The Change Leadership Group at Harvard University identified three culturally embedded traits that thwart educators’ opportunities to regularly practice problem-solving skills:
Reaction – Educators are expected to be responsive to a cacophony of urgent needs and demands every day. We can’t say no and everything is a priority. Most of us haven’t developed the discipline of reflection as a way to remain focused on the truly important vs. the merely urgent, and we’re inclined to think that because we’re busy we must be making progress toward our goals.
Compliance – The education culture has tended to reward compliance to authority at all levels over active questioning or genuine discussion of issues. Compliance is usually how so-called “change” is implemented in our profession. The district or regional director or principal hears about some new program and adopts it. Rarely is there any problem analysis or discussion of how and why this particular strategy may be better than another, or how its success will be evaluated. The result is that the “reform du jour” is half-heartedly implemented until some new leader or “better” reform comes along.
Isolation – Educators work alone more than any other professionals. Most professions have come to recognize the value of teamwork as a better way to understand and solve “problems of practice.” Groups are far more likely to come to a deeper understanding, and to better solutions, than are individuals working alone, no matter how talented.
(Tony Wagner, 2012, The Challenge of Leadership)
To effectively implement a change process it is important that we overcome or avoid these three traits. It is imperative that Principals are great ‘gate keepers’. Far too often we can be distracted by new ‘shiny’ initiatives or half-heartedly start implementing an initiative that we haven’t had a chance to carefully consider the implications and the intended outcomes.
It is essential that WE are crystal clear on what will be better as a result of making the change, so that we can put a compelling case to the people we lead.
Connecting with colleagues is important but can be dangerous as at times we can be swamped with cynicism. Be careful, it can be contagious!
7 Steps to Successfully Implementing Change
- Choose wisely – don’t jump on every bandwagon
- Keep the BIG Picture in mind – what is the intent of the initiative, what will the benefit be
- Set up a team to steer and be involved
- Start small – but start – elephant eating 101
- Build on your strengths – Identify and retain what you already do well
- Expect the DIP and persist – things get worse before they get better
- Celebrate progress by identifying milestones and acknowledging when you achieve them
Are You the Invisible Principal?
I recently read this post on Edutopia from Holden Clemens (a pseudonym) and cringed. It always comes down to communication – a timely reminder!
The Invisible Principal, I shall call Mr. Woodman, worked in the building for a little over ten years. Nobody is quite sure where Mr. Woodman was during the school day for the first 9 years of his tenure at James Buchanan High School. He would appear at staff meetings, but was never seen outside of the office during the day. Many wondered if he knew were the classrooms were. There were reports that Mr. Woodman could be caught in the early hours with a map of the school looking like a lost tourist in New York City. Basically, Mr. Woodman could never be found inside of the classroom.
The first instinct a person has is to say that principals are too busy to spend their time in the hallways or the classrooms. They have important administrating to do and they need to be in the office to do it. I think every teacher recognizes the fact that principals need to administrate. Teachers are not demanding that admins spend all of their time in the hallway or watching teachers in their room. At JB High, we just wanted to know that he was there. A physical presence goes a long way with teachers. Knowing the admin is down the hall or visiting classes is a great feeling of support. The big question is: Why don’t administrators know this?
Well, like most schools, teachers spent most of their time complaining about the lack of support from Mr. Woodman in the halls and the classroom. Some of us speculated that he spent his time organizing his paper clip boxes, counting the tiles in his office or watching the tree grow outside of his office. We would get a chuckle and go back to our classes. Nothing was resolved, though. We would do the same things and make the same jokes every day. I’m not sure what we were trying to accomplish. The last time I checked, Mr, Woodman was not a mind-reader. How would he ever know that his staff was not happy with his invisibility skills? So, I had an idea.
I decided to invite Mr. Woodman to my class a week in advance to see what would happen. My students were going to be doing presentations on the Civil War and they tend to be pretty creative. I sent the email on a Monday inviting him to my class next Monday. I waited. I waited 2 days. Then I waited 3 days. On the 4th day I received a reply, “I’m sorry for the late response, but I wanted to make sure my schedule was clear for Monday. See you there.” I was floored. I was also a little nervous. He had never been in my classroom and it was a bit of a mess. I needed to bust my butt and get cleaning!
