[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

Years ago, Google became determined to create the perfect team. Executives believed building the best team meant putting the best people together. In 2012, they launched the Aristotle Project, which was an attempt to study teams in order to determine the ingredients for the perfect group. When all was said and done, they examined 180 teams within the company.

At first, there were no patterns to distinguish a high performing team from a lower performing team. Soon, the importance of established “group norms” came into view. This NYT article explains it well:

“Project Aristotle’s researchers began searching through the data they had collected, looking for norms. They looked for instances when team members described a particular behavior as an ‘unwritten rule’ or when they explained certain things as part of the ‘team’s culture.’ Some groups said that teammates interrupted one another constantly and that team leaders reinforced that behavior by interrupting others themselves. On other teams, leaders enforced conversational order, and when someone cut off a teammate, group members would politely ask everyone to wait his or her turn. Some teams celebrated birthdays and began each meeting with informal chitchat about weekend plans. Other groups got right to business and discouraged gossip. There were teams that contained outsize personalities who hewed to their group’s sedate norms, and others in which introverts came out of their shells as soon as meetings began.”

The researchers soon found good teams had two traits: talking was evenly distributed among everyone, and members were sensitive to how teammates were feeling. In other words, they had empathy for one another.

The researchers found it didn’t matter how smart or average the people were–if you had a group full of brilliant people who didn’t have norms in which everyone spoke and empathy was established, they were consistently outshined by a group of average workers who did have these components established. This more cohesive group felt “psychologically safe” because members believed they could share their feelings, have difficult conversations in a productive manner, and participate in any number of emotional conversations.

In a nutshell, the best teams listen to each other and tend to each other’s emotional needs.

We’ve been talking about norms for years within the field of education. Oftentimes, norms conjure the memory of sitting in a group, trying to think of as many ways as possible to be nice to each other during PLC time–and then revisiting this list before each meeting. By thinking of norms in this perfunctory way, we lose sight of the importance of norms that occur naturally–as if they were like breathing. Many consultants harp on organizations to make lists of norms because in reality it’s easier to codify norms on paper and then read them before each meeting than the alternative, which is having each member take stock of his or her own ability to listen and possess empathy.

Think of the most dysfunctional group you’ve ever seen. They’re nasty to each other. They talk behind each other’s backs. They don’t meet unless they have to, and then when they do meet it’s a cold war between all members. Writing down norms before a meeting will accomplish nothing to help this team. In fact, the practice will just exacerbate the problem because members will mock the idea of norms altogether.

In this situation, it’s better to travel the more difficult route, which is working on listening and empathy skills. Of course, there are many books written on both of these topics, and you can search online for “increasing empathy” and “improving listening skills” to find helpful articles and videos. In my personal experience of being a part of teams and visiting scores of school sites, there are strategies that can help the dysfunctional team.

  • Spend time with teams that possess empathy and good listening skills.
  • Read a helpful article together and use the EAA model to both analyze the text and produce actionable steps for becoming better as a team.
  • Set up a few “one-foot bars” that can be easily cleared as a team. This will create Dave Ramsey’s “snowball effect,” which will make the team eager to accomplish more. Stay far, far away from seven-foot bars. Expecting a team to successfully accomplish a difficult objective will make matters much worse. We differentiate and scaffold for children–the same has to be done for dysfunctional groups. You can’t expect a team of four teachers who hate each other to garner the same results as four teachers who work well together because they’re BFFs.
  • The leader of the organization must regularly sit in during the team’s meetings. The leader should praise the group for growth as a team, and he or she should also point out areas that can be improved. It would be helpful for the leader to go through the EAA process with them every time they meet.
  • WORST CASE SCENARIO: The team needs to be split up. It’s the job of a leader to assemble a team whose members can exemplify the positive traits found by researchers of the Aristotle Project. People may have to be moved to different grade levels so teams can thrive and students can learn.


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

Jocko Willink spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy and commanded SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser. He’s famous for saying “Discipline equals freedom.” What does this mean? I believe, and Tim Ferriss interprets this similarly in his book Tools of Titans, that constraints are a positive force in one’s work.

Even though many educators say they want complete freedom when working collaboratively, I’m positive it’s not what’s best for longterm productivity. The Paradox of Choice causes paralysis (e.g., What should we do now? What should we do next week? What’s expected of us?). Having an extremely simple pre-scheduled strategy provides a better sense of agency and freedom. The biggest caveat is you need the right strategy or protocol for this to truly work. Otherwise the discipline of keeping it simple will vanish.

So here’s a strategy that will work in every collaborative situation.


Or, simply put, EAA.

