Embracing Your Inner Tony Stark: How School Leaders Can Unleash Innovation in Their Schools

Embracing Your Inner Tony Stark: How School Leaders Can Unleash Innovation in Their Schools

Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk. ~ Iron Man

As many readers will know, Tony Stark is a Marvel character and a founding member of the Avengers. He’s also a brilliant inventor and CEO of Stark Industries. Stark invents Iron Man to help fight villains. And, if you have leadership on the brain no matter what you’re doing–like watching a science-fiction movie–like we do, you take note of the ways in which Tony Stark is innovative. 

First, the number of suits that Stark creates demonstrates the diversity in his thinking, the multiple angles in which he views a problem, and the pursuit of never-ending improvement. Second, Stark explores an abundance of ideas with both speed and precision. And, third, maybe most importantly, he takes risks. He challenges himself to get better, be better, and grow stronger because his purpose is resolute. Granted, Stark definitely has character flaws. He is brash and arrogant, but his innovative ways undoubtedly make him a unique contributor to the team. 

You might not love Tony Stark or even the Avengers. But, school leaders must support innovation. We can’t expect new and different results by continuing to do what we’ve always done. The problem is that a culture of innovation often feels like “one more thing” to staff, and comments about “the new shiny project” or “this too shall pass” can quickly take the wind out of your innovation sails. 

The difference between school leaders who successfully weave innovation into the culture and those who don’t can be found in their approach to the three concepts that we draw from Stark. Let’s explore the model and dive deeper into all three. 

A Culture of Innovation Requires Diversity 

The Google search rate for the definition of innovation exceeds 74,000 searches per month. People clearly want to know what it means to be innovative. Science, technology, and innovation can be at the center of economic development, which is one reason why STEM is so popular in schools. But innovation doesn’t always mean science and technology. In fact, innovating in schools is often about doing something different versus just doing what we’ve always done and expecting different results. 

A first step, for any team that wants to drive innovation for change within the school culture, is to establish a definition of innovation. This makes it so that everyone is crystal clear what we mean when we talk about innovating. 

TheSchoolHouse302 Definition of Innovation 

Any new idea, program, project, or initiative that enhances or alters what we used to do, creating something new and different.  

One thing is for certain, leaders who want to drive innovative decision-making through a culture that embraces change, have to diversify the staff and the teams who are making the decision. Research finds that when teams are diverse, not only do they analyze and process facts more carefully–staying objective with the problem as opposed to subjectively inserting an opinion–they innovate at a greater speed. Homogenous groups, on the other hand, may be more comfortable for leaders to establish, but their conformity discourages innovative thinking.

School Leadership Tip #1: 

Reflect on the diversity of your staff. Consider their culture, race, age, gender, or expertise. Don’t settle for the makeup of the team as it stands. Just because the team formed itself, or was already in place, doesn’t mean that we can’t add people to it to make it more diverse. Not only should you be hiring for diversity on your staff–recruiting as best you can–you should be using the diversity that you already have on staff to create more innovative teams

A Culture of Innovation Requires Open Dialogue 

For innovation to be a norm within your school culture, people need to be free to express new ideas in their peer groups and to their supervisors. This is unfortunately not the case in every school; new ideas are often stifled by staff who perceive their peers as creating more work for them with new ideas, and leaders can often thwart new idea generation by communicating that if new ideas don’t come from them then they aren’t as important. 

In a culture of innovation, every new idea is welcomed and celebrated. This is not to say that every new idea is implemented, but it is given the chance to be heard, tested, and reviewed for its merit. In these cultures, we find that leaders have a specific method–meeting structures, timelines, communication platforms, etc–for people to express new ideas. And, research, data, and evidence are almost always presented in a way that supports a change. This type of environment is collegial, and staff feel free to challenge each other and their supervisors in a productive way

School Leadership Tip #2: 

Actively create a culture of open dialogue. This will not occur on its own. Start by creating what Jennie Magiera calls a Critical Friends group. A first step to creating a culture where new ideas are free-flowing is to develop spaces and times for it to happen. These can be established and supported much like an Edcamp. These spaces and times will widen and expand as you continue to push people to challenge the status quo until one day you’ll be surprised by how accepting people are of new ideas, and innovation will become a norm within the culture. 

A Culture of Innovation Requires Risk-Taking

Innovation in a school cannot rise above the leader’s willingness to support it. Leaders who actively support and build a culture of innovation are also the ones who encourage staff to take calculated risks and fail faster as they implement. They do their best to create situations and scenarios where teachers can simulate and role-play as learners who are trying new strategies, but they also promote mistake-making and progress over perfection. 

School leaders cannot underestimate how stressful risk-taking is in schools. The status-quo is safe and known; innovation is the exact opposite. Leaders who create a culture of innovation are able to help staff recognize the power of innovation and how it improves their professional practice, which decreases stress as anxiety. It’s a mindshift for staff that risk-taking is worth it, that it is exciting, and that it is one of the most important ways in which we make improvements. In this type of innovative culture, people view mistakes as valuable and don’t worry about whether or not something is going to work well the first time. 

School Leadership Tip #3: 

Praise effort rather than always looking for quality execution. Leaders can learn to praise teachers for their effort and willingness to take a risk that rewards the implementation of a new idea even if it is not perfect the first time. Of course, we want new strategies to be effective, but the only way for that to happen is through the evolution of practice. You can grab our model for praise and use it right away for those who are willing to take a risk

From a Culture of WHY to a Culture of TRY 

A very recent movement in organizational design is for leaders to consistently communicate the WHY of the organization or even that of a project so that staff can embrace the rationale behind it. We embrace this type of vision setting strategy for school leaders, but we also know that it cannot stop there. Schools are dynamic and complex, and everyone is not going to share the same WHY, even when it’s described in detail and is backed by research and evidence; as Doug Reeves says on our One Thing Series podcast, buy-in a myth. For this reason, school leaders should push past a culture of WHY and move to a culture of TRY.

Next time you focus on the WHY of your new innovative idea, be sure to include a “bias for action” and develop a culture of TRY. The key is to establish a small coalition of people who are willing to put something into practice before it’s totally understood. These folks are typically the ones who know that the current system is broken. They may not be Gung Ho! about the new idea, but they are passionate about change. They’ll go first, and they’re movement will be what others see. This public display of “trying something new” is sure to spread, which is what changes the culture from wanting to know the WHY to a willingness to give something new a TRY. Use the following three action steps to put this school leadership model for innovation into practice in your school. 

The Innovative School Leadership Model in Action:

  1. Reflect on the diversity of your team.
  2. Actively create a culture of open dialogue.
  3. Praise efforts for trying something new.


Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools

Support (REPSS)

Innovation Questions

 

    1. The staff at our school is made up of a diverse group of people. 
    2. My colleagues challenge my thinking in productive ways.
    3. I am encouraged to take instructional risks in the classroom. 
    4. I use data to alter my methods of teaching to improve student achievement. 
    5. I used what I learned in professional development this year. 
    6. I was recognized for being innovative with our practices. 
    7. Overall, innovation is a norm at our school. 
    8. I feel comfortable expressing new ideas to my colleagues.
    9. I feel comfortable expressing new ideas to my administration.
    10. Our school has a method for me to express new or different ideas. 