Mr. Woodman came to the class and my kids did a great job with their presentations. Nothing makes a teacher feel better than showing off their students to other educators. After class, Mr. Woodman and I had a moment to talk about the lesson and he said something very interesting. He said, “I want to thank you for inviting me your class, I don’t get many invites.” I must have had a shocked look on my face because he continued, “I don’t like just popping into classes. Surprising a teacher is never fun. All of that pressure to perform while I’m there can cause more harm than good. I like to wait for an invite.” I let him know that he is always welcome in my classroom. No advance notice needed.
The Invisible Principal wasn’t hiding after all. He was giving his teachers the space he thought they wanted. Like most things, it all comes down to communication. As teachers, we wanted to him to just know he was invited in our classrooms and as a principal he wanted to be invited directly. Students are not mind-readers and neither are administrators. Sometimes, as teachers, we just need to tell our admin team members what we want to see from them. It can be done in a tactful way, but it needs to be done.
Admins need to try and make themselves approachable to their staff. That may entail setting aside time every week to stop by classrooms or walk the halls. Being seen is important to teachers. We want to approach you and talk to you. You used to be one of us. We all have the same goals. If we can talk to you about our classes and see you around, we can build a strong community of us (Staff) instead of us (Teachers) AND them (Admins).
Since Mr. Woodman left I have had other translucent administrators but I always make the effort to reach out and invite them into my classroom. Now, some are still counting the ceiling tiles in their office but at least we both know that the lines of communication are open.
Principals Need to Have MORE Fun
Schools are BUSY places! Many of the Principals I work with are incredibly busy dealing with the bureaucratic processes of running a school and seem to be FAR removed from the FUN! So I have set up the School Handball Challenge.
The handball challenge is designed as a FUN, lunch time event between Principals and School Captains. School Captains are encouraged to challenge their Principal and other school leaders to a game of handball at their school, at lunch time on ONE day during the week of May 6 to 10, 2013.
The event is FREE, all you need is a ball!
Register today at www.SchoolHandballChallenge.com.au
Planning a School Review in 2013?
School reviews are part of a cycle of school improvement. It is essential that reviews gather information that helps to steer the school on the path to continuous improvement. We have developed interactive surveys of Students, Staff and Parents to assist schools to effectively do this. Visit www.SurveyMySchool.com.au for further information.
A number of schools have already booked in surveys for 2013. The surveys not only provide data about levels of satisfaction, they also identify specific issues that can be addressed to increase school effectiveness. Identifying and overcoming barriers is the fast-track to school improvement.
Contact us if you’d like to set up surveys as part of a benchmarking or school review process in 2013.
Happy School articles this month include…
- Developing Self-Control
- Putting the Heart and Fun Back Into Work
- 7 Secrets to Successfully Avoiding Teacher Burnout
- When You Change the Way You Look at Things (Reframing)
If your school is not currently subscribing to receive the weekly articles, click here and become a subscriber today. For less than the cost of ONE supply teacher day you can provide a weekly article to boost staff morale and reduce teacher stress.
We are all aware that PEOPLE make the difference in schools. Therefore investing in your people needs brings the best returns. Professional development sessions for your staff are available on a range of topics. These are ideal for student free days or twilight sessions. Email to check availability of your preferred date and book now.
Which topic does your team need most?
- Increasing WORK-LIFE Satisfaction
- Building Trust – Essential Skills
- Thriving in Times of Change
- Gr8 People are Part of Gr8 Teams
- Feedback – Helping Teachers Be the Best They Can Be
- 7 Secrets to Motivating and Engaging Students
Conferences and Work With Schools
In coming months I’m looking forward to working with …
- ACT Deputy Principals’ Conference
- School leaders throughout Qld through the QASSP Webinar series
- Aspiring school leaders at Toowong
- Leadership teams at Ferny Grove SHS, Bundamba SS, Mabel Park SS and Carmel College
- School Counsellors’ Conference
- School staff at Bundamba SS, Carmel College, Lynward Park PS and Vardys Road PS
- School leadership teams at Meandarra on Establishing a Feedback Culture
If you’d like me to present at your conference or work with your staff, email me firstname.lastname@example.org