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We Are Crew: Chapter 2: Building Staff Crew

What are the adults doing? And why does it matter?

A culture of Crew begins with adults who model the school’s habits of character and create structures that intentionally sustain those habits. In staff Crew, teachers, leaders, and staff develop a common vision for the school and commit to practices and norms that reflect respect, compassion, responsibility, and courage. Using intentional meeting structures, courageous conversations, team building, and service work, staff and leaders sustain a culture in which staff and students alike feel a sense of purpose, belonging, and agency that enables them to do their best work and be their best selves.

“We need to tend to our staff crew because our student crew can never be stronger than our staff crew.” Patrick Finley, Principal, Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, New York City

Learning Target

I can describe structures that support staff to feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and agency.


Watch: Staff Crew

Just as Crew serves a critical role in promoting equity for all students—where all students believe that they belong and can develop their full academic and social potential—Crew can serve the same role for staff. Staff Crew meetings are a place where all staff members are respected, supported, and pushed to grow. This means committing to ongoing work to understand and respect one another across differences of background, race, and culture. 

Staff Crew as a structure may take the place of regular staff meetings and/or be an additional structure that occurs before or after school, during grade-level or other team meetings, and in a “retreat” format to open, reset, or close the school year. It can also be held virtually, using routines that invite deep collaboration in an online platform and protocols that encourage vulnerability and trust building even though staff are not meeting in person. In any case, staff Crew has to be built and maintained throughout the school year, at the same time as the semester is being planned, as teaching practices are examined, and as school events and crises are discussed. 

Watch the video Staff Crew to see how teachers at Polaris Charter Academy in Chicago get to know each other as Crewmates, learn together, and work together to create and sustain a culture of Crew. As you watch, consider the following questions:

  1. How does the concept and structure of staff Crew transform traditional faculty meetings?
  2. How could the courageous conversations staff have with each other about race, gender, and other social identities inform the conversations they facilitate with students?

Watch: Inspiring Student Achievement in 3 Dimensions - Case Study: Conway Elementary

The first step for a staff Crew is developing schoolwide habits of character that describe the positive behaviors that make school a joyful, successful, and harmonious learning community. Then  It’s important to unpack each of the habits with staff and students so that they can make them their own. Watch the following video that illustrates the power of habits of character to guide both staff and students when everyone in the school community feels a sense of ownership and accountability. Respond to the following questions:

  1. What key moves or decisions did school leaders make to ensure staff members would have a sense of ownership of and investment in staff culture and staff norms?
  2. Which practices shown in this video would you like to see implemented in your school as a way to sustain and deepen a schoolwide culture of Crew?

Read: In Practice: Meeting Structures

Just renaming “faculty meeting” as “staff Crew” will not change the culture of meetings at your school, but meetings are an essential structure for sustaining staff Crew. Be mindful of the purpose of various staff meeting structures. Some meetings may be dedicated to building relationships and well-being among staff members. Others may focus on staff learning, collective problem-solving, or consensus building. Read pages 38-40 from Chapter 2 and ask yourself:

  1. Who plans for and facilitates staff meetings at your school? How can you build more staff ownership and leadership into this structure?
  2. What structures and protocols can you build into staff meetings to ensure that all staff feel motivated and empowered to engage fully in staff Crew.


Read: CASE STUDY: Courageous Staff Conversations about Race

Having courageous conversations means prioritizing crucial and challenging issues such as racism, power and privilege, discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and cultural stereotypes. To support staff and students who are marginalized, school staff  members must grapple with these issues on a regular basis, however uncomfortable that may be. If we as adults cannot discuss these issues and how they are connected to our own lives and our relationships with  one another, how will we develop the courage and skills to address these issues productively with students and empower students to navigate the world effectively?

Read pages 45-46 of Chapter 2. Consider the following questions:

  1. How does your school support staff to address conflict directly ,productively, and with compassion? What structures and norms could further this work?
  2. What opportunities do people who feel marginalized have to name their feelings and contribute to designing more inclusive practices?


Dig Deeper

  • Teacher Leadership to Support Crew  This video featuring staff Crew at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in New York City demonstrates a deeply collaborative model for designing and sustaining Crew across the school through shared leadership roles: Crew leader Advisor, Grade Level Crew Team Leaders, Crew Advisors.
  • Leading When the Earth is Shaking  This inspiring story about Entheos Academy in Magna, Utah, shares the important steps leaders and teachers took to maintain a culture of Crew despite the challenges of a natural disaster, Covid-19, and students living in poverty.

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers…

  1. How does your staff Crew play together? How do they come together in grief, loss, or hardship? What part can you play in leading and collaborating with your colleagues to strengthen the Crew?
  2. How might you restructure grade level meetings or other meetings with colleagues to hold each other accountable for staff norms and productive conversation?
  3. Consider a time when you’ve been honest with a colleague about a challenging problem or instigated a difficult conversation. How would you do this differently in the future?

For School Leaders…

  1. How can you revise or reground staff orientation and meeting structures to make staff Crew meaningful and motivating for all the adults in the building?
  2. How can you support staff traditions and celebrations that honor and reward your staff for the work they do everyday?
  3. How could shared leadership look different at your school? How can you foster and support more teacher leadership in the design and implementation of Crew