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 

This blog post was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

Every School Leader Wants a Professional Learning Culture that Inspires Teachers to Grow–Here are Three Areas You Cannot Overlook

Every School Leader Wants a Professional Learning Culture that Inspires Teachers to Grow–Here are Three Areas You Cannot Overlook

Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.  ~ Chinese Proverb

It’s safe to say that most educators epitomize lifelong learning. They desire to learn more about their subject, their students, new techniques, and effective practices. The real question isn’t if teachers want to learn and grow, but rather do they want to learn and grow from what you are offering? Candidly, as educational leaders, practitioners ourselves, we know that is a tough question to ask ourselves and our staff. The answer may be difficult to hear, but this blog is about real talk for real leaders, where we willingly face some uncomfortable truths for the betterment of our schools and students. And, what we know is that schools that act as centers of adult learning thrive in ways that other schools don’t. It’s that simple, and that’s the hard part. The harder part is knowing how to build a culture where everyone wants to learn and grow together.

As educational leaders, we know that we don’t always have the liberty, time, capacity, or need for à la carte items that will satisfy every learning palate. Additionally, with increased mandates and required training, there is less flexibility on what can be offered to our staff. Yet, the truth is that there still is a way to cultivate and develop a culture that recognizes, appreciates, and understands the learning needs and growth experiences of every single person.

21st Century effective school leaders embrace their responsibility to prioritize professional learning and growth for every staff member. A robust adult learning culture is the only way to develop specific skills and build capacity in-and-out of the classroom. This effort requires a sophisticated but practical approach so that teachers and support personnel receive multiple layers of learning–as individual contributors, in teams at the school and district level, and through opportunities to learn about leadership. 

There are multiple positive effects of this effort and culture-building. One is an improved and highly skilled teaching core; two is increased student performance within the classroom; and three is developing leaders among the staff. 

In a series of studies, the Wallace Foundation uncovered that there are five critical practices that are essential to school leadership. For this post, we want to highlight two that we believe have the greatest impact on student achievement and a school-wide culture that is focused on learning. The two practices that effective leaders must excel at are:

  1. Cultivating leadership in others so that teachers and other adults assume their part in realizing the school vision. 
  2. Improving instruction to enable teachers to teach at their best and students to learn at 

their utmost.

This post is also timely, considering the clock on the 2022 school year is winding down. School leaders need to act fast to gain the necessary footing for well-developed professional development to take place next school year. Although the month of May is a hectic and exhilarating time, it is a time to reflect on this past year’s professional learning opportunities and set aside deliberate time to plan professional learning for the upcoming school year. 

To achieve this end, we developed a three part model that takes inventory of where people are on their personal professional learning journey, the overall school professional learning plan, and the leadership opportunities that are offered throughout the school year. The power in following this model is in the alignment of the three areas, how they coordinate and support one another, and how they reinforce the two practices that The Wallace Foundation described above.

Individual Learning and Growth 

For schools and districts to develop valuable, worthwhile, and results-oriented professional learning, the overall “health” of the organization must be good. According to Lencioni, “at its core, organizational health is about integrity, but not in the ethical or moral way that integrity is defined so often today. An organization has integrity–is healthy–when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.” Great schools build great teachers within healthy systems. 

This means that school leaders work to build an environment where the individual strengths and weaknesses of a teacher are known and supported–where teacher goals reflect not only their student data but their own growth and development. This is an environment that embraces risk-taking where teachers willingly try new strategies, implement new ideas, and toy with new resources. It’s a mindshift for some schools, but this mentality about learning and growth fall within a school leader’s control. 

We’ve often heard that people don’t quit jobs; rather, they quit bosses. But, that’s not the full story. The truth, found within one study at Facebook, is that the decision to exit can be because of the work. “They left when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, and they weren’t growing in their careers.” This is why tuning into the individual teacher is critical. A teacher can literally spend their entire career in the same classroom. Yet, they can have a unique and exciting experience every day as long as the context of their growth is central to how they interact with their work, their students, and their peers. The opposite is also true; isolated teachers don’t grow and can become disenfranchised by their work. 

Great leaders apply pressure and support. They support and encourage individual growth with an expectation that everyone is a learner. Doing so at the individual level demonstrates a leader’s capacity to improve instruction by enabling teachers to teach at their very highest levels. 

Technical Tip: Inventory your staff’s unique skill sets. Every school should know who excels at what and how they can lend their expertise. Some may excel at blended learning, while others are incredible at developing higher order thinking questions. Can you answer these two questions:

  • I know my staff’s unique skills?
  • I actively build a culture that allows teachers to build on their strengths?

Professional Learning

Every school has a dynamic staff with a unique set of talents and skills. Knowing what those skills are is vital to a staff’s growth, which also means professional learning cannot be a one-size-fits-all model. Educational leaders sometimes underestimate how personal a teacher’s classroom and expertise is and simply offer what they believe is best for everyone at the macro level. Great professional learning, according Linda Darling Hammond, “is most effective when it addresses the concrete, everyday challenges involved in teaching and learning specific academic subject matter.” 

This is why we appreciate the work of Michael Mankins and Eric Garton. In Time, Talent, Energy they claim that “perhaps the most transformational thing a company can do for its workforce is to invest in creating jobs and working environments that unleash intrinsic inspiration. This is the gateway to the discretionary energy that multiplies labor productivity: An inspired employee is more than twice as productive as a satisfied employee and more than three times as productive as a dissatisfied employee.” We wrote a ton about this concept in Retention for a Change if you want to know more about how this works in schools. 

The key is unleashing the intrinsic inspiration by learning the staff’s strengths, understanding what they need to improve their day-to-day performance, and tapping into discretionary energy by ensuring that professional learning is relevant to the individual, timely in terms of need and execution, and quality as an engaging offering. Teachers want their students to succeed, so the greater connection they see between professional learning (relevant) and their classroom, the more invested the teachers will be.  

Technical Tip: Review your professional learning (PL) calendar and determine the level of alignment between the offerings throughout the year and your answers to these two questions:

  • Is PL aligned to what improves instruction?
  • Is PL relevant to staff during the time we’re offering it?

Leadership Opportunities

The first national presentation we ever led was on teacher leadership at the ASCD Conference in 2015. Since that time, we’ve taught and coached on several different topics, but teacher leadership and feedback cycles remain near and dear to our heart and what we’re mostly requested to help with in schools around the country. Why? Because as former principals, we know that any effective school has incredible teacher leaders and that they deserve quality feedback on their leadership skills (not just their ability to teach well). And, developing teacher leaders is an active pursuit. We fully agree with the words from these directors from New Leaders, “our most successful principals unfailingly encourage and cultivate leadership among their teachers so that the burdens and rewards of conceptualizing and carrying out instructional improvement efforts are shared.”

Effective school leaders use teacher leaders to fulfill the vision and mission of the school, which is the other critical practice identified by The Wallace Foundation. This intentional development should build teachers to take on a variety of roles from professional learning responsibilities, non-evaluative and non-threatening peer observations, researcher roles, community outreach, assessment team leader, and a host of other possibilities. The truth is that there are so many responsibilities that leaders work to control, and, if they’re just willing to work with their staff, developing leaders among them, then the school will accomplish so much more and grow in diversification and authenticity. 

Technical Tip: Effective leaders spend time actively developing teacher leaders because they know that they cannot do it all. Make sure your leadership team agenda includes book studies, case studies, and more. Answer these two questions: 

  • Have you asked your staff for help, to specifically lead initiatives or other areas, where support is needed?
  • Do you actively invest in teacher leaders in meaningful ways, such as book studies and other important time spent at meetings with leaders? 

Measuring the Degree of Growth in Schools

One way to know if people are growing and feel that their growth is supported is to ask. Great leaders measure effectiveness and take inventory. We always talk about measuring what matters, but few leaders measure whether or not the culture is one that can be described as growth oriented.  

