How can school leaders prepare for the changes required to create inclusive school environments?

Page 6: Form a Guiding Team

Form a Guiding Team stepThe process of creating an inclusive school environment requires expertise in many different areas: how to create and sustain change, how to best utilize inclusive practices, and how to effectively collaborate, among others. Principals cannot be expected to be experts in all these areas. In effective schools, the principal is an expert in creating and sustaining change. Because no one can know everything about how to address the needs of every student, the principal should tap into the collective intelligence and experience of the school staff. Through distributed leadership, the principal relies on others to provide the expertise needed to create an inclusive school. As such, the next step in creating an inclusive environment is to build an effective guiding team. Building a team consists of engaging the right people and making sure they work together effectively.

Principals, though uniquely situated to guide the process of change, are not the only individuals who can or should serve as agents of change.

Salisbury & McGregor, 2005

Engage the Right People

AdultsWhen they assume the task of creating the guiding team, principals need to choose willing individuals who represent the diversity of the school. The team should include individuals who are respected in the school, who will be listened to by others, and who are generally regarded for their reliability and trustworthiness. It should include staff and teachers across grade levels with various points-of-view and areas of specialty (e.g., general education, special education, content areas, paraprofessionals). The guiding team should also include parents and members of the community. These key personnel will be instrumental in encouraging their colleagues to support the school-wide change. Although the number of guiding team members will vary depending on the size of the school, it should remain relatively small (i.e., five to twelve people) in order to better facilitate effective communication and decision making.

For Your Information

Though it is tempting to exclude people who typically resist change, it is important to remember that they can be helpful in evaluating a new system and are often the ones who point out potential pitfalls.

Ensure Effective Teamwork

Once the school leader has engaged the right people, he or she needs to encourage the new group to work together as a team. Change will not happen if there is discord within the group or if the group fails to act on its decisions. Some factors that help individuals work effectively as a team are:

Effective group processes—Individuals can more effectively work as a team when there is a shared sense of purpose and an atmosphere of trust and commitment. Each team member needs a well-defined role and responsibilities that match his or her individual strengths and abilities. The team needs to use effective group processes to accomplish change (e.g., scheduled meetings, planning and decision making, effective communication, conflict resolution). Additionally, the team should have an objective method for assessing their progress.

Training—Training is critical to the team’s success. Team members should take time to understand and use a model of change (e.g., Kotter’s eight-step model). Team members also need training about creating an inclusive school. For example, team members may visit another school that has effectively created an inclusive environment or may establish a study group in which they research literature and models of inclusion.

CMS sealNow that Ms. Lawrence has established a sense of urgency about the need for change, she must create a team to help guide the efforts. She recognizes that the team needs to represent the diversity of the school. She also considers attributes that she wants her team members to possess, longevity at the school, for one, as well as respect among school personnel, natural leadership abilities, and good data skills. She compiles a list of individuals to recruit.

Central middle school

CMS Guiding Team Members

Name Grade/ Subject/ Position Reasons for Choosing
Ms. Bohan 6th/Social Studies
  • Longevity in the school
  • Sought out for advice on school-related issues
Mrs. Dishner 6th/Reading
  • Lead reading teacher
Mr. Gillingham 7th/Literature
  • Excellent reading teacher
  • Respected by others
Mrs. Powers 6th – 8th/Resource
  • Highly qualified special education teacher
  • District trainer of new special education teachers
Mrs. Carrillo 8th/Math
  • Possesses leadership skills
  • Charismatic
  • Often opposes school change
Mrs. Gann Parent
  • Parent of a student with a disability
  • Advocate for students with disabilities
Mr. Regazzi Community Leader
  • Helped raise money for the school
  • Serves on the school’s budget committee
Mr. Hutton 7th/History
  • Served on the school improvement plan committee
  • Served on the district curriculum committee
  • Knowledgeable about standards and curriculum alignment
Mrs. Timmons 8th/Science
  • Good with data
  • Helps the school compile and understand the yearly state assessment results
Mrs. Flowers Office Secretary
  • Good people skills
  • Frequently interacts with parents
  • Active in the community

Having identified the members of the guiding team, Ms. Lawrence holds several meetings so that everyone has a chance to learn how to work as a team. They discuss how to be open and frank with one another, how to communicate frequently and clearly, and how best to resolve conflicts.


Think back to the problem you identified earlier in this Module. As you move forward to address it, how would you build a guiding team? What attributes and skills would you want your team members to possess?

Click here to download a form that you can use to create a potential list of guiding team members (PDF).

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