Solutions Teams: Increasing Staff Engagement As a Mechanism for Heightened Productivity

Over the past 4 years, Banneker High School has been engaged in a comprehensive school turnaround process.  During that span of time, we have deployed a strategy intent on producing a very specific result: improved student performance.  Having been designated as one of the state’s lowest performing schools in 2015, we knew that our work needed to center on getting stronger in Georgia’s 8 mandatory high school tested subject areas.

Our strategy for immediate improvement was simple.  We implemented a framework that activated systems of support, training and accountability to improve instructional delivery.  There was other work, too – especially around school climate and culture. However, we believed that improving academic performance was most important.  To date, our strategy – though imperfect – has produced incredible results. Banneker is no longer on our state’s failing schools list and graduation rates have skyrocketed to the high 70’s, (a far cry from the years when our graduation rate was stuck in the low 40’s).  Additionally, we’ve seen significant increases in the number of ‘developing’, ‘proficient’, and ‘distinguished’ learners across all content areas – and our path for long-term success is now clear.

Although proud of these results, we’ve also come to realize that school improvement is not only about improved student performance.  There are other critical dimensions of this work.  For instance, our plans for school turnaround did not consider best practices for sustainability nor did they intentionally involve efforts to ensure school-wide ownership of the work that we were undertaking. Despite these improvements, we have recently begun to transition into a focus motivated by our desire to ensure that every staff member is an active participant in our turnaround efforts.

A Change in Approach

Banneker High School classroom

At Banneker High School, teachers lead the way. PICTURED: Mrs. Samantha Lucas teaches AP Statistics. She also chairs the Celebration, Joy, and Recognition team.

Having found value in the Harvard Business School Case Study, “How I Let My Workers Lead”, our administrative team was particularly inspired by many of the organizational redesign elements utilized by The Johnsonville Sausage Company – namely their approach to increasing staff involvement as a mechanism for heightened productivity.

Following our review and analysis of Johnsonville’s work, we modeled our change process after theirs – but first, we needed data.  We administered a Gallup survey intended to provide insights around the theme of “staff engagement,” hoping to also unearth the barriers in place that hindered our team’s ability to fully participate in the school’s transformation efforts.  Our findings were helpful and led to the conclusion that more opportunities needed be created to ensure a more inclusive organizational culture. Additionally, the emerging themes of “collectivism” (e.g. shared responsibility) and “empowerment and voice” were prominent among the inventory results as forward-going focus areas.

The Learning + The Action

The results of the inventory confirmed our fears; we had left some of our people behind – and if we were to achieve the ambitious goal of school transformation that we aspired to, we needed to better engage them and create opportunities that would lead to a more participatory work experience.

This revelation led to the launch of 6 “Solutions Teams” representing groups of teachers and other staff members who would spearhead organized school improvement efforts specific to their areas of interest.  Consider the following 3 examples:

Celebration, Joy, and Recognition TeamOne of Banneker’s primary areas of focus is to create an organizational culture that intentionally recognizes students and staff. Past efforts have been inconsistent, low quality, or poorly executed – which, collectively, have had the effect of undermining our purpose and intent around recognizing BHS employees.

The work of the CJR is to ensure that we are consistently honoring the contributions of BHS team members and students. Creating a culture of celebration, joy, and recognition requires a collective effort and a disciplined insistence to honor the contributions of all members of the BHS school community.
Staff Growth and Development TeamThe Banneker High School Administrative Team has taken to heart one of the findings espoused in the Johnsonville Sausage Co. HBS Case Study which articulated the idea that a “company’s success cannot be incongruent with the goals of its employees.” We subscribe to this notion, but more specifically, we believe that it is vitally important that Banneker must be a place where our team members can accomplish their professional goals as well.

The BHS Staff Growth and Development Solutions Team focuses on identifying ways in which the school can create meaningful development and advancement opportunities for all staff members.
Student Achievement Team
The Student Achievement Solutions Team engages in work that is focused on assessing the systems and strategies that Banneker currently deploys and evaluates the quality and effectiveness of the processes that we use to improve academic performance. This team is also charged with making recommendations and/or mid-course corrections regarding currently deployed initiatives.

Ultimately, we want all of our staff members to be meaningful contributors to the school community beyond their articulated job responsibilities.  But we also want them to feel a sense of autonomy, self-determination, and personal satisfaction in their work. To achieve this balance, we must activate the collective power and genius represented among our employees.  They are the true experts, and when we are firm on “the what”, but flexible on “the how”, coupled with genuine opportunities for authentic engagement – we believe that our productivity and staff performance will increase.  

At Banneker High School, this is the way forward.  

Posted in Banneker News.