That’s why REPSS has an entire section dedicated to growth, and all of the questions are about the five principles from above. The support section questions are below, and you can get the whole survey in our Building a Winning Team book. 


Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools

Support (REPSS)

    Growth Questions

    1. My supervisor encourages my learning and growth. 
    2. An administrator, other than my supervisor, has spoken to me this year about my progress as an educator. 
    3. There are opportunities to serve in leadership positions at my school. 
    4. The building level professional learning I participated in this school year was relevant.
    5. The building level professional learning I participated in this school year was timely.
    6. The building level professional learning I participated in this school year was quality.
    7. The district level professional learning I participated in this school year was relevant. 
    8. The district level professional learning I participated in this school year was timely.
    9. The district level professional learning I participated in the school year was quality. 
    10. I am given the opportunity to provide professional learning to my colleagues.

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 

This blog post was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

School Leaders: 5 Ways to Show More Support To Create the School Culture that Teachers and Students Need

School Leaders: 5 Ways to Show More Support To Create the School Culture that Teachers and Students Need

Charles leaned back in his chair after a long week, feeling the weight of his school community’s needs. All things considered, the school has handled the pandemic well. He looks over at this year’s motto hanging on the wall, Stronger Together, and is reminded of how much they have overcome. He also knows that his teachers and staff are tired. The uncertainty in the world and in their community creates an intensity that makes one hour feel like two. 

He also sees it among his students. Their reactions to situations, or should he say, overreaction indicates frustration. A minor situation escalates fast, and students are on edge. Resilience and grit are needed now more than ever. Although the pandemic seems to be in our rearview mirror, the toll it has taken on many is significant. And some students are wrestling with how to move forward, which is evident in how easily they want to give up on things. 

Despite all of this, Charles is confident in his school and the great people with whom he works. He also realizes that as the school year winds down, they must finish strong. The next three months have to be incredible. Understanding Kahneman’s peak-end rule, Charles knows that a strong end to this school year will help start next year even stronger. Although there’s no easy answer, he understands that he has to connect with those he serves, hear from them, and truly listen so that he can build a culture of support. If he wants to lead better and support his community, he has to know what they are thinking and feeling.

Listening for Greater Support

Getting individuals to open up and be candid, requires a level of trust within the school culture. The upheaval and loss that the pandemic brought with it is hard to fathom and impossible to quantify. Effective principal leadership is needed more than ever, and it starts with listening to the individuals we are actually working to serve. 

  • Teachers: Voices from the classroom
    • What are teachers experiencing in the classroom?
    • Probe to uncover insights about their experiences and their students’ needs.
  • Support Personnel: Voices from the staff
    • What are support staff experiencing?
    • Probed to uncover insights about their experiences and their students.
  • Students: Voices from the students
    • What are students experiencing within the school?
    • Probe to uncover insights about their experiences.

Figure: 1 Model for Voices to Hear

The intent to listen is to truly uncover the experiences that people are having. Great principal leaders use an inquiry-based approach to better understand what is occurring so that effective decisions can be made. There are a few ways to achieve this in schools. Although online surveys are efficient and effective, we suggest a couple different methods–from surveys to group discussions to one-on-one conversations. The purpose of each is to gather as much accurate and real data as possible to focus the work at the most granular level. This is what will drive support because school leaders will know what to prioritize based on the data. Without the information from surveys and conversations, we become susceptible to working hard but working on the wrong stuff. 

For example, Charles may decide to leverage group discussions with the support staff, school counselors, nurses, deans, etc. to gain a clear account from what they are experiencing and what they are also seeing in their students. This valuable information can provide insight that can support the social and emotional efforts in the school. Leveraging incredible resources like CASEL is vital, but only if it is aligned to needs within the school. We think of this process–identifying trends and key points of information–similar to what we find in the medical field. General practitioners are invaluable and treat the everyday needs of the community, but if our issues are no longer cured with that approach, we need a specialist–someone who is able to take an acute approach.

We’ve generated 5 key areas that need to be considered in every conversation. The goal is to transform the conversations into useful, actionable next steps for school leaders. 

Every Voice Heard in Every Conversation

One of the initial fundamental aspects of great conversations is informative and open dialogue. Above all else, school leaders need to welcome ideas and suggestions. That’s why it’s our first principle of the five. 

#1. Welcome ideas and suggestions from everyone

Unfortunately, this doesn’t come naturally to all school leaders. To complicate matters, creating dialogue among staff is a skill that many educators haven’t formally developed. This results in many group conversations defaulting to those who are willing to talk or those who somehow feel obligated to represent the group. This is why our conversations require norms. We’re not talking about the typical meeting norms but rather ones that are designed to create conversation, respect, and openness. 

Conversation Norms

  1. Don’t interrupt–Allow individuals to complete their thoughts.
  2. Focus on experiences–Using “I” is encouraged.
  3. Accept non-closure examples–Uncertainty is ok.
  4. Suspend judgment–Avoid value statements.
  5. Honor confidentially–Support and require privacy.

These norms are crucial because not only will they establish ground rules, they will also build a culture of rapport. This is crucial for idea sharing and hearing suggestions. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of putting up barriers and finding a reason to say, “yeah, but.” This is to be avoided so that the group can learn how to rumble

This brings us to our second key principle, which is being comfortable with discussing uncomfortable ideas and topics, even those that may be taboo. School leaders have to welcome the discomfort that comes from hearing something that isn’t ideal. 

#2. Feeling comfortable sharing difficult issues 

Difficult issues are just that, difficult. Difficult to discuss, explain, and understand. This is only compounded by our natural human hesitancy to deal with conflict. To start creating a level of comfort, we encourage teams to use the 2 Ts:

  • Trust and Truth

Trust and truth are imperative for open dialogue and getting to the core of situations. It’s easy to meet and easy to have conversations, but digging into the core of an issue is challenging. Communicating in a spirit of trust allows people to have confidence in one another, while the truth ensures that people are going to express how they feel and share their thoughts and ideas. Trust and truth come from our ability to be candid with one another. Candor is a skill; honesty is about our character. Everyone can learn to be more candid to support a level of comfort with difficult issues, but it takes practice. 

To build an environment that is supportive of the two Ts school leaders must provide time and space. 

#3. Providing time and space to listen

Have you ever compared the game of baseball to basketball? One is a game of space and the other time. The fast paced, high octane nature of basketball, brought on by the shot clock, could not be any different than a sport with no time frame, just rules that determine the beginning and end. Great meetings with open dialogue do both. The meeting length provides ample time to meet the agenda items while there is no pressure to get through all of them.  

The root of frustration in many meetings is due to the need to meet only to have enough time to go over cursory information or force decisions. Getting through the agenda doesn’t mean that any of the items get resolved. One antidote to this, as Joel Garfinkle writes, is to, “focus on what you’re hearing, not what you’re saying. People who shy away from conflict often spend a huge amount of time mentally rewording their thoughts.”

Schools that have a culture of support almost always report a sense of feeling like everyone is on the same team.

#4. Feeling like we’re on a team

The power of a great team is found in their centralized focus on a clear goal. That goal is supported by core values that guide and remind everyone of #2 and #3 from above. What we also love about teams is that they know how to celebrate. Could you imagine the culture and atmosphere of schools if the high five became as prevalent in schools as it did on the athletic field? What a difference that would make for feeling like we’re playing on a team. 

