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4H Wildlife Stewards
Bringing Science and Nature Together...one school at a time.


You are now a certified 4-H Wildlife Steward. Congratulations!! You’ve completed your training. You are excited, inspired and ready to take action. You learned lots of new ideas that you want to incorporate into your Habitat Education Site. You have stacks of new curriculum and resources to share with the school teachers and staff. It’s time to jump right in!! WAIT!!! Do you have your Habitat Team in place? Establishing a Habitat Team is one of the most important first steps for any 4-H Wildlife Steward to take if they want to ensure a successful project. No volunteer, teacher, or staff member should try and undertake this project alone. It takes a team to bring a vision alive.

What is a Habitat Team? A Habitat Team is a core group of 4-6 people who will help guide the project and help to ensure that the project moves forward. They are the dreamers, the planners and the ones who help ensure ideas get turned to action. While students, school staff, community partners, and parents may all help to create and carry out the dream and vision for the Habitat Education Project, it is the Habitat Team that provides overall guidance to the project and lays the groundwork of how the project will be created, used and sustained.

The ideal size for the Habitat Team is 4-6 members. Teams that are too large sometimes have a difficult time coming to consensus and too much time may be spent on processing the ideas. However, you need enough people to bring a diversity of ideas to the table.

Some of the people you may want to include on your Habitat Team are:

  • 4-H Wildlife Stewards Volunteers
  • 4-H Wildlife Stewards Member School teacher or staff
  • the school principal
  • the school custodian
  • a representative of the Parent Teacher Organization
  • an active community agency partner
  • a representative from the local neighborhood association
  • an older student(s)

It is critical that the 4-H Wildlife Steward and at least one 4-H Wildlife Stewards Member School staff be represented on the committee. The composition of the other committee members will depend on the school project. Each project and each school community is different so each Habitat Team will be different.

The Habitat Team is recruited and organized and now it is time to get down to work. Where do you begin? What should be done first? What is the role of each person? These are common questions that many Habitat Teams will ask themselves as they begin to get organized. These are very important questions. The extent to which the Habitat Team is willing to work through these questions will have a great impact in determining the success of the Habitat Education Site. At the very least, it will have an impact on the potential of the project. In a worse case scenario, the momentum of the project’s progress will come to a complete halt if issues with the Habitat Team are not resolved.

Daniel Meranda, from the National School Volunteer Program Inc., has identified several keys ingredients for creating a successful school team. The following is not meant to be a cut-and-dried rulebook of team policy. Rather, it is a springboard from which the team can come up with their own set of norms and guidelines to fit their needs.

Characteristics of Successful Teams

  • Successful teams have a common, unifying purpose. Participants must mutually agree upon the purpose. Is the reason your team is developing a Habitat Education Project to improve student science scores? Or is it to provide a project that the whole school community (parents, teachers, students, community members) can get involved in and work together?
  • Good teams actively involve their members in establishing goals, objectives, and activities. A team that does not involve all members in setting goals and objectives will not have everyone totally committed to the plans. That can be a barrier to the team’s success. Remember that people support projects that they helped to create. One of the first tasks the Habitat Team should undertake is to set up a meeting time to agree upon the purpose of the project and the goals, objectives and activities of the project.
  • Successful teams have clearly defined operating procedures and clear definitions of the roles members are suppose to play. All members need to have a clear understanding of the team’s ground rules, what is expected of them, as team members, what they can expect from the team, and who will chair the meetings. What is the role of the students in your Habitat Team? Do they have assigned duties that will ensure their input into the project? Is there a regular meeting time of the Habitat Team. At the very least Habitat Teams should meet 3-4 times a year.
  • Effective teams have the support and influence of key actors in the school community. These are individuals whose energies and network of contacts provide the linkages behind a variety of community projects. This might be the PTA president, the principal, or an influential parent. The team needs to identify any key individuals in the school community whose influence and linkages will be an asset to the project.
  • Successful teams have a common vocabulary and an effective means of communication. If the various team members interested in a common objective do not have a common vocabulary, they may use different words to describe the same phenomena. This can lead to misunderstanding, and people may seem to disagree, when in fact the problem is semantic. Native plants vs. non-native plants that will be used in a Habitat Education Project can be a point of debate for some Habitat Teams. Be sure you define what is a native plant.

There also needs to be an established method of keeping members of the team informed of the activities of other members. Relevant information should flow easily wherever it is needed. Information is a source of power. Team members who have information and whether intentional or not, do not share it, the team dynamics may be undermined.

  • Good teams have shared leadership. While a core group of individuals may be responsible for organizing the team and nurturing it through its formative stages, it is important that the team be the responsibility of one or two individuals. To the extent that the leadership can be shared, the team will be strengthened. Don’t forget to allow student members to share the leadership. Perhaps a student member can take leadership for taking meeting notes or providing a student report each meeting.
  • A team requires a commitment of time from all members. Time is the most precious resource that busy people have, and while building a team will require much time, the team should be careful not to spin wheels, duplicate efforts, or otherwise waste the time of members. Develop and post an agenda for each meeting to ensure the group stays on task.
  • Successful teams have procedures for measuring their progress and how well they are meeting agreed-upon goals and objectives. In other words, teams should plan from the beginning for ongoing evaluation, which allows for mid-course corrections, if needed. It also gives the school community evidence that the team is responsible and accountable.
  • Successful teams must have staff. A paid staff member from the school should be on the Habitat Team. This is especially true in the developmental stages, when there are lots of decisions being made that will directly impact the school.

The Team Approach to Collaborative Project Planning

The principle of collaborative planning must be incorporated at the inception of any successful project. The purpose of the team approach in program development is to involve key decision makers in the design of the plan. Early involvement in planning avoids potential problems during implementation of the Habitat Education Project. At the end of the planning session, there will be a comprehensive plan that reflects the input of most of the key players in the school community.

Keep in mind that there is not one best model for program planning. Program planning is a process. What process each team uses will vary from school to school.

Once you have identified and recruited your team members, find a time, day, and place that is convenient for everyone to meet. Your first meeting will be an important one. This meeting will set the tone and direction of all future meetings. Here is a sample agenda for a Habitat Team that is meeting for the first time:

  • Welcome and Introductions (have each team member explain why they are interested in serving as a team member and what skills, knowledge and/or experiences they bring to the group)
  • Identify one member to keep notes of the meeting
  • Establish the project purpose
  • Establish project goals and objectives
  • Establish the Habitat Team Operating Procedures and team roles
    • What is expected of each team member?
    • Who will chair the meetings?
    • How often will the team meet?
    • Where and when will the team meet?
    • How will members communicate with each other between meeting dates?
    • Are there other people who should be on the team?
  • Set the time, day and location for the next meeting date
  • Assign tasks to team members as needed

If the school principal is not on the Habitat Team, ensure that one team member is responsible for keeping the principal informed of your progress and be sure to share meeting notes with your principal. Also, don’t forget to keep copies of your meeting notes in your 4-H Wildlife Stewards Project notebook. Keeping good and accurate records of your project will help maintain and sustain the project over time. New members will join the team over time and your original team members will eventually leave. Records of your Habitat Team meetings will help new members gain an understanding of the history and progress of the project.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of developing a Habitat Team for your Habitat Education Project, rest assured: program planning works. Without exception, Habitat Teams that have completed a program planning process and created a plan for project implementation based on their existing needs and available community resources have experienced success. The planning process will serve you well as your team develops a plan.


4-H Wildlife Stewards, Sunnyside Environmental School, 3421 SE Salmon 1209,
Portland, OR 97214 - 503-916-6074, e-mail: wildifestewards@oregonstate.edu
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