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Finding the “Swing” of Teamwork Through a Love of Reading

“There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called ‘swing.’ It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others….But the closer a crew can come to that ideal — maintaining a good swing while rowing at a high rate — the closer they are to rowing on another plane, the plane on which champions row.”

—Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat


Every day, 14,000 scholars walk into vibrant orange-and-blue Success Academy hallways ready to learn. Two thousand professionals — teachers, school psychologists, operations managers — enter 41 different schools ready to support those scholars. Hundreds more — such as data scientists, recruiters, and curriculum designers — do their part from the network’s central office. Together, this thousands-strong web pursues a single, but tremendously complex, goal: creating world-class public schools.

That’s why, over the past three months, every single 8th- through 11th-grade scholar, as well as all school and central office staff, read and discussed Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat as part of the Success Academy One Network, One Book initiative. The program is Success Academy’s take on the increasingly popular practice of organization-wide book clubs. As John Coleman explains in the Harvard Business Review, programs like One Network, One Book have significant benefits for large organizations: “The act of reading in community can help you read more deeply and better understand diverse perspectives.” At the same time, Coleman notes, the book discussions themselves empower employees to “build and reinforce relationships” that they otherwise might not form. Simply put, book clubs make an organization stronger.

Simply put, book clubs make an organization stronger.

For the Success community, The Boys in the Boat was a fitting choice. The New York Times bestseller vividly details the rise to glory of the University of Washington men’s rowing team — and the challenges they faced in achieving “swing” — on their way to a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Like the rowers (but on a far more massive scale), the Success network depends on teamwork, trust, and commitment. As Success Academy Chief Academic Officer Michele Caracappa explained, “Every one of our employees plays a role in supporting our leaders and teachers day in and day out for the ultimate prize: the success of our scholars today, next week, next year, and to and through college. But to achieve this, we will have to commit to striving for that perfect teamwork ‘swing’ each day.”

The importance of “One Network, One Book” extends beyond the powerful theme of “swing” in The Boys in the Boat. The very act of communal reading is crucial to our culture and ethos as well. In fact, it is so deeply ingrained in the DNA of the organization that the Success network cannot achieve “swing” without it. Much like the oar to a rower’s boat, books propel Success Academy forward. As founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz wrote, “At Success Academy, we consider fostering a love of reading to be a moral imperative. The reason is simple: Reading is the basis for all learning.”

The notion of reading to learn is built into the foundation of our network — and not just for scholars. Success employees harness the power of a growth mindset, meaning that learning in itself is a goal. When paired with increased effort, this leads to higher achievement on an individual and organizational level. By taking time out of the day to read and discuss literature, Success Academy employees can grow, inspire one another, and ultimately, better serve scholars.

“Even having a discussion like this takes a certain ‘swing,’” said Emma Sullivan, a manager of enrollment who participated at a central office book club. “So many different people had something to offer to the conversation, and that’s what made it so valuable: the varied perspectives and the shared goals. It’s an important reminder that Success Academy is much, much greater than the sum of its parts.”

Written by Success Academy January 31, 2017

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