Without going into too much baseball history, it is believed that the first high five occurred between Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke of the L.A. Dodgers after Baker hit his 30th home run in the final game of the season. This was the first time in baseball history that 4 players ended the season with at least 30 home runs in a single season. We can learn a great deal from sports and the one thing that requires zero training, no degree, and no talent is celebrating others at work. Encourage conversation, thank people for their contribution, recognize when someone is out of their comfort zone, and praise as often as possible.

The fifth component is the linchpin, making sure that people have the resources they need to do their jobs well.

#5. Ensuring people have the resources to do their jobs well

This is the part of the conversation where school leaders simply need to be up front and ask people if they have what they need to do their jobs well. Asking is the easy part, listening and acting on the information presents the challenges. Do teachers have the following?  

  • Classroom resources to support the curriculum 
  • Technology to enhance instruction 
  • Instructional materials that promote student academic success
  • Assessments that are aligned to standards
  • Time in PLCs to discuss student achievement 

These areas represent fundamental needs for staff to thrive in their working environment. In her book, If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students!: Guide to Success for Administrators and Teachers, which is filled with stories and valuable insight, Dr. Neila Connors shares practical ways to support teachers and build an incredible school culture. 

Measuring the Feeling of Support in Schools

One way to know if people feel supported in general is to ask. Great leaders go beyond asking and they measure. We always talk about measuring what matters, but few leaders measure whether or not the culture is one that can be described as supportive.  

That’s why REPSS has an entire section dedicated to support, and all of the questions are about the five principles from above. The support section questions are below, and you can get the whole survey in our Building a Winning Team book. 


Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools

Support (REPSS)

  1. Our school culture welcomes ideas and suggestions.
  2. I feel comfortable going to my administration with issues.
  3. My supervisor respects my suggestions and ideas. 
  4. The principal provides ample opportunity for suggestions and ideas regarding school initiatives. 
  5. I feel like I’m on a team when I come to work. 
  6. I have been recognized recently for my contributions to the school. 
  7. My classroom is designed to do help me do my job well. 
  8. My classroom is equipped with technology to facilitate student learning.
  9. I have the necessary instructional materials to successfully meet the needs of all my students.
  10. I feel supported by the administration. 

 

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 

This blog post was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

The 2 Most Important Aspects of School Accountability that Every School Leader Should Know

The 2 Most Important Aspects of School Accountability that Every School Leader Should Know

Accountability in Schools

If you want to hear a great sigh in any faculty meeting, start it off by talking about your systems for accountability. It doesn’t matter if you’re addressing standardized tests or the teacher evaluation systems, people liken any conversation on accountability to that of medieval torture. This isn’t because educators don’t want to be held accountable; that’s the furthest from the truth. Rather, we have found that teachers and school leaders see a disconnect with how policies play out in schools and what is actually happening in their classrooms. 

 

Certain aspects of accountability, like state assessments, also require a ton of additional work that many teachers and school leaders believe takes away from other important work. Not necessarily more important, but certainly just as important. If you’ve sat in an office late into the evening double counting every completed test packet, filling out security documents, and cross-checking attendance lists, then you know what we mean. 

 

Ironically, accountability can usurp the autonomy and the independence of school teachers and school leaders. Although accountability works to improve schools, offer much needed support, and even provide funding in needs-based scenarios, the top-down approach often comes in conflict with other initiatives that school leaders may feel are better suited to support student learning than testing and evaluation.  

 

It may sound like we dislike or discredit accountability systems in schools. Candidly, just the opposite. Joe was a Director of Assessment and Accountability for 6 years with a true belief that accountability can drive change in the right direction; T.J. served for many years on a committee to review the evaluation system for teachers and school leaders. We both feel that accountability is at the heart of achievement, regardless of the industry or person. However, if we ignore how people feel about accountability, or at least some forms of it, our school improvement efforts, including accountability, will fall short. 

 

Rethinking School Accountability with Two Primary Tools for School Leaders 

The truth is that great school leaders take ownership of accountability regardless of the system in which they work. They certainly use the system to the best of their ability, but they also adapt systems and create school-based accountability measures that the staff can see as valuable and necessary for progress. There are two areas that great school leaders place their attention when it comes to accountability, and we’ve found them to be universal among the school leaders we interview, coach, and learn from. Using these two methods of accountability shifts the thinking about it from one of skepticism to that of progress. 

 

First, every great school leader focuses on clear and measurable goals. They create and communicate school level goals for both the school as a whole and each individual person and department within it. Second, every great school leader puts a ton of emphasis on a culture of feedback. They anchor feedback using the school and individual goals that are set in both formal and informal settings. Let’s dig into this further to both tools in terms of how they can be used effectively by school leaders. 

Tool #1: Clear and Measurable Goals for School Accountability 

School accountability should be representative of the many facets of schooling that drive whether or not students are learning. Take, for example, buildings and grounds as a department. Great school leaders understand that the way the school looks, smells, and feels has an impact on how well teachers can operate and what students believe about their school. That also means that great school leaders set clear and measurable goals for the look and function of the facilities. As such, each function below would have specific goals associated with it and key metrics to determine how well the department or service is functioning. 

Figure 1: Key Functions of a School

 

Key Functions of a School
Assessment
Athletics/Extra Curricular
Building and Grounds/Facilities
Career and Technical Education
Community Services
Community Relations
Curriculum
Federal/State Policies
Finances
Instruction
Nutritional Services
Personnel
School Climate
Special Education
Student Support
Technology
Transportation

Even though you need metrics for each area, we want to tease out a curriculum, instruction, and assessment to speak directly to teaching and learning and the clear and measurable goals that all school leaders should set to determine the viability and effectiveness of our classroom practices. 

School Leadership Learning Prompt #1:

Consider the following reflection prompts: 

Which key metrics should be associated with each of the 17 functions in Figure 1?

Setting Clear and Measurable Goals Using Internal Assessment Data 

If you take a look at the 17 functions, you’ll notice we did not lump curriculum, instruction, and assessment altogether. Although all three work together to make up our guaranteed and viable program of work, they need to be viewed interrelated but independently. Since these three are at the crux of student achievement, let’s look at them through our accountability lens. Curriculum and instruction receive a lot of attention, but assessment has yet to be given the consideration it deserves. That’s for another blog post, though.  

Once a viable curriculum is established, it must look and sound a certain way in the classroom. This begins with the teachers fully understanding it–that it is being implemented with fidelity and that there is a communication mechanism in place to identify challenges along the way. One thing we know about the curriculum is that it does not remain stagnant. It’s constantly under review. 

The same should also be true of assessments. Assessments should be designed to inform teachers about student progress throughout lessons and units. Formative assessments, those designed to inform the teacher about progress, should be used frequently and intentionally. Summative assessments should be implemented as ways to see if students understand the concepts fully at the end of a unit. These assessments should be aligned to standards that are tested within the larger context of state standardized tests and national assessments, like the SAT, ACT, and AP exams. 

This is the place where schools have the total power and authority to set goals for the school and for individual departments within the school. We often miss the mark, though, when it comes to goals, setting them regarding the accountability measure–standardized tests–rather than at the curriculum level with internal summative assessment data. The internal measures always mean more to the teachers anyway, which doesn’t bring the same level of skepticism and ambiguity that state- and district-level accountability does. Schools that have this level of clear and measurable goals not only see greater accountability for staff, they achieve at a faster rate and staff are more closely connected to the vision of the school leader. It also allows for our feedback to be anchored in something tangible, which is the second more important accountability tool that we have as school leaders. 

School Leadership Learning Prompt #2:

Consider the following reflection prompts: 

Which summative assessments do we have that can be used to write clear and measurable goals for our school?

