What Do High-Performing School Teams Embrace?

Steven WeberBlog, Connect Better, Lead Better, Reflect Better


  • High-performing schools use the talents, strengths, and knowledge of their staff to continue to improve and grow.
  • Progress should be monitored with various scoreboards to see if the efforts for improvement are effective.

High-performing schools embrace a mindset that focuses on what could or should be different, rather than hoping for improved outcomes. There are two types of schools. School A has a staff working together to support student understanding and to align their individual strengths around a set of common goals that leads toward continuous improvement. School B is led by a Lead Learner, Instructional Leader, or Principal who charts the course with top-down leadership as the recipe for success. Over the course of my career, I have worked in high-performing school districts, and I have witnessed the positive impact of school teams. Over the past twenty-five years, I have never witnessed the leadership in School B having a long-term effect nor have I seen this leadership model strengthen staff morale.

High-Performing School Teams

High-performing school teams have a common purpose, sense of urgency, collective commitments, and are student-focused. How do principals and school leadership teams develop these strengths across grade levels and departments? “Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles” (Kotter, 2012). When school staff embraces a common purpose, they are able to align their work. The result is synergy, the interaction of strengths that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual strengths and talent.

When school staff embraces a common purpose, they are able to align their work. Click To Tweet

Leadership author John Maxwell has written over 70 books related to teams and leadership. This article will highlight four principles shared by Dr. Maxwell.  The four principles highlight what great school teams do differently.

Law of the Lid

Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness (Maxwell, 2022).

If a teacher or administrator has a Lid of 3, it will be difficult for that person to attract a person with a Lid of 8. The law of the lid is critically important when hiring a building principal. A principal with a high leadership lid will be able to identify, recruit, and retain other strong leaders. A school improvement team, curriculum design team, or family engagement team also benefits from understanding the Law of the Lid.

When multiple teacher leaders, administrative assistants, counselors, and assistant principals have a high lid, it is more likely that success and growth will take place. Leaders from across grade levels will support one another because the focus is on the entire school, rather than my class or our grade level. If a school team has several leaders at Level 3 (out of 10), then the next step should be to provide support and help each staff member grow. A leader who does not understand the Law of the Lid may continue to hire staff who meet the job description but struggle to contribute in areas where students need them the most.

Law of the Inner Circle

A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him/her (Maxwell, 2022).

The Inner Circle is a common practice among school leaders, but it is rarely discussed. There are two different perspectives when it comes to the Law of the Inner Circle. Some educators view this law in a negative light and see the principal or department chair as having favorite co-workers. They view the Inner Circle as exclusive, and it can be harmful to school morale. Dr. Maxwell describes this as a leader who surrounds himself or herself with talented staff who provide guidance, coaching, feedback, and solutions. It is unlikely that a high school principal with 200 staff members could communicate with all staff to make decisions and inform procedures. An inner circle allows leaders to make informed decisions that support continuous improvement. Who is in your inner circle?

Five Ways To Create An Inner Circle:

  1. What are my areas of weakness as a leader? Which staff members have strengths in my areas of weakness and could offer advice?
  2. What are the goals of the school? Do I hear from multiple perspectives or am I surrounded by those who share or always agree with me?
  3. What are the potential blind spots? Do I have enough people in my Inner Circle who will point out the blind spots and will speak directly in order to support school improvement?
  4. Do I value diversity and inclusion? Does my inner circle reflect the demographics of the student body, staff, and community?
  5. Do I understand the perspectives of students and families? Do all of my meetings include school faculty? How will I hear the perspectives of students and staff if they are not included in the Inner Circle?

Law of the Niche

All educators and staff have a place where they add the most value (Maxwell, 2001).

Every teacher and staff member brings their own strengths and unique skills to a school. The impact of one teacher leader is significant, but the impact of several teacher leaders is seismic. Transforming schools has rarely occurred, if ever, due solely to a strong principal. Principals understand that teacher leaders lead change, implement programs, reflect on current practices, multiply leaders, and create a positive culture. Curtis (2013) wrote, “Teacher leadership recognizes the talents of the most effective teachers and deploys them in service of student learning, adult learning and collaboration, and school and system improvement” (p. 4). High-performing school teams embrace the strengths that each staff member possesses. Wiseman & McKeown (2010) wrote “Multipliers invoke each person’s unique intelligence and create an atmosphere of genius – innovation, productive effort, and collective intelligence.” Does your school staff understand the Law of the Niche?

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Law of the Scoreboard

Teams can make adjustments when they know where they stand (Maxwell, 2001).

Scoreboards come in several different shapes and sizes. The key question for school teams is, “Do we have a scoreboard?”

Types of Scoreboards:

  • Data Dashboard
  • School Improvement Plan
  • Reading Performance
  • On-Track Indicators
  • Graduation Rate
  • Team or School Level SMART Goals
  • Common Formative Assessments
  • Key Performance Indicators 
  • Grade Level Goals (Priority Standards)
  • PBIS Data
  • Student Attendance
  • Retention Rate

School teams may embrace the idea of school improvement, but in the absence of a scoreboard, it is difficult to know if the efforts of each student and staff member are helping us approach or exceed the goal. Reflect on the need for a scoreboard in your school. Identify what you are aiming for and how your team will measure success. A scoreboard allows the school team to know when the organization is ahead, or behind, and when the team needs to call a timeout. High-performing teams embrace data which helps them understand if their programs and collective efforts are helping them reach their goals.


Curtis, R. (2013). Finding a new way: Leveraging teacher leadership to meet unprecedented demands. The Aspen Institute. 

Kotter, J. (2012). Leading change. Harvard Business School Press.

Maxwell, J.C. (2001). The 17 indisputable laws of teamwork: Embrace them and empower your team. Thomas Nelson.

Maxwell, J.C. (2022). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you (25th ed.). Thomas Nelson.

Wiseman, L., & McKeown, G. (2010). Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter. Harper Business.

About Steven Weber

Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (AR). His areas of research include curriculum design, formative assessment, professional learning, and school leadership.