One thing I’ve learned in the last few years about leading teams is more about being collaborative than it is about being in charge. People will look to you for a decision about many things and they want you to be decisive and mean what you say. Saying this though, there is a difference between being the boss and being bossy. Even when judgment calls have to be made, there has to be an understanding that everyone on the team has value.
From my perspective, there are 7 strategies a case manager can use that will help them be a great team leader:
Be a leader
Staff needs to know who to come to with questions or concerns and to feel that their voices matter. Parents need to feel that you, as point person, will handle things and be an advocate for their child. Everyone needs to be clear on goals, procedures, and systems in place and who does what. In these areas, you must be able to clarify, model, explain, and manage issues that come up. Teams work because the team members trust a leader to call the right shots at the right time. When things are tough, do we stay the course, sit down and problem solve, or schedule an IEP meeting? Finesse is key here.
Keep everyone informed/updated about changes
It’s important that you are honest as developments unfold for kids. For some students, systems are changing all the time. There are many meetings and plan revisions. Bear in mind, not every team member attends the IEP meeting or is having regular discussion with parents where changes or tweaks often occur. When people feel out of the loop, there can be hard feelings. It’s important to communicate new information and changes as soon as possible and in writing, if needed.
Recognize effort and be an honest motivator
Team members are all individuals with their own gifts and weaknesses when it comes to working with kids. While we all work for a common purpose and great things transpire every day, some students and some years are tough. Especially on those really tough days, it’s important to recognize the big and small efforts people make. Teaching is not a profession where there is a huge financial incentive to do good work. It is a work of the heart. A kind word, a treat, a thank you go a long way in making people feel appreciated and like the job they’re doing matters.
Have a solid communication system with parents
Parents need to know how its best to contact you and that you are receptive to their efforts. Make it clear how its best to communicate with you whether that’s via email or you prefer to talk on the phone and how often you check in with your system, so they aren’t wondering when you will get back to them. This can ease much tension.
If you need to develop special systems for specific parents do it, but be smart. Your system needs to operate within the parameters of what’s safe and acceptable for your district. I try to stick to more conventional methods that don’t involve home visits and cell phones. I’ve done things such as daily communication notebooks, quarterly check-in meetings, low key conferences to get on the same page, weekly emails or phone calls about behavior progress, and all manner of points sheets or CICO sheets as they are often called now. These are all forms of communication with parents.
Allow too, for the idea that some parents aren’t as interested in communicating with the school. They love their kids and it isn’t personal. They just want school staff to take care of school stuff. For parents that don’t respond to emails or phone calls, I simply make my best attempts to reach out, remain positive and accept what I get for feedback. For contacts here, I use students bringing home notes and snail mail.
Have open communication with staff
Communication is the heart and soul of any solid team. Yes, it’s great to hear what’s working, but you also need to hear when things aren’t going well. If you have an open door policy for communication, you will be able to hear it all and be responsive when things need to change.
Team members are valuable resources and need time to both communicate concerns and bring forth new ideas. Introductory conversations or meetings should open the door to how you communicate, including when are good times. In schools, it is often difficult for a whole team to communicate except before and after school. I have carved out a few minutes a day to check in with team members or used email or a “live” google doc for a larger team. I’ve often found point sheets and daily communications for students serve as a conduit for communication with team members too.
Be a team player
My one key rule here is this: Don’t ask someone else to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. While you will not be carrying out every piece of a student’s program, you should be able to step in and do it. That’s just a given. You need to know all the pieces that impact a students day and you need to be able to problem solve and/or show others how to do things.
I have seen many a case manager pull rank with things like toileting or allowing a teammate to follow around a single angry student all day. It is unbecoming a case manager and I implore you–don’t be that person. If a student is learning to use the bathroom, you better be able to follow the protocol successfully. If a student has trouble on the bus, get to know the bus driver and the situation. Credibility comes from working alongside your team.
Provide modeling, support, and guidance
Be very clear about what team members are supposed to be doing when they work with a student. If it helps, tell team members what they shouldn’t be doing. Don’t assume what another person knows how to do, or should know how to do based on their role. I think a lot of us do this. Your job is to show and provide examples for how to do things the way they need to be done. Clarify and explain misunderstandings. Answer questions and demonstrate the best ways to do things. Be the leader your team needs.
Do you have other thoughts on what makes a good case manager? Let me know what I can add to the list!