Tool #2: Formal and Informal Feedback for School Accountability 

School accountability is grounded in the candid and compassionate conversations that we have with one another about the work that we’re doing. When feedback is at the heart of the culture, we drive each other to get better faster. And this is also the basis for trust, which is often counterintuitive for school leaders. The bottom line is that formal and informal feedback cycles and models for giving and receiving feedback are what hold teachers and leaders accountable in schools, not outside measures of achievement that are typically implemented using a top-down approach. 

Consider a culture of complete candor where everyone says what they think, ready to debate using research and evidence to back their claims. In this type of culture, people expect to be challenged by others. The unfortunate truth is that too many schools don’t have expectations of feedback toward change and accountability but, instead, accept the status quo. Even the ones that are set up for informal and formal feedback conversations, often suffer from school leaders and other staff who simply hold back. 

School Leadership Learning Prompt #3:

Consider the following reflection prompts: 

Which meetings, PLCs, informal visits to classrooms, etc. are already in place where we can improve candor so that staff know when they’re being praised and when they need to improve practice?

Using Specific Praise and Corrective Action to Help Teachers Grow Professionally

There are three forms of feedback that matter most in schools. The first is praise, which is still an untapped resource for leaders despite its effectiveness for building morale by celebrating success. We know that over 70% of leaders are skeptical about how, when, and why to use praise, and it’s a form of feedback that garners immediate and tangible results. Praise instills both pride and the desire to repeat behaviors; a social phenomenon that every leader should want to take advantage of. When leaders use praise well, it’s also a retention strategy. Here’s a model we developed based on research in social and behavioral psychology

The second feedback strategy that can be used informally and formally is what feedback gurus call “corrective action.” Effective corrective action (CA) provides sufficient details so that the receivers of CA know exactly how to improve practice and feel empowered to do so. These range from minor tweaks that people should make to their practice to replacement strategies in terms of our expectation that someone will try something that they’ve likely never done before. High accountability schools demonstrate a commitment to giving feedback in every direction to improve teacher (and other staff) effectiveness. This comes from coaches, peers, supervisors, and others, all intended to make adjustments for continuous improvement. 

The final, and often overlooked, method of accountability in schools when it comes to feedback is the use of professional dialogue. Leaders who are adept at asking questions create a learning culture that is inquisitive and thought provoking. This is not to say that we use questions to get people to reflect about what they should be doing differently or that we bait people into believing that they did something wrong. We’ve seen models of questioning techniques that lure teachers into thinking something that the leader already knows to be true. That type of manipulation always backfires. Rather, we’re proposing a culture of accountability that supports thinking as everyone learns to question each other about the things that we don’t see, the aspects of our work–including thought processes–that aren’t visible. 

Measuring Accountability in Schools

Creating a culture of accountability requires that we measure how well we hold people accountable as we’re trying to implement the systems intended to do so. That’s why REPSS has an entire section dedicated just to accountability, and all of the questions are about clear and measurable goals as well as the feedback cycles that we use in our schools. 

         Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools

       Accountability (REPSS)

  1. My supervisor holds everyone to the same level of accountability for the work. 
  2. My supervisor/administrator communicates clear goals for me. 
  3. My supervisor/administrator communicates measurable goals for me. 
  4. The principal communicates clear goals for the school. 
  5. The principal communicates measurable goals for the school. 
  6. I receive feedback on my performance each time I am observed formally. 
  7. I receive feedback on my performance each time I am observed informally (e.g. walkthroughs). 
  8. The feedback I receive includes specific praise (e.g. praise is aligned to our instructional focus). 
  9. The feedback I receive includes sufficient detail so that I can improve my performance (e.g. correct feedback is clear about the adjustments I need to make to my instruction). 
  10. The feedback I receive helps me grow professionally.

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

 

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

 

Joe & T.J. 

 

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Learn How To Ignite The One Powerful Path to Reclaim Your Purpose in an Otherwise Disillusioned Environment

Learn How To Ignite The One Powerful Path to Reclaim Your Purpose in an Otherwise Disillusioned Environment

“I thought this would be better.” How many times have we had that thought? There’s no doubt that at times our experience does not meet our expectations, resulting in disillusionment, possibly even resulting in sadness or despair. Let us say right out of the gate that we are not psychologists, we don’t pretend to be, nor have we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express recently. But, we do work and interact with countless people every day, and we strive to understand how they tick, what influences their beliefs, and where they get new ideas. 

Why? To lead better means you must become a student of human behavior. And, for a myriad of reasons, especially throughout Covid19, we find more-and-more individuals who are feeling like “things should be better.” Whether in education or the private sector, it’s not uncommon for us to experience disappointment. If you find yourself nodding your head in agreement, you’re not alone. This is one reason we broadcast our 302 Thoughts in front of a live audience–to create a space for leaders and learners to gather and rumble with difficult topics. If you want to lead better and grow faster, hopefully you’ll join us. 

As we listen to others, travel around conducting school leadership training in schools and districts, we’re finding that one thing definitely stands out–to move forward we need to reclaim our primary purpose, which is to simplify the road ahead and focus on student learning and well-being. There are quite a few things that school leaders can do to improve school conditions, such as incorporating SEL sessions for staff, providing additional time to catch up on emails, lesson planning, contacting parents, and grading, and conducting listening sessions to hear how staff are feeling. All of these external efforts will help, but they are only one side of the equation and generally become temporary outlets. There also needs to be an internal, personal declaration that needs to be made for lasting assuredness and faith that things actually will get better. 

To begin the process of developing a personal declaration in an effort to reclaim our purpose, we start by getting grounded. In an atmosphere of disillusionment, when we think things should be better than they are, it’s likely that we aren’t as grounded as we should be so that we can thrive in our environment and inspire others to do the same. 

Getting Grounded

One misguided thought in improving our well-being, and, in turn, our school cultures, is the belief that “fixing” external conditions alone will be the answer to our problems. We know as educators that self-efficacy and collective efficacy are incredibly impactful social constructs that support student learning. However, efficacy does not stop at the classroom door and is not only for our students but also our staff. It’s something that we can develop as adults, as leaders, as people–in ourselves and others. We have to work on our internal capacity so that we can even appreciate and recognize the external factors of life and work. If we are not in a mentally resourceful space, any external attempts to improve will fall short. Efficacy is the belief that our actions can make a difference–that we have the power within us. It has nothing to do with waiting for something or someone to influence us, but rather the other way around. 

This type of mindset requires flexibility and openness. And, in a state of disillusionment, these characteristics of our thinking–flexibility and openness–must be extreme in their use. We are not suggesting to ignore reality or simply be naively positive. Rather, we must embrace a belief that we can create a better situation if we work together toward that end. Happiness, as we can see from the passage below shared by Dr. Tara Well, associate professor of psychology at Barnard College of Columbia University, should not be fixed or our well-being will suffer. 

“…we can develop some pretty fixed ideas on what will make us happy, and eventually train our minds to believe that we’ll only be happy if we get those things. We mistakenly believe that it’s the thing that is going to make us happy, and when we don’t get it, we’re disappointed.”

Knowing that fixed ideas regarding what we think will improve our situation can trap us; instead, it’s critical that we ground ourselves in those things that do create greater fulfillment and success. This is what we mean by getting grounded.

Getting grounded requires an unbridled effort to identify those things that are most important to our personal and professional core values. This works in life as well as it does in school leadership as you work to guide your school or district community. 

