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Professional Development Opinion

A Step-by-Step Guide to Battle “Crabs in a Bucket” Syndrome

October 09, 2018 5 min read
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Last week, I wrote about how I’ve been experimenting with Mastermind Groups at the middle schools in my district to combat “crabs in a bucket” syndrome and to inspire more teacher creativity and collaboration in these safe, risk-free small groups. In this blog, I’ll share some of the logistics about how to start a group of your own. I won’t lie and say it isn’t work and that there won’t be challenges along the way, but the outcomes so far surpass any struggles that you’ll wonder why you hadn’t started one years ago.

First, it’s vital to establish what a Mastermind Educator Group IS and what it ISN’T.

A Mastermind group IS:


  • A safe, risk-free space for teachers to dream together & plan wonderful things for students.

  • A place where you can be open about your enthusiasm and passion for teaching.

  • A group of people who are curious, humble, good at their jobs but who want to be better.

  • Small enough (no more than 10 people in total) where you can expect to get personalized support and attention for your ideas.

  • A place where you can share problems in your practice that you’d like help with.

  • A zone of unlimited potential. If you can dream it, we’ll help you do it.

  • Facilitated by a skilled teacher leader who is well trained in distributed leadership and adult learning.

  • A group that meets on campus monthly for the entire school year.

  • What you need it to be.

  • Not for everyone.

A Mastermind group is NOT:


  • A place for cynics, skeptics, or cranks.

  • A place to vent or spread negativity

  • For everyone.

How to select your group

First, identify a teacher on campus who seems to be the most creative or ambitious but who also has a few years under his or her belt or who has garnered the respect of his or her peers. Reach out to this person and explain what a Mastermind Group is and that you think he or she would be a terrific person to be the site leader.

Once you have your site leader on board, ask this person to make a list of teachers from across all content areas, all ages, all genders, all levels of experience, and even staff members who might be perfect for this group. This part takes some finessing because you want a mix of personalities, but all must be the kind of teacher who doesn’t act as if they know all the answers. Group members need to be strong in their craft, but open to ideas, curious about new pathways, & able to support and focus on others. It’s important and worthwhile to work on getting the balance just right.

Email the selected teachers with an invitation that says “You’ve been chosen.” In this invitation, describe the group, share the meeting schedule, and ask them to RSVP if they are interested in finding out more. Wait and see who takes the bait. So far, I’m at 100% yeses and I bet you will be too. Everyone is curious and honored to be considered for such a thing.

When and where to meet

It’s important that you meet regularly so that teachers can rely on this space and these opportunities. For many, they will come to depend on Masterminds as a source of joy, inspiration, and camaraderie. Like so many things labeled Professional Development, they are really one and done drive-bys. This needs to be different. It needs consistency.

My groups meet on the last Friday of the month from 3:15-4:15 in the site leader’s classroom. I typically bring snacks for us because face it, we’re starved at the end of the day. We put the chairs in a circle and by 3:20 everyone is usually in and ready to talk.

You can think about rotating the meetings around campus so we all get familiar with each other’s spaces or you can always meet in the same spot. The group can decide.

During the Meeting

At the first meeting, ask everyone to introduce themselves, say what they teach, and how they feel about being part of a group like this. Give members a chance to share honestly how they’re feeling.

As the group leader, it’s important to explain why you are leading this group, what you hope will come out of it, what it IS and ISN’T, and how the group needs to organically evolve into what this select group needs it to be.

Set some ground rules about screen use while in the meeting (none is best), listening actively, offering a balance of support and critique, and that it’s not a big deal if people need to leave early, come late, or occasionally even miss a meeting. That’s completely ok. Our realities are complex and at any given time one or more of us is not going to be able to make it. That’s ok. It’s also ok to just listen. Sometimes a member will share an idea that takes the whole hour to process and troubleshoot. Some members gain more by absorbing what they’re hearing and helping with than by being out front with an idea. That’s ok too.

Each week, ask who has an idea or project they’d like help with or feedback on. Some weeks everyone will have an idea that we discuss and other times only one teacher will have an idea. Go with the flow you have and see where it takes the group. Both the site leader and you, the creator of the group, can carefully manage the flow of questions or follow ups so that teachers feel heard and their ideas fully vetted. A light touch is better than formalities or absolute rules around who talks and for how long. Finding an organic flow is best, albeit challenging to do.

During meetings, teachers can make requests of the team to observe them teaching, to help create or construct something for an upcoming lesson or activity, or to come see something they’ve done in their room that they’d love more help with. As we are able, team members will make time to pop in, observe, or roll their sleeves up and work alongside our colleagues.

Celebrate Successes

At the end of the year, the Mastermind Team will want and deserve to celebrate what they have accomplished. I asked each member to write a short paragraph on how being in the group has changed them. We schedule our last meeting at a local restaurant, where there may or may not be adult beverages, and we share our reflections with each other.

I’d love to help you launch your groups and I’m sure you have a million more questions. First, you can and should click this link to find out more about the originator of the mastermind idea, Daniel Bauer, as interviewed by Jennifer Gonzalez on her Cult of Pedagogy blog. Here’s the handy link https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/educator-mastermind/. Afterward, if you’d like to connect and continue the conversation, feel free to comment here or find me @mrsmieliwocki.

Best of luck to you and the incubator of teacher awesomeness you’re about to create!

Rebecca Mieliwocki is the 2012 National Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). A 20-year veteran English teacher, Mieliwocki is currently on special assignment for her Burbank, Calif., district.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Joe Goldburg, Kristina Hoeppner, and Loren Kerns.

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The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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