Summer Camp: Granite Public Schools

Learn more about Anne Wicks.
Anne Wicks
Ann Kimball Johnson Director, Education and Opportunity
George W. Bush Institute

Our School Leadership team is working hand-in-hand with four school districts across the country to help them find, support, and retain effective principals. This summer, the team made visits to all four school districts to check in on their progress. Last stop: Granite Public Schools.

Earlier this summer, we visited Granite Public Schools, one of the four districts participating in our School Leadership Initiative Cohort. Granite is a beautiful place that borders Salt Lake City, Utah – which means we enjoyed trading the Texas summer heat for a few days of the Wasatch mountain air.

A major focus for this summer’s visits was Effective Team Functioning, an element of our Effective Implementation Framework that we are using alongside our Principal Talent Management Framework. As any educator knows, many well-designed interventions and initiatives exist in education, but schools and districts struggle to implement these successfully over time. Changing practice and policy is difficult, especially in complex human environments like schools and districts.  We hope that by focusing on Effective Implementation we can help our district partners make meaningful, lasting change in how they recruit, support, and retain highly effective principals.

We define Effective Team Functioning as the following: Leaders establish effective teams to implement strategic initiatives. They ensure that the right team members are placed in the right roles, and that teams develop and consistently apply norms and processes that maximize efficiency and effectiveness. 

In other words, to get something done, leaders must:

  • Create a team of stakeholders
  • Put the right people in the right seats
  • Expect teams to create norms around:
    – Managing the work (priorities, deadlines) and
    – Managing each other (be nice, follow through)

To practice this in a low stakes way, we asked our Granite teammates to do the “Five Farmers Exercise”.  For the uninitiated, this game asks teams of four to six to answer the following questions, “who grows apples?” and “who drives a truck?”.  Each team member is given a handful of paper slips. Each slip has one fact on it that relates to a group of five farmers, each of whom grow something and drive something.  No one has complete information, and no one can write anything down.  Are you frustrated yet?

The teams that figured out this not-so-easy task most swiftly had a few things in common.  First, they each figured out a role quickly – they could each take on a farmer persona, for example.  Second, each team member saw the value in their own participation as each person alone held information that their team needed.  Finally, they realized that they were overwhelmed with data out of the gate, and they created a norm or two to help them process aloud together.

Of course, this exercise reflects the kind of daily problem-solving educators do in schools and districts with incomplete data, limited resources, and high stakes. The Granite team got to put this into practice around a real issue later in our visit when they prioritized changes to their current principal evaluation system.  The team quickly realized that not everyone had the same information or understanding of that current system.  The team grappled with some tough questions around priorities for the limited professional development time with principals and principal supervisors, and they were able to identify some short-term fixes for this academic year.

Effective, problem-solving teams are essential if we are to truly change outcomes for kids, via Principal Talent Management or any other intervention.  We are grateful to our district partners, like the Granite Schools team, for helping us test and build new resources in Effective Implementation.  Educators are rarely formally trained or supported in change management. We believe it’s time for that to change.