To understand how to pursue and identify our ground, we take a look at the wisdom of the great Greek stoic philosopher, Epictetus. Our aim is to identify those things we can control in a world that is still seeped in uncertainty, distrust, and fear. To venture down this road of getting grounded, we offer three primary paths: 1. Look for solid ground; 2. Reclaim your ground; and 3. Thrive in your ground. 

Look for Solid Ground: Introspection

Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. ~ Epictetus

The last two years have undoubtedly knocked us off balance, and as leaders we need to find solid ground again. We cannot do that without looking inward and establishing personal and professional standards in this new world. We do that by identifying our overall purpose as a person and as a school community. And then we align our daily actions to this greater sense of self, connected and grounded. 

     If you are a classroom teacher, what is your purpose? 

     If you are a school or district administrator, what is your purpose?

No one knew what the devastation of a pandemic would bring in the long run–first graders not knowing how to walk the halls properly or how to manage their materials at a desk. We’ve heard incredible stories of students being oddly possessive of classroom supplies in the younger grades–markers and erasers–trivial things that are readily available. And we’re witness to students up-and-leaving a room without asking in the upper grades–something that they did without asking when they learned from home.  

It’s fascinating to see the skills that are typically taught in schools, yet never captured in any accountability rating or report card, now starkly missing from our students in ways that require tons of attention. This, among other strange byproducts of time away from school, dramatically impacts culture, our well-being, and our abilities. Because we are challenged by such new and different problems in schools these days, we can quickly lose our sense of purpose in what we do. Purpose is such a strong indicator of groundedness that when it’s not clearly defined can bring misery.  

So, as we look within ourselves, we want to approach introspection the best way that we know how, effectively working toward finding our solid ground. Instead of just thinking about ourselves and dwelling on our work or lives, we offer very succinct prompts to begin your professional introspective analysis. 

Consider the following reflection prompts:

  • I know my purpose at work each day.
  • My purpose at work directly corresponds with my daily activities.

The answer to the first prompt may seem simple and intuitive at first, such as, “Of, course, I know my purpose, I teach. I’m a teacher. My purpose is to impart knowledge.” But, work beyond surface responses that don’t provide the specificity that truly reflects your inner definition of the purpose behind your work. You might come to something like “My purpose is to change lives” or “I plan to influence the system to be more innovative than education typically is.” The grander the statement, the better. Next, ask yourself the second prompt…if your purpose no longer matches your daily activities, you need to reclaim your ground. 

Reclaim Your Ground: Empowerment

No matter what happens, it is within my power to turn it to my advantage.  ~ Epictetus

Once you clearly identify your solid ground, you need to reclaim it. There is serious power in taking control of the things that you can. Despite all of the challenges in schools for teachers and leaders, there are several elements of schooling that we directly impact and that are within our control. A few that we work through in our school leadership training are as follows:

  • Visiting classrooms 
  • Planning with high-yield instructional strategies 
  • Increasing student engagement
  • Empowering teacher leaders 
  • Creating a winning culture
  • Clarifying the vision of the school
  • Praising others and using feedback cycles for school improvement 

The next step is to identify a process goal within a particular area that we can control for the day or week. If classroom management is a challenge, then that can become a clear area of focus. Danielle Doolan, team member of The Career Contessa, which “…helps working women be more fulfilled, healthy, and successful at worktell readers this: 

Process goals are the specific actions we take to increase our chances of achieving our outcome goals. These are the behaviors and strategies that we implement that help us set a path to achieve our desired result. Process goals are 100% controllable.”

This is of vital importance as you work to reclaim your ground. Process goals require specific actions. Those actions are under our direction and control. Determining the specifics of what you work on each day creates a greater sense of calm, connectedness, and confidence (The Three Cs of Empowerment).  

Consider the following reflection prompts:

  • I feel connected to my work.
  • I see the results of my efforts.

Take the time to think about your responses. If you feel connected and you are seeing results, what is contributing to your success? Name it so that it can be repeated. However, if you are reading this and you find yourself disconnected and frustrated, start by identifying a couple goals that you would like to achieve this month and be sure to identify the actions you need to take to reach success. 

With the clarity of our purpose in mind and process goals for taking action, we are ready to bloom. 

Thrive in Your Ground: Blooming

Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you. ~ Epictetus

Identifying, finding, and claiming your solid ground will provide the necessary foundation to thrive in work and life. We approach thriving and this journey of development from a different angle than your typical school leadership training. The reality is that we don’t see the effects of all of our decisions right away. Development takes time and is actually a practice of redundancy and habit formation. Thriving can actually seem uneventful at first for those who love to start and try new things. Setting and starting activities and initiatives is fun, but the real work is in the day-to-day activities that will bear the fruit of our labor. 

This pursuit and drive forward flourishes in what Jim Collins describes as The Hedgehog Concept versus what he explains to be the work of the fox. The fox, “[is] scattered, diffused, and inconsistent, while the hedgehog understands that driving toward a concrete destination is what really works.” Thriving is focused and consistent; something that many of us struggle with in a time when so much has changed and so much is still uncertain. Disillusionment is born from doubt, skepticism, and suspicion about which direction we’re going and why. We get back on track when we find our inspiration and we rekindle our passion. 

Consider the following questions regarding how your purpose is congruent with you developing and growing in your role–thriving for the future.

Consider the following reflection prompts:

  • I’m inspired by the people with whom I work. 
  • I am passionate about my daily purpose.

We find inspiration in the people with whom we work, not just because they’re doing the work but because they want to get better at it. In all of our findings, readings, and trainings, we’ve realized that the most passionate people are inspired by the company they keep and the strategies they use as a team to improve. We call that a learning culture and a performance culture because it’s based on continuous improvement and a desire to do whatever we can to find success. We also recommend that leaders measure purpose and other aspects of school culture so that we can lead from a point of our strengths and work on the areas that require our attention. 

Assessing School Culture with REPSS

In our book, Building A Winning Team, we developed TheSchoolHouse302 Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools (REPSS) to measure a school’s culture using the perceptions of the staff. This process can create greater levels of clarity, trust, accountability, support, growth, and innovation in schools–all indicators of highly supportive, effective, and caring cultures.

This month we are completely focused on the purpose aspect of the survey because it sets the stage and tone for the other areas. You’ll find some of the reflection questions throughout the blog post and below as well. Take a few minutes to respond to the questions/prompts to fully unveil your purpose and consider the power in knowing the aggregate answers that your school community might post if they took this survey together. What might you do with that data as someone who wants to lead better and grow faster? After all, if things aren’t as good as they should be…or could be…then we have work to do. 

Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools Purpose

  • I know my purpose at work each day.
  • My purpose at work directly corresponds with my daily activities.
  • I feel connected to my work.
  • I see the results of my efforts. 
  • I tell a positive story about my workplace. 
  • The school brand communicated to the public is the same as the culture I experience as a professional. 
  • Our school’s core values are so clear that I know what is expected of me on a daily basis.
  • I find the work I do rewarding. 
  • I’m inspired by the people with whom I work. 
  • I am passionate about my daily purpose. 

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 

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The 5 Triple Bs to Avoid as a School Leader–Bad Boss Behaviors that We Hope You Don’t Recognize in Yourself

The 5 Triple Bs to Avoid as a School Leader–Bad Boss Behaviors that We Hope You Don’t Recognize in Yourself

If you want to get a quick laugh or a snarky response from a friend, just ask about a bad boss they’ve had in the past.There’s almost never a shortage of stories or experiences to share. It’s true for all of us. In fact, the topic itself–bad bosses–is not an easy one to write about. As always, our aim is to help our audience to lead better and grow faster. To do so, we can’t always focus on our strengths, even though that’s a great place to start most of the time. We must also uncover our weaknesses to improve as leaders. 

