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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

On The Experience of Being a Team

All of us who work in schools are somehow shaped by the experience of working alongside our colleagues. On Thursday 7 December 2023, a group of former colleagues met together to continue our ritual of an annual "team" dinner.


What follows is a letter that I wrote for them that night; a testimony to an extraordinary band of travelling companions and a reflection on the experience of being a team.


Dear Team, if you allow me to call you that at least one more time.


Since you first came upon the idea to come together for our traditional, festive team dinner, I've been pondering a question: When is a team no longer a team?


Of course, I came up with a hundred answers or more.


…when we stop showing up together on a Monday morning?

… when we are no longer paid to spend time together?

…when you don't have to refer to me as Boss, or endure the periodic pain of appraisals and writing professional learning goals?


The more answers I came up with, the less satisfactory they felt. None of them quite got to the heart of who we were, and who we still are… a group of people that have travelled by plane, train, and (in one case) 150 metres down the road, to be a team once more.


None of us are getting paid. We have no commonly agreed objective, nor even a manifesto on the wall. And yet, I do believe that we have all come here today because, in some way or another, we still feel that sense of team.


Stuck for answers, I turned to a Philosopher and Poet, David Whyte, that I'm learning from these days. He has one particular poem called Working Together, in which he says:


We shape our self to fit this world


and by the world

are shaped again.


The visible

and the invisible


working together

in common cause,


to produce

the miraculous.


These lines make me think about how, in so many ways, each one of us moulded and adapted ourselves to fit into the team. And yet, by this team, each one of us was shaped, changed, marked. And yes, I do believe that, through all of the good days and the bad, we reached a point where we were indeed working together in common cause, to produce… the miraculous.


Those late August days, when we welcomed new families to campus or transformed the Chateau into a winter wonderland to the delight of our youngest children; when we published each edition of Monday Wisdom or yet another award-winning Annual Report; when we celebrated more than one hundred applications in a single month. We were, in those moments, the Invincibles and there was nothing we couldn't achieve, together. We were each superheroes with our own super powers.


So perhaps it is true that a team begins with rules and structures, job descriptions and a monthly salary. And perhaps, for some lucky few, there is a moment when some of those things matter less or not at all; when we simply feel connected, better, more human, when we are together than when we are apart.


Elsewhere, and with this I'll finish, Whyte speaks about the noble life of a Pilgrim. He says that, in one way or another, all of us are Pilgrims, strangers to be waved at in passing or met along the way.


Life moves on. For each one of us, our journey continues. Each of us is travelling to a place over the horizonwhere something is always about to happen or be revealed.


But no matter where our paths take us and what lies ahead, I have no doubt that, sitting around this table tonight, are a group of people who have shaped themselves to and been shaped by what we once called our team.


For me, at least, the time we had and the time we have is an astonishing twist of good fortune that many never get to experience.


To your very good health and a good life.


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