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Mel Gravely

The Secret to Head Start Success – Part 3 (Team Building)

The Secret to Head Start Success - Part 3 (Team Building)Team building is a facet of both professional development and cross agency collaboration. The “Improving School Readiness and Promoting Long Term Success,” report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it includes continued professional development training through a State Training and Technical Assistance System. The goal is to create a seamless, easily accessible team of professional development providers at the State and local level, who can work with Head Start programs to improve the quality of teaching and other services.

The current national initiative is the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) introduced in the summer of 2008. This system allows programs to evaluate the quality of teaching and learning activities in the classroom, to identify areas for improvement. Currently, more than 2,500 grantee staff have been trained in the use of the CLASS. Also, members of the Head Start Training and Technical Assistance Network have been trained on modules designed to be used with teachers and education managers to improve the quality of their interactions with children.

Training and Technical Assistance specialists use these modules as part of their work with Head Start program staff, partner agencies, and other early childhood educators in the states. When it comes to collaboration, team building becomes even more important because as the roadmap document lays out, there is an increased call by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to institute additional levels of collaboration between local, regional, and state level Head Start programs, community partners, affiliated agencies, as well as parents and families.

More specifically, the initiatives states that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will begin to better integrate Head Start into a continuum of care that will positively impact the school readiness and long-term success of Head Start children.

As you know, states are playing a major role in initiating systems-wide reforms in early childhood education, meant to align diverse early childhood programs including pre-K, Head Start and child care on common program elements such as:
● Performance standards
● Data systems
● Educational curriculum
● Child and program assessment
● Professional development opportunities.

The State Advisory Councils bring together key early childhood decision-makers, including representatives of Head Start, to plan the development of state early childhood systems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses these state-level resources to collaborate in states and to encourage Head Start programs around the country to engage in state-level reform efforts. Head Start State Collaboration Offices gather information and conduct needs assessments related to the coordination and collaboration of Head Start in state early childhood systems. To put it simply, collaboration isn’t just an idea — it’s how the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has mandated performance standards reform efforts to occur.

And team building is not just something that occurs in professional development seminars, it’s how things will continue to get done. Your teams are bigger, more diverse, and include members that you may only see a few times a year. But the expectation is clear. Work together locally, regionally, and at the state level to improve Head Start. Let’s begin considering the roles we play in our teams to make Head Start a success. Working together we are a team and building a strong, effective team is fundamental to our continued ability to provide the services needed for children enrolled in our programs and their families.

We’ve all heard that there is no “I” in team and a team is only as strong as it’s weakest link, but what exactly is a team?

● What are the unique characteristics of a group?
● What are the unique characteristics of a team?
● What makes a team more appealing than a group in the Head Start Setting?

GROUP: A collection of individuals together in a unit to accomplish individual tasks
TEAM: A group of people working together to achieve a common goal or business objective through collaborative decision making who are accountable as a team within an organization

Part of what makes a team unique and different from a group is the level of interdependence and the outcomes that are a result of that interdependence. Teams are constantly tasked with collectively do the following things:
● Planning
● Problem Solving
● Decision Making

In your next meeting, think about the elements of interdependence that you believe your team does well, is challenged by, and the reasons for each. Then brainstorm briefly on ways to strengthen those challenges:


Show your group a triangle full of random letters.
Ask them to try to learn the correct placement of as many letters as they can without writing anything down.
Show triangle for 10 seconds.
On a piece of paper, ask each individual to try to recreate the triangle as best as they can.
Afterwards, allow them to discuss with the folks around them to make a plan for getting the next triangle correct as a team.
Give them another triangle full of letters and ask them to put their plan into action.
Show for 10 seconds.
How did the team do this time around?

Forming and maintaining a team approach can be difficult, but the value lies in the opportunity to harness the collective talents and energy of everyone on the team. Team formation is a process. Teams don’t gel overnight, and you shouldn’t expect them too.

You should expect the process of forming a team takes some time, and take some effort on both the part of the members as well as the team leader.

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