As you may recognize yourself in the following passages, be careful about that. The following content might otherwise be misconstrued to represent people we have worked with throughout our careers. It might even seem that we’re reflecting on our own leadership as many of our readers have witnessed us, firsthand, with mistakes and mishaps. Regardless, this topic deserves attention. 

Why bad boss behaviors this month? Simply put: retention. We should all be focused on staff retention, specifically teacher retention. And bad boss behaviors get us into trouble in terms of losing staff. Too often, when leaders think about retention, they target things that they can do for others. We also need to direct our attention to how we behave as leaders.

Despite the funny, albeit inappropriate movie, Horrible Bosses, most leaders aren’t as outright awful as the characters in the film. We won’t likely find a “maneater” or “tool” in the position of principal. The movie is an exaggeration, which is what makes it funny. But what makes the exaggeration work is that there’s truth in the depiction of the horrible bosses. 

That said, the behaviors that alienate staff, limit their success, and even sabotage our efforts are far more subtle. As a leadership development firm, our goal is to needle through these subtleties to empower leaders to be more effective. Because we travel to schools around the country, conducting school leadership training in so many districts, we get to see too many of the pitfalls that we’re going to get into in this blog. We hope this isn’t true for you, and if it is, we hope you’ll consider a change by developing the skills that are included in our remedies below.  

Bad Boss Behavior #1: Micromanaging Your Team 

The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led–yes. But not tightly managed. ~ Jim Collins

Micromanagement is a common problem in organizations across a wide variety of industries. Unfortunately, from our experience working with schools and districts around the country, it’s rampant in education. One primary reason that it’s so prevalent for educational leaders to be micromanagers is because we are altruistic by nature. We entered the field because we want to help others, and we often end up micromanaging for that same reason. 

That doesn’t make it okay. If you’re managing people and projects that are below your scope of reporting or that simply belong at another level, you’re demonstrating bad boss behaviors. In fact, micromanagement, although a common problem, is the worst BBB that you can have. There are several clear signs that you’ve fallen into this trap

  1. You’re doing work that others should be doing to serve the organization. You might even be at a meeting that someone else should have attended for you. Worse yet, you called a meeting with an outside group, and you didn’t invite the people who need to be at the table. Sign number one
  2. You consistently feel the need to be in-the-know on everything, even minor details. You take control of the work even after it’s underway, change directions after decisions have been made, and insert yourself just enough that no one else can really take the lead. Sign number two
  3. You reach past your direct reports and sometimes past their direct reports to get clarity on an issue or to manage something new. The best example of this that we’ve seen recently is a principal of a large high school who micromanaged something in the counseling department when an assistant principal had that as her scope of work. And she didn’t even know about the priority until a counselor told her about it. Sign number three

Micromanagement stems from insecurity, a lack of trust, and insufficient communication regarding the vision. People who are insecure about the value that they add are more likely to jump around in the chain of command to try to be of value wherever they can instead of focusing on the value they should add in their role. Micromanagers lack trust that others will perform a task the way that they would do it. And, leaders with a crystal clear vision for how they want a project to turn out–those who know how to paint done as we’ve learned from Brene Brown–don’t micromanage at all.  

The problem is that not only is it unproductive, it causes apathy, humiliation, and even embarrassment to your staff. When you micromanage people, they shut down completely, doing even less work than what you’re managing them to do. They become humiliated that you’re constantly doing their work or meeting with people that should be reporting to them. And, worse yet, you’re embarrassing them by communicating that you don’t think they’re capable of the work you’ve essentially stolen from them.  

The Micromanagement Remedy 

If you know you are a micromanager and you want to end this behavior, do the following:  

Ask yourself, and ultimately answer, these three simple questions every time you need action on something, especially prior to a meeting you’re about to schedule:

  1. Whose role in the organization fits this work best? 
  2. Who should I assign to this task? 
  3. When should it be completed?

Empowering leaders assign work and then follow up. They’re very rarely around when the work is getting done. That’s not the role of a visionary. 

Bad Boss Behavior #2: Withholding Information from Others 

Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship. ~ Bruce Coville

Of course, the bad boss behavior we are discussing here is not withholding information on purpose. That would make them a horrible boss like the ones in the movie. It’s also worth noting that displaying one or two bad boss behaviors here-and-there doesn’t make someone a terrible boss to have. However, when leaders are not actively working on the remedies–whether they recognize themselves in the bad behaviors or not–they just might be a bad boss (if you’re reading this blog, it’s because you care about leading better and growing faster so that’s a good thing and a reminder to yourself that you want to be better in your role). 

Back to the problem: bosses who withhold information. If you’re withholding information from your subordinates, and you’re not doing it on purpose, it’s likely that you have a systems problem. In other words, you’re going about your day, learning all kinds of new things about the organization’s moving parts, but you don’t have a forum to share what you’re learning with the people who are supposed to be managing those parts. We call this The Information Bottleneck Syndrome. It’s when information is being funneled to a source (usually a person) who doesn’t have the capacity to disseminate it. 

The problem is that any bottleneck, especially in the case of information, slows the organization down, rendering it incapable of meeting its goals. In The Goal, Goldratt explains the Theory of Constraints. Organizations simply cannot move toward their goals until the natural and imposed constraints are removed. Worse yet, if you, as the leader, are the one introducing a constraint into the organization, you’re likely not going to remove it without help and no one else is likely going to say something to you (because you’re the boss and rarely does a subordinate point out our bad behavior to us). The good news is that there is help, and it comes in the form of a strategic remedy. 

The Information Bottleneck Syndrome Remedy 

To remedy the problem of the information bottleneck that results from leaders who consistently gain access to information but then don’t share it with the rest of the chain of command, we find the need for a new communication method or tool. And it really is a new communication method or tool, not a meeting or structure or document (or some other administrivia that we might think to introduce when information-sharing has become a problem). The simplest of tools is text or email; we like Voxer, Slack, and other more sophisticated technologies, but the key is the immediacy of the use. In other words, at the moment you learn of a new problem, process, procedure, or another piece of information, you communicate it right away. 

It looks like this: you’re walking down the hall and someone from one of the departments in your organization says, “did you know that…” You find out that the science curriculum isn’t going to arrive on time or maybe you find out that a teacher won an award. Right at that moment, you have to assemble in your mind anyone else who might not have that information (maybe they do but assume they don’t) and would want to know it (and would want to know that you know it). 

At that point in time, as the person who just told you moves down the hall, you send a Voxer–or another strategy using your new communication method–to all the people who should know: “Hey, just heard that the science curriculum is late. John told me as we were passing in the hall here in Stern School Elementary as I was doing my rounds. Thought you should know if you didn’t already. I’ll look to you for an update about that. Thanks.” 

You want to be deliberate about your communication to include a four-part message: 1. what the information is, 2. how you found out about it, 3. why you know before the person who should know before you (the one receiving the message), and 4. that they’re back in charge of whatever it is. The last part is to get it back off of your plate and to empower the people under you. If you don’t do all four parts, especially part four, they’ll assume that you’re taking control of the problem and that it’s actually off of their plate now. 

Bad Boss Behavior #3: Stealing Great Ideas 

One can steal ideas, but no one can steal execution or passion. ~ Tim Ferriss

Here, again, we’re not  accusing a leader of overtly being an idea thief. That’s not “bad,” it’s mean. But we’re all in meetings all day where ideas are being presented. We jump from one meeting to the next, and they often blend together in terms of who says what. They also tend to overlap in terms of the organization’s overall goals. This means that one idea in one meeting might be a good solution to a problem presented in a different meeting. Because leaders are the glue, appearing at the cross-section of every major issue and initiative, we hear all of the great ideas that can be shared across the organization. 

