Back to School: Teamwork is the Name of the Game

Published: August 17th, 2017
Principal O'Rourke

Believe it or not, teachers go back to school long before students do. (Administrators actually never leave school (like, ever), but teachers do get a summer vacation. Well, unless they teach summer school or work another summer job. ANYway… No matter what they spent the rest of their summer doing, administrators and teachers alike devote the month before school starts to getting ready for the new year.

Being ready for the first day of school means supplying classrooms and preparing lesson plans, but it means more than that, too. For a school to function well, the teachers and administrators must work as a team. The more effectively that team works and communicates, the better the educational needs of Arizona children are served.

Every year in late July and early August, educators in districts throughout Arizona engage in teambuilding activities and Alhambra Elementary School District is no different. The district has served the students of west-central Phoenix since 1888. Back when the district consisted of a one-room schoolhouse on Shady Lane, “teamwork” was a term for horses pulling agricultural machinery.* These days, teamwork is what allows the administrators and teachers of Alhambra ESD’s fourteen schools effectively serve 13,500 students.

Principal Stacy O’Rourke led the staff of Granada Primary School in a dynamic day of teambuilding in early August. Attendees spent the morning watching and discussing Paper Tigers, a film about how the problems children face at home can lead to issues in school and what it means to be a “trauma-informed school.” The Granada teachers talked at length about their impressions of the movie and how it related to their own challenges with students. Many spoke candidly about similar experiences, both positive and negative, providing insight and personal examples. The group also looked forward, sharing with one another various strategies for reaching troubled students.

teachers playing game
The goal was to teach the games to the teachers, but watching a room full of adults play games designed for elementary students is entertaining enough that it should probably be an official sport.

The second half of the teambuilding retreat was full of laughter and strategy. Playworks, an organization that brings structure and better community-building between students to recess, sent several individuals, including “2017 Rookie of the Year” Coach Mitzi Ortega, to put the Granada teachers through some of the games their students will be playing this year. Principal O’Rourke built on the afternoon’s momentum with conversations about strategies for dealing with classroom challenges. Events and discussions such as these help teachers and administration form a coherent philosophy for how instruction and discipline will function at their schools.

By the end of the day, this group of frazzled men and women had transformed into a team of happy, smiling, educators. On the surface, they spent their day watching a movie, playing playground games, and eating some really good food. But they also learned about each other, shared challenges and burdens, discussed hopes and expectations for the year, and came up with ideas serving their students even better. They left that day ready to start the school year in the best way possible: as a team.

* Please enjoy this short 1938 film showing the original meaning of “teamwork”: horses pulling a combine during harvest in Pullman, Washington. (Washington State University Libraries)