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Creating & Maintaining Community with Teams During Tough Times

Creating & Maintaining Community with Teams During Tough Times

Organizational Leadership & Change Management  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

March 2nd is a day that will never be forgotten in Putnam County, TN. Our small community woke up to the sirens of an EF4 tornado that rocked our community and two weeks later our school system closed when the COVID pandemic hit home all across the state of Tennessee. 


As the Future Ready Supervisor in the Putnam County School System, it was my job to help support our school leaders to make sure that they had all they needed to keep the communication going, and to help figure out how we were going to educate students working from home. Trials and tribulations forced our community to pull together, and created opportunities for our district leadership team to grow together through these unprecedented times.

People grow through experiences, and tough times create opportunities for much growth. And this was never more true than in dealing with these challenges. Communication is always the key to a successful team and that was no different for our own school district team.  


Before COVID hit, our Director of Schools, Mr. Corby King had decided to make the process of creating a more responsive district leadership team. The timing of this decision could not have been better since we were about to go into a situation like no other we had faced before and would never want to go through again.  


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Meetings & Decision Making


As we started our Responsive Practices work, we figured out – through meeting audits – that we were wasting a lot of time in meetings, and no decisions were being made that would actually move our work forward. Our leadership team began creating a meeting template that would be used by all leadership teams in our district. This enabled our leaders to more easily share ideas across teams, and provided opportunities for follow-up that was not happening in the past. 


On the heels of a very successful integration of personalized learning across all of our district schools, we introduced the work of Responsive Practices using af 1/2 day to train and learn together. As you can imagine, there were setbacks – we were right in the middle of the COVID pandemic – but our leadership team pushed on and worked together.




Believe it or not, the cornerstone to creating successful, thought-provoking, worthwhile meetings and teams that truly identify problems and create working solutions together was a check-in. Yes, a simple check-in question created an environment where every voice was heard and also created opportunities to learn things about our team members that we would have otherwise never known. Many team members who never spoke up in meetings before began to become very involved in the thought process and end result of our decision-making process. There is so much about a person that can be learned in a 30-second check-in question that actually tunes you into what they are dealing with at that particular time in their life or simply what baggage they are carrying into your meeting space. It did not matter if the meeting was LIVE or a ZOOM meeting. The check-in provided needed knowledge about the person and what was on their mind at that time. Some check-ins were mild-hearted, some were dealing with the work of the day, and some were family-oriented questions to get their mind off of their work for a bit.

A simple check-in question used over time to start your meetings can help you to learn a lot about the members of your team and open up a world of great conversation that will help your teams grow closer together and help to get work done in order to help our students be more successful in the classroom and at home. Creating more opportunities for student success is what all this meeting time is about and if we do not use it wisely and create opportunities for successful meeting environments and the ability to move work forward, what a waste of time it would be. 



Strong Relationships Start with a Simple Question”

Anthony Kim, at TEDxClintonMiddleSchool

Becoming a more Responsive leadership team was very tough but because of the framework we created, we were able to move important work forward and use the time allotted for our meetings to make a difference for our leadership teams in the Putnam County School System.


Impact of Responsive Practices


When surveyed about our work together with Responsive Practices, members of our leadership team thought the work was very successful and they were able to create more opportunities for much better working environments for our teams. Other comments from our team are below:


  • I felt like my voice was finally heard by our team.
  • I was able to get to know the other leaders on our team better than ever before and that created opportunities to share in the work with them and also gave me the opportunity to lend my expertise to them when needed.
  • Loved the check-ins, that really set a great tone for our meetings and our work together
  • I feel like we get work done now in our meetings and we actually make decisions that will make a difference for our district.
  • Check-ins gave our team a moment to connect with other people in the meetings. I particularly loved the check-ins that were light-hearted and gave a moment to share a laugh together before we got to the business of the meeting.


The work we completed with Responsive Practices has created a much improved meeting environment that allows our teams to work together to meet the needs of our families in Putnam County. Our framework to carry out our meetings across the district has provided the needed tools to identify and share the work with the full team and create opportunities for shared leadership and the ability to build capacity in our teams. We are very thankful we started this work before the pandemic started and that it provided our leadership team with the tools we needed to make it through very tough and unusual times to meet the needs of our families.

About Sam Brooks - Guest Author

Sam Brooks is the personalized-learning supervisor for the Putnam County schools in Tennessee, leading all student/teacher personalized-learning opportunities in the district, which includes online, dual enrollment, dual credit, and industry-certification options. Sam led the launch of the VITAL program in Putnam County, and is a Google-certified trainer and was recognized by the Center for Digital Education as a national Top 30 Technologists-Transformers-Trailblazers in 2014. Connect with Sam on Twitter @VITALK12 and at brookss4@pcsstn.com.

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