Building Your Trusted Team: The Critical Supports You Need Around You

Colleen, who has long light blonde hair and icy blue eyes and is wearing a light blue collared shirt, looks at and smiles for the camera.

Author Colleen Carroll is the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for the Port Chester – Rye Union Free School District, Vice Chair of NYSAWA and leader of its Lower Hudson Valley Affiliate. 

Connect with Colleen on Twitter and LinkedIn

Recently at the New York State Council of School Superintendents (NYSCOSS) Winter Institute, I presented as part of a cabinet-level team from across the state in a 2-hour workshop called “You are in the Central Office – Now What?”

Our session aimed to share tips and strategies to succeed as a central office administrator. My part of the session was the finale, and I brought us home with the subtitle: “Who You Gonna Call?” There, I discussed the importance of building a trusted team of colleagues and other support needed in district administrator roles. My tongue-in-cheek image on the screen was from the famous 1984 movie, Ghostbusters you know, the logo of the ghost with the red circle and line running across it. The photo got a chuckle, but I think my message was taken seriously: We work hard, we do hard work, and we need support. 

Though my message that day was specifically meant for district administrators, we know that ALL educators and educational leaders need a team of support, which is why I’d like to share an abridged version of my NYSCOSS presentation with the NYSAWA community.

Research shows that women leaders, while often strong at connecting with others, collaborating, and building community, are not always apt to ask for help, due to a fear that they will be perceived as weak. Our male counterparts do not have this same fear.

We all know the adage, “you get what you ask for.”  Well, it’s very often true. Let’s consider who should be on YOUR trusted support team so you can ask for help when you need it. 

Who you gonna call? Curate your trusted team*

Aim to include the following on your team:

  • Mentor: Everyone, no matter how veteran in their field, needs the guidance of a powerful mentor. This person will be in your corner and offer judgment-free advice, motivation, and emotional support. New York State has recently made it mandatory as part of the Part 100 regulations for districts to provide an official mentor program to new building administrators in their first year. Other mentors may be less formal. An example of an informal mentor may be a retired principal or superintendent who agrees to meet with you monthly for coffee. 

  • Scholar/advisor: We all can use a few of these! Advisors have detailed knowledge in areas that may not be exactly in your domain. Examples may include department chairs, a school psychologist, or an outside literacy consultant that you tap into when you have questions in their area of expertise.

  • Advocate: This is a trusted colleague who has your back. This person should be someone you work closely with who will be there when you need them and ensure your interests are kept in mind if you are not in a meeting. An example may be your assistant principal if you are the principal or vice versa.

  • Coach: The value of a good coach cannot be underestimated. Many districts will support coaching through professional development funds. I highly suggest that everyone seek coaching along their career path. NYSAWA offers professional coaching through Tenshey, Inc.

  • Legal counsel (district, and/or association): It is critical as an administrator to seek legal counsel before making a variety of decisions that could have serious consequences without it. If you are unsure, ask first! Your district attorney exists to protect the district, and it behooves you to play it safe. If you are a member of an association like the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS) or the Empire State Supervisors and Administrators Association (ESSAA), you also have access to legal counsel as part of your dues. Don’t be afraid to tap into their expertise. 

Also consider:

  • Professional organizations and/or networking groups: NYSAWA counts as both! Take part in events that allow you to meet, get to know and learn from other leaders. Seek out professional development opportunities you can be a part of as an attendee or volunteer. By participating in outside organizations such as NYSAWA, you can meet other professional women whom you can call for support, and ideas, or even find someone to just listen when you need it.

A tight team of support does not get established overnight. It is a network you curate over time, mentally adding and releasing individuals as you progress through your career. As you change positions and possibly districts on your journey, I highly suggest you tend to your collegial relationships. Maintaining this team takes some effort on your part since relationships usually need to be symbiotic to last. However, the results are well worth the time, and you will be stronger for it!

Support for curating your trusted team

As you build your team, reflect and consider the following:

  • What support do I have now? Who fills what role?
  • What support do I still need?
  • Who might fill a needed role if I nurture the relationship? What is one action I can take now to make that happen?
  • What support do I offer my colleagues to tend the relationship? What is one action I can take to improve in this area?
  • Which role might I be playing in my colleagues’ trusted support teams?
  • How can I start a dialogue about this concept with my colleagues?

*The term “team” and the titles are only suggestions for your mental support list. We typically won’t share these titles with anyone, but they will help you determine if you have a network of colleagues that will support you on your career journey.

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