School superintendents have a key role to play in all matters of staff development—especially if they are trying to change the culture within their districts to embrace a new pedagogy, such as the integration of computers into classrooms. They have a difficult pattern to overcome: teacher isolation that works against the development of a collaborative environment in which teachers can help each other.

Leadership experts say creating teams of educators can be an effective way to overcome the problems of isolation. Here are their tips for building teams that can overcome the powerful forces working against change:

1. Make each teacher part of a team. By restructuring schools so that teachers work in teams (by grade, by subject, or other ways), superintendents can start to break down teachers’ habits of thinking of their responsibility as limited to their own students.

2. Set aside time for the teams to meet each day. This has both a practical value (the actual time needed to work together) and a symbolic one (showing that superintendents value collaboration). Have teachers use this time to discuss what’s working and not working and to develop new initiatives.

3. Make sure teams focus on teaching and learning. Don’t let the meetings degenerate into detailed discussions of small issues—which book should be read first, what to do about “problem” parents, etc. Superintendents should attend team meetings and lay out the questions that should be asked, such as: What should students learn? How will student achievement be measured? What equipment or training is needed to support students effectively?

4. Monitor progress of teams and their members. It’s crucial to get each staff member to develop a professional development plan and tie it to the team’s mission. In many cases, learning to use new technology can be made a central professional development goal.

5. Find some themes, and stick to them. As the author points out, there is an endless array of competing (and conflicting) ideas about how to improve schools—from new standards, to more discipline, to more computers, to a return to the 3 Rs, and so on. Leaders must decide which concepts will work and keep teachers and teams driving toward achieving those goals.