Creating a School Dream Team for Change
Schools need great individual changemakers capable of identifying problems and creating bold, scalable solutions. But they also need Dream Teams — groups of talented administrators, teachers, staff, students, and community members who work together and are passionate about making things better for kids. Schools need teams who believe that school-based change is worth the effort — who are willing to roll up their sleeves and persevere. Here is some expert advice on getting the process started in your school.
Staff-led Dream Teams
Individuals are powerful, but collaboration swells the pool of ideas to make innovation that much more possible. In the new book, Dream Team: A Practical Playbook to Help Innovative Educators Change Schools, authors Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner — founders of Education Changemakers — share a few steps for forming a school-change team. First, they suggest assembling a team full of experience. If you’re new to a school, it’s important to include those who have experience in the culture, and also look to the local community and involve members who understand the needs of those within it. Create a team that represents experienced stakeholders, as well as those who are fresh. This may take some convincing. If veteran school staff members are resistant to change, put in the work to convince them to lend their voice to the conversation. By genuinely valuing and including the contributions and voices of those with experience, it’s more likely that you’ll get buy-in and support.
Next, the authors suggest taking the time to dig into your team’s motivation. “As a leadership team, it is worth leaning into your individual and collective motivation for undertaking change,” the authors say. They further suggest asking: “Why do you believe the things you do? Why are you the kind of educator you are? In fact, why are you an educator at all? The greater your understanding of these points, the more likely you are to understand why you advocate for certain things for your students. And the better you understand your students, the more likely you are to advocate for what they really need.”
Finally, Tait and Faulkner suggest prioritizing passion because change takes effort and commitment, and those practices are sustained through passion for the work. “While this might sound a bit facile, we believe passion for the work is vitally important — so important that we want to talk more about it here, right at the beginning of the Change Leader Journey… We recommend that right now, here at the beginning, you and every member of your team take a moment to reflect honestly on how inspired and ready you are to move into a period of transformation and hard work.” This can happen by writing down or verbally sharing what’s inspiring you to do this work and to take on the commitment and challenge that lie ahead.
How school leaders can help
School leaders can help support Dream Teams by prioritizing innovation, and giving educators time and space to do this work. The school day is finite, but the amount of work teachers do seems infinite. Get creative with scheduling, build in common planning time, offer overtime hours, or give teachers a coverage — because solving big problems will always fall to the bottom of the list when there are daily fires to put out. Innovation and change that improve the school community is critically important. “While many schools face challenges such as underfunding, unengaged students, and outdated curriculums, innovation offers a path foward,” says Phil McKinney, author and former chief technology officer of Hewlett-Packard. “Innovation isn’t just for business. In many ways, education stands to benefit the most from both utilizing and teaching innovation in the classroom. By exploring new and better ways to educate students and also teaching the skills students need to become innovators themselves, today’s educators can have a tremendous impact on the future of our world.”
Student-led Dream Teams
Students can lead dream teams too! One model for long-term student goal achievement is happening in schools around the country with The Future Project. Putting the power of innovation and design-thinking into the hands of students, The Future Project alleviates the burden on school staff to solely handle and lead change and empowers students to lead their own community. The organization’s motto — “the future is not fixed” — embodies the idea that when people come together, amazing things can happen. The Future Project works with schools in 19 cities, embedding full-time Dream Directors whose job it is to act as transformational coaches, guiding students to realize their dreams. “The Future Project aims to make it possible for every young person to discover their power and use it to build a better future,” says New York City-based Future Project Dream Director JP Reynolds, who is also an accomplished hip-hop artist. “To do this, we believe every young person needs to develop mindsets and skill sets, particularly belonging, belief, purpose, and power. We encourage the students in our schools to launch Future Projects, a cyclical process of setting and pursuing goals.” While many schools do not have the budget or time to spare an on-staff teacher to do this kind of work outside the classroom, The Future Project prioritizes that need and provides a trained full-time staff member.
While a Dream Director’s main purpose is to work with students, Dream Directors truly embed themselves within a school’s culture to help transform, improve, and revitalize the community. “This work does not live solely with students. Dream Directors are committed to entire communities, especially with a full-circle approach to supporting young people. This may mean supporting a parent’s catering start-up company by hiring them to provide food for a school fair. Or this may mean doing 1:1 coaching and network sharing with a teacher who has dreams of getting into television writing. Or this may mean partnering with a community organization by connecting them to students who are interested in careers in the field of those organizations,” says Reynolds. Don’t have access to the Future Project? Your school can still create a Dream Team that guides students through the design process to identify and pursue their passions.
Dreams in action
So what have Future Project students done? In Reynolds’ school, “a student designed and executed a whole-school event where young people in an incredibly diverse school celebrated their cultures through an assembly and small food fair.” Students also designed a program called Dream Academy, an advisory-based curriculum that focused on the building of possibility thinking for the entire school community. The student projects empower, elevate, and escalate student ideas to actions that impact their community. Students learn how to ideate, research, prototype, test, gather data, and revise. They collaborate and crowd-source and they learn real skills along the way. “One student began the year terrified of speaking and leading in front of her peers. By the end of the year, she had gotten comfortable enough with her speaking to present her work in front of hundreds of adults at the EDxEDNYC Education Conference with educators from around New York City,” says Reynolds.
To build a Dream Team at your school, check out The Future Project and the book Dream Team: A Practical Playbook to Help Innovative Educators Change Schools.