Dearborn Huddle

By Rebecca Altepeter, Head of School 


hands in a huddle“Rebecca, what are you doing in there? Nearly every morning we hear laughing and a loud ‘whoop!’ around 8:15am,” wondered an assistant teacher in early October.


Those of you who have read leadership consultant, best-selling author and speaker, Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable… About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business, know about the “The Daily Check In.” Designed to reduce emails, phone calls, running around to find one another during the day, Lencioni recommends leadership teams make a five-minute morning check-in a daily practice.


The Dearborn Leadership Team started holding a daily check-in (quickly renamed Huddle, then jokingly, Cuddle) this past fall. We stood (sitting is prohibited as it sends the message that we are in for a lengthy meeting) around the circular table in my office at 8:10 a.m.


After a quick check in, we asked, “What do you have going on today and what, if anything, do you need from this group?” Sometimes we’d end with a quote from a strong female leader for inspiration. Then we’d put our hands in the middle, toss them up in the air and say with a whoop, “Go team!” before running off in different directions, with the same mission. We quickly learned a few things after starting our huddles:


  1. Like trying to build any new healthy habit, it is hard to maintain this practice! We texted one another reminders and often team members came flying in at 8:11 a.m. laughing and apologizing for being late. As things got busy towards the winter holidays we started to slack on our daily commitment.
  2. It is hard to stick to five minutes! And often we don’t. But, we try. The huddles don’t replace weekly team meetings, and often things are posed in huddles that get added to the weekly meeting agenda for deeper consideration.
  3. Laughing is a great way to start the day. Like anyone who works in a school, we go nonstop from the moment we hit the door (whether that’s our car door with a phone call on the ride in or the door to the school) until we leave (and sometimes until we turn off the phone or computer later at night). Starting the day by connecting with each other and sharing laughter and good wishes helps us approach the day with positivity.
  4. Connecting each morning not only cuts down on unnecessary emails, phone calls and office pop-ins but, more importantly, helps us reinforce and embody our values – among them, to be clear about what our goals are, offer and accept help, and communicate clearly.  


The Virtual Huddle

Being out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made our morning huddles all the more critical. Every morning since school closed, we jump on a Zoom call at 9:15 a.m. to check in, go over our meeting agendas, see which members of our leadership and staff team need support that day, and share much needed laughs. We’ve been able to lead our staff team – and by extension our students and families – through the changes and challenges that this new time has presented thanks to our strong leadership practices, not the least of which has been our daily huddle.