You don’t have to answer out loud, but if you’re in special education and you want to do more for the kids you serve, you do need to answer. And I don’t mean answer in a diplomatic “well-our-team-has-our-challenges-but-it’s-better-than-a-root-canal” kind of way. I mean really search your heart and answer. Go ahead. No one is listening, and if anything is ever going to get better, you gotta first start with a brutally honest look at things.

Does your team suck?

Well? Does it?

If your answer is a solid no, well then, a hearty fist-bump from me to you and I would sincerely love to hear what you’re doing that works. If, however, the answer is something approximating a yes, let’s have a hug. You are not alone. Not by a long shot. And listen: there is hope. Your team does not have to suck.

Teams are what we in the schools DO. There’s your sped team, your SLP team, your admin team, your IEP teams, your building referral team, your safety team, your grade-level team . . . you get the point. We spend a colossal amount of time on teams. They can feel like they are sucking our will to live. Or, conversely, they can feel like they are our vehicle for changing the lives of kids. Everyone wants to stay at a job that makes them feel the latter. The former? Not so much.

Spoiler alert: there is no magical, 1-size-fits-all, formula. Teams, by their very nature, are dynamic and changing and full of a varied cast of professional and personal characters. But what we do know (from, like, actual research) is that there are best practices for teaming, and that they can be implemented with incredible results. It is totally possible to go from “My team sucks” to “My team rocks.” Or at the very least to “My team doesn’t make me question the future of the human race when I walk out of the room.”

Brooke Unwin is my own personal teaming guru (and an all around stellar person, FYI). Our time together at a shared placement taught me so much about the science of teams, and helped me gel my anecdotal evidence from years of experience into more coherent, formalized practices that continue to guide my work today. So I asked Brooke to help me with this post, natch. Here are her 4 tips for how to get cracking on making your team suck less and rock more:

Make time to discuss team norms.

In other words, consciously discuss, write down, and post what the behavior expectations will be in your meeting. Talk about who is responsible for what (these roles are a great starting point), what happens if a member misses a meeting, how and where notes will be taken, and whether there will be snacks 😉 Not sure how to start? There is a fabulous worksheet at the end of this equally fabulous article that your team can complete together. Creating and documenting your expectations is simply prevention of future issues and hard feelings. Review these norms regularly — especially when things aren’t going well, but don’t forget to keep this up when things ARE going well so it’s not awkward to do in times of trouble.

Give your team the time and space it needs to be successful.

Any energy focused on teaming is not wasted. Successful teams discuss what works and what doesn’t and make changes accordingly. Setting a schedule of perhaps 2-4 times a year to brainstorm your successes and challenges as a team provides an opportunity for communication about issues without the discomfort of confronting others. Some teams even choose to set aside a few minutes at the end of each meeting to determine how well they stuck to their agenda and followed their norms.

Set agendas for team meetings and stick to them.

The number one predictor of a successful meeting is an agenda created and agreed upon by participants. We all have experience with setting aside an hour to discuss pertinent kid issues only to leave 60 minutes later having accomplished nothing except griping!

Don’t forget the positives.

My favorite meetings are those that end on a positive note. End with a joke, tell your team one thing no one knows about you, share something you did over the weekend, or an accomplishment of one of your students. Talk about team building! Knowing your team as individuals beyond the role they play at your school goes a long way in understanding them as team members (and humans).

Brooke has done this work. I have done this work. We have done this work together and we have done it apart. We will be the first ones to tell you that It. Is. Hard. Oh so hard. But! Right after that, we will tell you that it is also one of the best things you can do for yourself, for kids, and for families. Give it a try, then let us know how it’s going and how we can help (here in the comments or on Facebook). Because hey, we’re all on the same team, right?