by Mary Jean Whitelaw
As senior reviewers prepare for their next school review, one of the first things that they do is ask me, “Who is on my team?” Senior reviewers are always delighted to work with reviewers they already know but they are also excited to serve on a review team with new colleagues. They know that each reviewer contributes a unique set of skills and experiences to the review but experienced reviewers are an enormous asset to any team. Senior reviewers cross their fingers and hope that their next review team will be the proverbial “Dream Team.”
The original Dream Team is often considered to be the United States basketball team that won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. “What was important was that the Dream Team, the first U.S. Olympic team to include NBA stars, gave fans a glimpse of basketball at its finest, and an entire world responded.” In basketball, teams need to be balanced: two forwards, one center, and two guards. Each player brings a skill set – such as defense, rebounding or offense – needed by the team in order to achieve success. Great teams have great balance and chemistry. The Dream Team was the very best because talent resided at each position as well as terrific balance, chemistry and team work.
In the realm of school review, what comprises a dream team?
School review teams need terrific balance, chemistry and teamwork. They also need reviewers with a breadth of talents. A range of roles, expertise and experiences provides the team and the school with the most valuable and insightful perspective.
One question that often comes up when a review team is being formed is, “How many members are there on a school review team?” A typical team should have five or six members. A very small school can be well served by a team of just four; a large school may require a team of seven.
No single combination of review team members is a prescription for a “dream team,” but a well-balanced team might include:
- Senior Reviewer
- Cornerstone Coach/Literacy Instructor/Teacher
- Cornerstone Coach/Literacy Instructor/Teacher
- District Administrator/District Literacy Specialist
- Cornerstone Staff
Each team is always led by an experienced external senior reviewer. Cornerstone senior reviewers have expertise in a range of areas including literacy, coaching, leadership and administration. They also have experience in team organization, time management, report writing, and communication. Each has been involved with Cornerstone for many years and has served on many, many review teams. In addition, they are all familiar with current Cornerstone practices and principles.
One reviewer reported, “The process was a pleasure because of [the senior reviewer’s] excellent guidance. High expectations, management skills and punctuality kept us on target and confident about the whole review process. [The senior reviewer’s] skills are beyond anything I would have expected.” Another review team member noted that the senior reviewer “treated us as responsible professionals, and all expectations were clear and concise.”
Principals provide perspective on leadership and are in an excellent position to communicate with the principal and leaders of the school community. Every team player has a role, and principals are adept at seeing the global picture of leading a whole school. Having a principal on each team is crucial to the effectiveness of the review.
Coaches, literacy specialists and teachers are essential to any review team’s game plan. Classroom observations and conversations with groups of teachers are basic to the process. Coaches are particularly good at interviewing other coaches and teachers. Teachers with literacy expertise are in the best position to relate to other teachers, classrooms and students within the context of the review work.
District representation on each team is another vital role. District administrators provide insight on leadership and administrative matters. They are valued team members because they can provide perspective on the district context in which the school is operating. Furthermore, they develop a deeper understanding of the school and are then in a strong position to provide school-specific ongoing support following the review.
Not only is a range of roles key in forming a dream review team, but it is also essential to ensure that some review team members have previous review experience. A team comprised solely of rookies must spend a great deal of energy becoming familiar with Cornerstone and with the process of review. Experienced reviewers can be paired with rookies, and efforts can be focused almost exclusively on the school.
The Agreement of Understanding between a school district and Cornerstone stipulates that each principal and each coach will participate in a school review visit once a year. Thus, from the first months of involvement with Cornerstone, school-based and district-based participants join in on school review teams. After a few years with Cornerstone, several individuals within the district will have participated on a review team; some will have taken part several times. Cornerstone districts have a talented cadre of experienced reviewers in their midst.
Why is a dream team important?
A dream team is the ideal mechanism to support the review process, and to further the development of the school and the professional growth of all involved. A talented and comprehensive “dream team” provides the best possible review for a school.
Participation on a school review requires almost a week’s commitment but the personal growth and professional development that result from serving provides valuable insight on literacy instruction, leadership and school reform. Furthermore, it clarifies and crystallizes an understanding of Cornerstone principles and practices. “Colleagues who participate on review teams gain new insights into the processes of school self-review along with valuable professional experiences that inform instructional leadership at all levels.” [A Guide to Cornerstone School Reviews, p. 4.] Indeed, Kelly Williams, Literacy Coach at St. Mary’s Elementary Magnet Academy, corroborated this point when she stated, “Serving on a review team helped me understand how all the components of Cornerstone work together.”
Putting together teams with leadership expertise, knowledge of literacy and Cornerstone experience is an ongoing challenge. A dream review team includes a balanced group of players who have a range of experiences and skills. Great teams have great balance and chemistry. When a dream team is on the court, everyone will be the winner – the school as well as everyone on the team.