The problem is that as ideas spread, their owner is often lost, which leaves the last person to share the idea as the assumed originator of that idea. 

We call this The Idea Propagation Problem. As ideas spread, with the leader being a natural conduit of information, the owner of the idea loses credit. Not that people are actively looking for some sort of credit, but they are definitely not looking to be robbed of it. People genuinely want to contribute to the team, and when we steal their ideas–even when we’re just looking to solve a problem using something we heard in another meeting–it strips away trust and loyalty as well. 

Over time, this diminishes our ability to solve organizational problems at all because people quit volunteering their best thoughts. Instead of advancing the organization through high quality brainstorming sessions, we end up with cooler talk that sounds like this: “I could have told her that this wouldn’t work but then that would have been her idea too.” 

The Idea Propagation Problem Remedy

Look to give credit to what people say and think. Too often, credit is reserved for actions and outcomes. The remedy is to honor words and ideas. Eventually, what you want to build is a learning culture. Organizational learning is a concept that leaders don’t initiate often enough. In a learning culture, people are more apt to work together to solve problems because they like new problems better than persistent ones. For this to happen, leaders have to give credit to innovative thinking, out-of-the-box idea sharing, and risk-taking. Instead of focusing on achievement, we have to put our attention on the process.

Bad Boss Behavior #4: Taking Credit for Success 

Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable. ~ Loretta Young

One way to view these bad boss behaviors is through the lens of vices. They are weaknesses not only in leadership but as human behaviors–they appear when we fall short of doing the very best we can. Uncontrolled fear and worry leads to micromanaging the same way as insecurity leads to withholding credit just like our lack of systems results in an information bottleneck.  

What we have found to be thematically true about the greatest leaders who have come through our school leadership training series is that they fix a number of their bad boss behaviors by spending more time than average leaders in celebration mode. They’ve learned that the greatest ways to lift any organization, especially a school, is through praise and recognition. Take a look at the following Gallup poll research:

Our latest analysis, which includes more than 10,000 business units and more than 30 industries, has found that individuals who receive regular recognition and praise:

  • increase their individual productivity
  • increase engagement among their colleagues
  • are more likely to stay with their organization
  • receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers
  • have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job

 

But, if the research is so clear, why don’t leaders do this more often? The reasons are endless, but we’ve discovered that it bowls down to scarcity thinking. Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, first coined this idea where people think in shortages rather than abundance. Similar to the Idea Propagations Problem, scarcity thinking brings leaders down the path where any good news about new supports in place or success stories shared are accumulated as being credited to the leader rather than the people who pushed the work in the first place. 

Of course, in the end, it’s always the leader who truly brings the vision to fruition. It’s her eye on the people and programs, innovation, and future-forward mindset that drives the ultimate success. But, it’s all too easy for leaders to fall into the trap set by their egos. Rather than celebrating others and praising the people they serve, they end up believing that the success is theirs to have, not the team’s or individuals who are truly making it work. 

And, although it may seem like the solution to this bad boss behavior is simply to start praising and recognizing others more often, the truth is that it’s deeper than that. It includes the way we use our language about the team and much more. 

The Scarcity Thinking Remedy

If you glossed over the Loretta Young quote, take a moment and reread it slowly: “Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form.” The key word is habit. For habits to form, we need to be intentional. Here are three keys ways to build your giving-credit-muscle:

  1. Reduce “I” from your vocabulary and begin saying “we” more often. No leader accomplishes greatness alone and this simple change helps us to communicate that we’re on a team, not just that we lead one. 
  2. Start every meeting with gratitude by recognizing the people at that meeting and by allowing them to recognize each other. This should be genuine but not necessarily huge accomplishments. Great schools are built on the small and mundane things that have to be done to perfection.
  3. When you’re out and about, lift the people on your team who aren’t around when a success or new support has been put in place. As the leader, we might be thanked for something that really was the contribution of someone on the team. When that happens, we ought to pause and say, “yes, thanks to [insert name], we were able to get the upgrades we needed in this area.” 

Bad Boss Behavior #5: Using Relationships to Leverage Power 

People with leverage have power over those who don’t. ~ Robet Kiyosaki

The bad boss behavior that we abhor the most is using relationships to leverage power. Manipulation is not leadership and ultimately does not build a successful long-term organization. We are not suggesting that leverage alone is bad or that the power of relationships should be overlooked. In fact, both are qualities that every leader can use for the betterment of their organization and people. 

We firmly believe in investing in others, seeking a competitive edge, and developing a strong inter-connectedness among people. These should be genuine pursuits to lift others and the organization. What we are referring to here is when individuals seek personal notoriety and gain through the active manipulation of others. Again, we link many of these bad behaviors to vices. The allure of success and fame is all too enticing. 

We are not standing on a moral high ground here or condemning those who have fallen prey to this trap, we’re merely pointing out that power is seductive. And the longer we have and the higher we climb the less likely it is that we can see what it has done to us. As Bob Rosen, writes in the The Healthy Leader, there is an abuse of power that can take hold of us, a belief of superiority that can trap our thinking. 

The challenge, though, is that many leaders don’t think this way in the beginning. Yes, there are some who are hubris, arrogant, and tyrannical from the start. But we are talking about individuals who have done the work, put in the time, genuinely care about the company, and, yet, they end up having bad boss behaviors anyway. 

The fact is that many people who rise within an organization are terrified of failure and losing the power they’ve obtained. This fear creates an insular attempt to protect themselves, to exclude others, and to use relationships as a means of control. Leaders who leverage relationships as power aren’t building them as a genuine connection with others; they do so to gain authority and even access to information that they might not have otherwise garnered alone. You might be thinking that this is an impossible one to remedy because leaders who suffer from this bad boss behavior aren’t always aware that they use relationships to wield their power. It’s not easy, but it can be done. 

The Seduction of Power Remedy

Becoming seduction proof is probably impossible, but we do believe in a few ways that leaders can remedy their unhealthy use of relationships as an advantage over others: 

  1. First, avoid surrounding yourself with sycophants. Leaders must have people around them who can be honest and truthful with them without fear of repercussions. In high pressure situations, where investors and boards want results, a leader needs a trusted advisory group that can use candor about everything.
  2. Second, put your values and principles in check. Make sure that they are anchored and set in place prior to any new endeavor and especially during turmoil. Check out our post about growing through the grind to reflect on the vision you set for yourself. Without a clear picture of who we want to be, we can end up behaving in ways that don’t match our true intentions. 
  3. Third, listen to the people who you trust the most. Leaders who build relationships for power are so seduced by the advantage that they think they have that they end up building relationships with the wrong people. Ask yourself if you truly trust the source or if you’re only trying to gain control. 

The Need for School Leadership Training 

Throughout the month we are going to dive into this concept so that you are more fully prepared to lead with excellence. Take a few minutes and reflect on the 5 bad boss behaviors and determine which one(s) you need to work on first. This is why it’s so important that school leaders get the proper training they deserve. After identifying the one that you need to work on most, find a training that will help to satisfy your need to develop as a leader. 

#1: Micromanaging Your Team

#2: Withholding Information from Others 

#3: Stealing Great Ideas 

#4: Taking Credit for Supports or Success 

#5: Using Relationships to Leverage Power

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 

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