The Lyndon Town School leadership team from left to right: Principal Amy Gale, Sue Galipeault (Literacy Interventionist), Michelle Bechanan (Math Interventionist/Coach), Cailtin Feerick (SEB Specialist), Mollie Falk (Dean of Students), Skye Mulligan (Special Ed Supervisor), and TJ Tanner (Assistant Principal)

 

A common purpose, a sense of belonging, mutual accountability, and a level of trust and interdependence- these are the attributes that are often used to define a team, and to highlight the difference between the terms “team” and “group”. Every team is a group, but not every group is a team. And, as it turns out, educators have voiced their desire to engage in professional collaboration as part of a team, according to a needs assessment conducted by UVEI in the fall of 2022. In fact, when educators across Vermont and New Hampshire were asked about what supports and sustains them in their schools, team-based professional collaboration was the dominant response.

We received a valuable tip – from UVEI alumna and LTS Literacy Specialist Kristina Hunt – about the collaborative team structures and distributed leadership in action at Lyndon Town School (LTS) in Lyndonville, Vermont, and we decided to visit the school to see their work in person. The pre-K through 8th grade school of approximately 500 students espouses the following core beliefs:

Developing the whole person nurtures a love of learning.
An active school/community partnership is essential.
Valuing creativity and diversity promotes achievement of full potential.
Respect for self and the rights of others is fostered by a cooperative and collaborative environment.
Learning is facilitated rather than imposed.

When we came to learn more about the collaborative team structures that have been fostered over time at LTS, we were impressed to see that these core values were reflected in the school’s approach to professional collaboration and are not reserved exclusively for students.

The school’s principal, Amy Gale, who has been leading LTS for nearly 15 years, has effectively wielded her leadership abilities by focusing on the development and implementation of both horizontal and vertical collaborative structures to support and sustain a sense of coherence. What started as a way for staff to connect after coming back from the masked and virtual learning of COVID-19, has developed into a structure that focuses on the capacity building of staff. As Principal Gale explained, many moving parts and pieces work together to move the whole school forward while providing authentic opportunities for teachers to grow and learn, building leadership skills along the way. These intentional collaborative efforts foster a sense of ownership among educators through internal accountability, shared values, and direction.

According to the leadership team, formal collaboration structures, such as professional learning communities (PLCs) and grade-level teams, are integral to the school’s approach. The school employs a distributed leadership model, where committees focused on literacy, math, science, technology, social-emotional learning (SEL)/PBIS/Resiliency, and middle school are led by teachers. These committees engage in collaborative work to lead the school, allowing teachers to take on leadership roles. The League of Leaders, a regular gathering, ensures that all staff members can align with a committee that resonates with their interests.

The collaboration extends beyond formal meetings, incorporating intentional practices like the Facilitation Leader program spearheaded by Principal Gale. This program focuses on building facilitation skills and leadership capabilities among staff members, recognizing the importance of leadership capacity-building for all educators, especially in a large and dynamic school environment. It also ensures high-quality meetings, highly productive use of time, and consistency across grade level and committee meetings.

The leadership team’s efforts to build capacity, promote inclusivity, and maintain transparent communication contribute to a culture of collaboration that positively influences teaching practices, professional growth, and overall job satisfaction among educators.

Other collaborative structures, such as restorative circles, play a crucial role in building relationships and addressing concerns among staff members. These circles provide a safe space for open communication, particularly after the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The intentional formation of these circles, guided by a structured process, has contributed to a sense of trust and community within the school.

These restorative circle structures are carried into the classroom. The leadership team acknowledges that they cannot ask students to engage in something in which the teachers themselves have not participated. Moreover, the restorative circles among staff become a place where teachers are able to test out new activities and understand what it feels like to be vulnerable in a group of their peers.

During our time at LTS, the leadership team enthusiastically emphasized the importance of accountability and the need for ongoing improvement. They align the school’s goals with a continuous improvement plan, with teams reporting progress to the entire staff twice a year. There is a yearly revisiting of what the PLC structures should look like and their purpose. This transparent approach ensures that all staff members are aware of the school’s achievements, goals, and the collective journey toward improvement.

While there is no secret sauce for developing, sustaining, and building educator capacity, Lyndon Town School’s collaborative structures that are rooted in shared values, intentional practices, and a commitment to professional growth certainly seem to be a potential ingredient and embody the characteristics of an authentic team. The leadership team’s efforts to build capacity, promote inclusivity, and maintain transparent communication contribute to a culture of collaboration that positively influences teaching practices, professional growth, and overall job satisfaction among educators. And while the direct beneficiaries of such collaborative structures are the educators who serve as team members, the work ultimately, and importantly, benefits the students of LTS.

Adam Norwood is the Coordinator of the Barnes Initiative for Collaborative Learning and a faculty member in UVEI Teaching and Leadership Programs. Monica Nachemja-Bunton is a faculty member in UVEI’s Teaching and Literacy Programs.