That’s it! That’s all you and your teachers need to remember. EAA. Evidence. Analysis. Action. This handy little acronym will serve you and your staff well. Everything you do collaboratively on a campus can be encapsulated in EAA. Before we get to how you can use it, here are some reasons why I personally like it so much.

  • EAA eliminates choice. The Paradox of Choice will not torment a team.
  • EAA does away with the overwhelming reality that there are so many protocols out there. So many! Why not make it easy on yourself and just pick one.
  • EAA is easy to remember. You need something that teachers and administrators can instantly remember. We all know the motto for Nike. We know the motto for McDonalds. We know what a Coca-Cola bottle looks like. We know the main Disney characters by name. These are marketing tools that are ingrained in our minds so we can easily recall them, have a positive emotion, and spend our money. Likewise, you need a strategy with a rememberable name that everyone can use to conduct business. EAA fits the bill.
  • EAA is simple… especially after a long (and potentially emotionally draining) day of teaching. To provide lengthy and complicated strategies and protocols at the end of the day for teachers to navigate after they’ve already taught, planned, organized, disciplined, (and a lot more) is asking for failure. I can’t tell you how frustrated I am when I’m in a meeting full of administrators and they discuss how teachers need to use this protocol and that protocol for students to succeed. I try explaining that the best path is to give teachers an easy strategy they can use in many different situations. In this way, they don’t have to search through binders or their Google Drives for various protocols. They don’t have to make multiple decisions at the end of an already draining day. Instead, they can simply sketch out EAA on a doc or a piece of binder paper and go to town.

I like the following example Chip Heath and Dan Heath give in their book Switch. They discuss the U.S. government’s Food Pyramid. I’ll let them explain one of the reasons why it was such a terrible idea:

“Let’s start with the pyramid shape. A pyramid signifies hierarchy, yet no hierarchy is evident in the Food Pyramid. The first version of it displayed rows of food, one row on top of the next, with grains at the bottom and oils at the top. Some people interpreted this arrangement to mean that oils were the most important food group. (Whoops.) The revised version… abandoned that construct for vertical-ish streaks of color intended to eliminate any implied ranking. What this means is that the pyramid structure itself has no meaning whatsoever. The Food Pyramid might as well be a Food Rhombus or a Food Rooster.”

There were a lot of problems with the Food Pyramid, and it’s easy to see how confusing it was to use the image for anything constructive. The Food Pyramid didn’t bring anything concrete to mind. On the other hand, the Nike swoosh makes you think “Just do it.” The Golden Arches (notice I didn’t even need to say the “M” for McDonald’s) makes you think about “lovin it.”

In addition, the Food Pyramid was just plain hard to use. As stated before, it’s confusing, which means people had a lot of questions and were never sure if they were using it correctly. In addition, it was hard to remember, and people need something that sticks with them if they’re going to internalize it and use it consistently.

EAA brings a clear, concrete idea to mind of how to use it. Not only is it easy to use, it’s easy to remember. Once you memorize the letters “EAA,” you’re not going to forget what they stand for.

EAA is research based. I first read about EAA in Leading Impact Teams, and I highly recommend checking out that book for a deeper look at what EAA entails. For our purposes right now, it’s important to know that very smart people have combed through John Hattie’s research and decided upon the effectiveness of EAA. If you’re using Hattie’s effect sizes in your school or district to make more educated choices as to what you will or will not incorporate within you practice, EAA is right up your alley.

So, here’s my pitch regarding collaboration at school sites: Eliminate choice. Use one strategy that’s easy to remember. Keep it simple. Use something that’s research based.

EAA fits the bill.

So how can you use EAA? Let’s review some possible scenarios describing how it can be used:

  • It’s the end of the day, and a group of teachers just sat down to look at the results of a short 10 question formative assessment they gave and quickly graded. They’re going to use EAA to view the evidence (students’ answers), analyze the evidence (hmmm, why did the students score this way?), and make a plan for what to do next. (“We need to teach linking verbs again if we want Johnny to understand what a compound sentence is.”) By using EAA, they now have a quick and easy framework through which to share a uniform method of analysis.
  • The principal pays for substitutes so a group of teachers can embark on instructional rounds. The teachers move through various classroom, taking notes and looking for solutions to their problem of practice. They ask themselves, “Where is the evidence of good strategies being used to mediate problem X?” The teachers meet together after the rounds and create a Google Doc with EAA across the top. The teachers then type all the evidence they witnessed concerning their POP. They analyze the evidence, providing responses to questions such as: What were the students doing? How was this working? How could strategy X help us attain our goals? When this is complete, teachers can determine which ACTION steps they’ll take next. This list will be the tangible things they can immediately begin in their classrooms.
  • A school is implementing PBIS and needs a way for a group of teachers or administrators to systematically determine the needs of students who are misbehaving during school hours. First, they take a look at the EVIDENCE (i.e. the elementary school student is chronically late to school.). Second, they ANALYZE why this is happening (i.e. The parent always drops the student off after the bell rings.) Third, they take ACTION (i.e. contact the parent; explain how this is affecting the student’s learning, provide incentives for the child arriving early, or discuss the possibility of the student walking to the school bus stop.)

