A significant challenge for those leading collaborative teams in schools is getting all team members to contribute. Discussion and conversation, in particular, can be dominated by a few without input from the ‘quiet people’. This does not bode well when it comes to decision-making when we are seeking to try to build consensus or ensure that we have carried out effective consultation, if desired.
Before getting to the ways that ‘quiet people’ can be included more in the education conversation, who exactly are these people? There are, generally speaking, three types of quiet people that I have observed in schools.
Firstly, those whose personality naturally is more introverted, they do not feel so comfortable to speak in front of large groups even though they may have a lot to offer in terms of expertise that would add value to the conversation.
Secondly, those people who may lack confidence because of a lack of expertise. This could be because they may not have the expertise on the discussion topic and do not want this to be exposed to their peers. Confidence could be lacking from those in our teams who are not native English speakers and feel that their language skills are limited, so much as to prevent them from contributing.
Finally, and probably the most difficult people to deal with, members of our teams who may act in a passive aggressive way by refraining from contributing to the discourse.
It is is essential, therefore, that team leaders in schools are aware of the personality traits of their team and seek to include them to enrich the education dialogue and aid any decision-making process, if relevant. There are three simple ways that leaders can do this:
- Vary the group size for discussion, so a safe environment can be created for those who are less confident to contribute. It is easy to gravitate to those who further the conversation, ignoring those who do not play a part. This can result in leaders spending more time with the more vocal and what may seem collaborative members of the team. It is important, that the leader takes time for one to one conversations, pairs and small groups, so that everyone in the team feels valued and heard. This begins to create conditions of safety that may allow for greater input to discourse in larger groups down the track.
- Listen and ask questions. This is a really important reminder that there may be members of our team who do not contribute because they were shut down in a conversation or keep feeling that they are not listened to, so what is the point. Team leaders must first listen themselves and then ask good questions to engage others in the discussion. Furthermore, it is vital that when meetings are held, the chair of the meeting sets protocol that every person’s viewpoint or contribution is listened to first and foremost. This generates an environment where people feel that they can speak freely.
- Use tools and team exercises that get everyone in the team to contribute. Using tools such as a SWOT analysis, nominal group method, transparent standarised marking. Everyone in the team is asked to contribute to a document or put their viewpoint on the board for others to see, prior to having a conversation is a great starting point for team discussion. When standardizing teacher’s marking of an assessment, a great way to start is have every teacher write on the board the marks that they gave for each piece of work that was marked by the group. This now allows the facilitator of the meeting to begin asking individuals in the group questions about how they viewed the student work. Provided everyone listens, people will begin to contribute as they have now publicly stated their view.
Using these simple strategies it becomes easier to get more input from and collaboration amongst a team, provided a safe environment has been created for team members to make a contribution.