school sometimes support the collective, holistic health and well-being of staff, but other times, school goals, wants and needs get in the way of prioritizing well-being.

Norms, policies and procedures sometimes facilitate self-care and personal well-being (e.g., adjusting schedules to support working parents in their own childcare, providing access to mindfulness or meditation opportunities, offering access to mental health providers, or scheduling adequate breaks during the workday). However, those practices may be abandoned due to a sense of urgency, lack of progress on prioritized schoolwide goals, or budget concerns. Or, the well-being of some staff is prioritized over the wellness of others.

As a result, some staff report their well-being is only supported when it is convenient.

Facilitating Shared Efficacy via Staff Collaboration

Some formal and informal structures and expectations are in place to encourage active collaboration among adults, resulting in some staff working together on shared goals, but not all staff experiencing effective collaboration (e.g., staff may feel comfortable collaborating with individuals on their formal teams, but uncomfortable collaborating across teams).

Staff report they sometimes feel they can reach out to others for support, resources, learning or collaborative problem-solving. However, at other times, individuals may be unresponsive, too busy or not receptive to feedback.

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Cultivating Staff Relationships

Strong staff relationships organically form and explicit, schoolwide efforts to cultivate meaningful relationships are consistently prioritized regardless of pressures to do otherwise (e.g., there are normed routines for seeking support among team members, time is consistently built into agendas for relationship building, spaces are set aside for the purpose of staff connecting with one another, and staff celebrate each other).

As a result, staff experience consistent connection with people on their immediate teams, with those in similar roles, and with others across the school. All staff members report they have ample time to learn about the unique expertise and experience context and identities of others and can easily reach out to others for support in their professional goals via formal or informal structures.

Supporting Staff Trust and Belonging

Clear norms, policies and procedures that support positive staff interactions are well established, routinely co-created, and consistently reviewed to ensure they align with the goals and needs of the school community. For example, there may be existing norms, policies and procedures that were co-created at one point, but they need to be revisited to be more inclusive of new staff members.

Staff report high levels of trust in other staff members and a strong sense of belonging in their school community. Staff believe the norms, policies and procedures are welcoming, reflect their identities, are supportive of collective action, and are enacted equitably across all staff members. When norms are broken or conflicts arise, they are addressed quickly and efficiently through existing protocols to repair relationships and restore trust.

Supporting Staff Well-Being

Conditions in the school consistently support the collective, holistic health and well-being of staff. Staff understand the relationship between well-being and performance and do not view supporting well-being as conflicting with achieving school goals. Staff report that others care about them and are actively working to buffer the occupational stress educators often experience.

As a result, the school experiences high levels of job satisfaction and staff retention. Staff of all identities report that their school supports them in their unique holistic wellness goals, not those defined by dominant cultural norms (e.g., the school environment is supportive of wellness as it is defined by each individual staff member regardless of race, culture, gender, health or religion).

Facilitating Shared Efficacy via Staff Collaboration

Staff work together to facilitate a rich culture of collaboration, resulting in an increased sense of self-efficacy among individuals and collective efficacy among all staff members. All staff can easily and comfortably seek support and engage in collaboration in both formal and informal structures.

Staff report they are confident in their ability to collectively accomplish school goals (e.g., collectively solve problems, take risks, learn new things, implement new practices, and overcome challenges).

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