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Book Review of "The Art of Coaching Teams" by Elena Aguilar

Wednesday, May 11, 2016  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Reviewed by Josh Lutkus, Dean of Students, Gaston Day School, Gastonia, NC

“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.” –Mia Hamm


Don’t think of this latest book by Elena Aguilar, The Art of Coaching Teams: Building Resilient Communities That Transform Schools, as one that you will read for leisure while sipping a cocktail on the beach. It is a how-to manual for building effective teams and it will force you to reflect, which is a good thing. I am a big fan of any article or book that talks about ways to improve teamwork, or how to improve as a leader as I am fascinated by how others work and lead their various teams.

The book grabbed my attention and respect right from the get-go. She begins by weaving a story about how she failed as a leader. She reflected, learned from it, and got better. She goes on to share what she has learned and how it helped her thrive with a new team of teachers. I appreciated her candor in talking about her failures as I think the term failure gets a bad rap. It seems that in the world of education, we are so afraid to talk about our failures. Our students seem paralyzed by the thought of failure; getting a B on a test is not failure. Failure is a marvelous thing as it helps us learn. 

Early in the book, Aguilar talks about emotional intelligence and how emotions are contagious. “The percentage of time people feel positive emotions at work turns out to be one of the strongest predictors of satisfaction, and therefore, for instance, of how likely employees are to quit,” she writes. This section includes discussion about neurologists’ reports that groups tend to synchronize their feelings with each other and that a group’s moods are largely independent of the actual stresses and struggles that the group members face. She also shares strategies for building the emotional intelligence of a team.

One of my favorite chapters in the book deals with conflict, both healthy and unhealthy. Aguilar gives an all-too-real account of a situation in which a teacher sent an email to other colleagues attempting to get her ousted. She explains how she approached the colleague and handled this conflict. She points out that many people avoid conflict at all costs, but that sometimes it is necessary and healthy. She gives some wonderful indicators on conflict as well as ways to facilitate it. I found myself furiously scribbling notes in margins while reading this section.

Having a healthy culture is paramount to having a healthy school. In one sense, all of us are on a team — we are in a profession that is working to prepare kids for life. We are more than college prep, we are life prep. At Gaston Day School, the athletic department creed is “Team before self” but that term can easily be applied outside athletics. I highly recommend this book. It is filled with insight, tips, and tools for building a healthy community that benefits all.





Josh Lutkus is Dean of Students for grades 5-12 at Gaston Day School in Gastonia, NC. He can be followed on Twitter @SpartyGastonDay or reach him by email at       


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