I have been thinking about the power of teams. One of the most overused phrases around is "there is no I in team.". This phrase a ridiculous cliche that completely understates the incredible benefits of being part of a team. The power of teams goes so far beyond words and images. When a group of people gather together with a common purpose in mind, amazing things happen.
I feel very fortunate to have spent most of my life as a part of different types of teams. Early in my life, I played sports and was involved in group activities like Cubs. These opportunities exposed me to incredible role models and leaders. I wrote about many of these people in Things I've Learned From People I Admire. All of my closest friends, the people I wrote about in Stand By Me are people who have been my teammates in some shape or form. There is something galvanizing and life changing about being part of a team. Your shared experiences build memories that become permanently imprinted in who you are.
The vast majority of my team experiences come from being involved in sports. Over the years, I have played and/or coached hockey, rugby, soccer, volleyball, basketball, slow-pitch softball, skiing, cross-country running and track. I have watched major sporting events live and on television. Sports and competition speak to a primordial impulse, the survival of the fittest. For me, it does not matter whether I am playing, coaching or watching. When I identify with a team, there is nothing I want more than the success of that team. I wrote about my passion for hockey in The Game I Love but I can think of parallel experiences in many other aspects of my life.
Early in my teaching career, I spent my entire life in the school. I taught, coached, stayed late, played floor hockey and hung out with the caretakers. I spent evenings and weekends in the school marking, planning and simply hanging around. I was a rookie teacher and great people like Brad Anderson, Phil Penner, Jim Schlachter, Rob Willms and Daryl Zilinski took me under their wing. They helped me learn, relax and served as tremendous role models. Our school's administration team of Barrie Wilson, Sue Peters and Murray Saul were very much like our coaching staff. They led by example and taught me many great lessons about what it takes to be a successful teacher. My success was very much a result of the support and guidance from the people around me.
Ultimately, my experience as a beginning teacher was analogous to my experience as an athlete. Just as an individual athlete cannot play a game without teammates, an individual teacher cannot reach their potential without the support of colleagues and administration. In a previous post called What Makes a Great School Great? I wrote about the strengths of the school I currently work at. In so many ways, our school is like a powerhouse hockey team. We have seasoned veterans, talented rookies, and an overall sense of unity. The students and parents in our school have high expectations and our staff rise to meet those expectations to the best of their ability. As a teacher, leader, administrator and parent of children who have attended our school, I can say with certainty that it is an amazing and high-performing team.
People who understand teams understand that individual success IS important. If team members do not feel the "I" component of contributing to the team, they don't reach their potential. The precise formula for success is never the same. Success might look like Don Cherry's 1977-78 Boston Bruins with 11 players who scored 20 or more goals. It might look like the Edmonton Oilers of the early 1980s, with 6 future Hall of Famers. Achieving the ultimate goal requires all team members to move in the same direction toward a common goal. There is a balance between "we" and "me", but both aspects need to be nurtured.
In the end, I am a better person thanks to my involvement in teams. I understand that my personal goals need to fall within the framework of the place I work. I am not more important or less important than the people around me. I need them and they need me to be my best. This is true in my workplace, in athletics and in my family life. Teams have given me my best memories, my most powerful lessons and my best friends. Teams can make you jump in the air, punch walls, howl like a banshee and cry like prairie storm. They energize your limbs with excitement and can paralyze you with gut-wrenching anticipation.
We need to understand that the greatest things are achieved by teams. We may not always win and we may not always fulfill expectations, but when we feel a responsibility to those around us, our achievement is always greater. It is in the collective push that we find the power of teams.