It’s so simple, and yet it’s so simple to mess up–and I’ll tell you why: it’s easy to complicate it. Heck, you–dear reader–may already be thinking of ways to complicate it. If you’re an educator, especially an administrator, you’ve come up in a system that doesn’t like simplicity. What the system accepts is individuals who create complicated programs and systems. Why is this?

A complicated system is in need of someone to explain it. Creating complicated protocols ensures job security. More simply though, people believe doing more is better. Maybe this is because being busy makes them feel productive? Maybe being busy looks good to others? It’s time we stop, place everything on the cutting board, and trim the fat.

I think we should be just as proud of the things we aren’t doing in the field of education as the things we are doing. Simplicity is important because it prevents fragility. The more rules, protocols, and strategies you adopt, the more that can go wrong. Too many initiatives, too much confusion, and you can’t get good at anything. If you’re a teacher or administrator, aren’t you tired of doing stuff half-assed? Wouldn’t you rather feel like you’re knocking it out of the park? You could, but it means you need to let go of stuff. In reality, you need less than you think.

Collaboration is both a journey and a process that never ends, so we better get as comfortable as possible and enjoy the ride. We shouldn’t just be interested in the results–this defeats the purpose. To a certain extent, the process is the purpose. This is why a simple tool like EAA is so critical. Difficult steps to remember and various protocols for different circumstances will destroy a team’s morale. If you don’t keep the process simple, then no one will like it. If no one likes it, then no one will dive into the deep collaborative work that’s necessary to develop teacher collective efficacy.

So throw out all your unnecissarily complicated collaboration protocols and adopt EAA.

Professional Learning Communities

A week ago I wrote about implementing Edmodo Snapshot in my classroom. Using Snapshot was a great experience, and I’d like to elaborate more concerning this excerpt from my previous post:

Many teachers may not like that the tests are already made, but I think it’s wonderful. Instead of using valuable PLC time creating assessments, teachers can instead mine the student data for all it’s worth and create effective lesson plans to address student need.

A few years ago, it was understood that the weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) time teachers were given in my district would be used to collaboratively create common formative assessments (CFA), correct the assessments, and analyze the data for how we could teach specific standards more effectively. This was a great concept, but getting five or more teachers to agree on a proper CFA proved to be difficult. How many questions would properly assess each standard? (Keep in mind, most teachers do not have extensive training in statistics.) How should we articulate the questions? How many multiple choices should there be? How often should we give a CFA? Should the test be part of the grade?

After the long process of creating a test, a week or two would go by. Many more questions would then ensue: Were all the teachers still teaching the same standards? Were the tests administered, collected, graded, and analyzed for student feedback by all team members? Did we have time to use the data to effectively modify our strategies and lessons to reteach concepts where we found student deficiencies?

If you’re a teacher, perhaps you’ve faced these and similar questions. At times, you might have felt like your PLC was working really slowly, unproductively–and, at worst–dysfunctionally.

I think it’s because the model of creating, grading, and analyzing CFAs poses a Herculean task for teachers who have a lot on their plates. With grades, lesson planning, coaching, and other extracurricular events, time during a 180 day school year is a rare and precious commodity. I’ve been forced to wonder whether there is a more effective, and sustainable, way to collaborate.

This is why Snapshot works so well. Like I wrote before, instead of using valuable (very valuable) PLC time creating assessments, Snapshot allows the teacher to pick standards that kids will be tested on in a quick and efficient manner. Teachers don’t have to use time to create tests–this is huge! I’ve always believed that PLC time would be better spent mining data and collaborating to create engaging lesson plans for students. Who wants to sit around in a committee and make tests when there’s so much other stuff to accomplish and create? Why not allow Edmodo to do this work?

Also, there’s no grading or scanning Snapshot tests because Edmodo does it for you. Goodbye bubble sheets and scanners that jam! I haven’t even mentioned yet how teachers can collaborate via Edmodo, so they don’t even need to be in the same room.

The biggest question we should be asking is: What should PLC time look like now?

Technology is revolutionizing the way educators operate. It’s a very exciting time to be a teacher.