What the Olympics “Fab Five” Taught Me About Teamwork
I won’t soon forget the 2012 London Olympics. There were so many inspiring stories – from the South African double-amputee who competed in the 400-meter race, to the American who became one of the first women boxers to medal in the Olympics. Above all, though, I felt a particular connection to the women’s gymnastics competition. And as I watched the U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team take the Team Final gold medal, I thought about what made them so effective.
Each of the five gymnasts brought something different to the team. Team captain Aly Raisman brought experience, having competed at several international events. And, though not always the highest scoring, she was versatile in all areas. By contrast, vaulter McKayla Maroney competed in just one event but was touted as the best in the world. Kyla Ross, the youngest of the group, lacked experience yet exemplified grace under pressure – especially on the uneven bars. Jordyn Wieber was known for her consistency in competition. Despite her failure to qualify for the all-around competition, she rallied to post strong performances the very next day, helping to promote her team to the top. Finally, there was 16-year-old Gabby Douglas, who left her family for two years to develop Olympic-level skills. Her previous competition record made some people question how she would handle the pressure of the Olympic stage. Her performances in both the team finals and the all-around, though, silenced even the biggest doubters. The individual strengths of these five, when brought together, were golden.
The gymnasts also had, first and foremost, a team mentality. Before each went up to perform, her teammates could be heard delivering encouragement: “You got it. You can do it!” And after each performance, as the camera followed the athlete back to the staging area, I saw hugs and high-fives, and heard a choir of “good job!” from her teammates.
In short, diverse skills coupled with team support helped propel this team of five young women to the top of the medal platform.
I feel so fortunate that I, like the Fab Five, work with a diverse team of colleagues who support one another each day. We each bring different strengths, but I know we are on the same team, working toward the same goals. We serve on school committees together, and we’ve planned countless in-services together. When a group of us worked on our National Board Certification, we spent hours watching each other’s videos and reading each other’s papers, giving honest and valuable feedback. When we speak of one another, our message is positive. We highlight one another’s strengths. If one of us is aware of a leadership or professional development opportunity, we pass along the information to the team. At lunch, we talk about instructional challenges: How can I help this student understand this math concept? How can I reach this resistant student?
Like the American gymnasts, we don’t see each other as competitors for individual achievement but as collaborators for the greater good. I feel energized and motivated during our impassioned conversations around students and learning. For me, working with these colleagues is a joy. Their presence in our school building creates such a positive climate for staff and students.
Unfortunately, all educators have not had the pleasure of experiencing the teamwork that I’ve enjoyed at my school. When I’m asked, “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” by educators in schools without such collaboration, I now point them to Success at the Core Leadership Development modules, which offer concrete illustrations of effective teamwork.
One of these modules, Instructional Expertise (video link above), specifically discusses and shows how teams can capitalize on the strengths of individual team members. In one of the module’s videos, we see a team of teachers meeting in a professional learning community to look at data to regroup students in accordance with their learning needs. In another, a team discusses how to differentiate instruction for English Language Learners and at-risk learners. The module explores how teachers can benefit from feedback from an instructional coach, how teachers can provide professional development opportunities for colleagues, and how instructional teams can collaborate to maximize each member’s instructional expertise. All in all, the module allows us to see how effective instructional teams – despite the individual differences of their members – come together with a common goal of increased student achievement.
Perhaps, in addition to building stronger relationships with our school-based communities, we – as members of Success at the Core’s growing online learning community – can use this blog to build a virtual team, sharing out insights, experience, and perspectives. Through our unity and our individual strengths, we can become stronger, so that all of our students can benefit from gold medal learning experiences.