A Reader Writes… (Brezina, Brown and Recent Comments)

In response to the posts that relate to Brezina’s and Brown’s rules and advice, a reader writes:

“The last writer is hitting in the right zone, but let’s integrate the advice of Brezina and Brown.
From Brezina:
I believe how you fix a problem depends upon the situation you are in, each ISD has its own DNA and how you fix it in one school can be different in the next. I will be speaking to the, then what?’

People take jobs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they need a job. Sometimes they want to be assistant principal, or principal, or superintendent, and take the jobs available to them.
People leave jobs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are moving on to bigger things. Sometimes they find the district they are in has a DNA that can’t be tolerated. Sometimes life just throws us unusual curve balls and personal tragedies that change circumstances.

Also consider Brown’s condition:
“The principal as the only pure advocate for the student.”

I take this as true, as I do everything E. Don tells me. Now consider this as how I synthesize Brezina and Brown together:

You can’t be a student advocate if they fire you. You can only make changes and advocate for students if you have a seat at the table of power. How much of a seat you have varies. Some districts I know of support principals when they non-renew 40% of their staff. Some districts won’t support you if you discipline one teacher. Your mileage may vary, so you had best know your vehicle (school).

People learn at certain rates. You can not make people learn faster than they want to or are capable of. This applies to PEOPLE, i.e. students, teachers, principals, superintendents, boards.
You can try to motivate anyone to learn (move, if you will) faster, but you will eventually reach THEIR limit. At that point your choices are very much limited by how much support you have at the seats of power, which is never constant, I will add. If you don’t like this, you can either be patient or move on to a district that is ready to move at your pace. Good luck. Know that you can get caught between the Devil and deep blue sea with patience. If your school has to make rapid changes or else face state sanctions, your future depends greatly on the DNA of the district. You have to move forward, or else. Remember in the classic western “Shane,” Shane knew he couldn’t stay after he cleaned up the town. In education, I refer to this as the “Shane Syndrome”. Doing good deeds may or may not save your rear end.

I say all of this for a reason. There is a need for balance, as determined by your districts DNA. If you exceed that balance, they will certainly fire you, even if you are successful in some cases.

If the balance if so out of kilter you can’t adjust to the districts messed up way of doing things, do as Brezina says and leave on your own terms, and I would add QUICK. Understand that in all districts to maintain a seat at the table of power you will in some way have to stroke what is important to many others at the table, which again includes in this order:

1 – Politics
2 – Money
3 – Kids

You may not like this, I certainly don’t. But if you forget it, those with more power than you will remove you from the table of power, and then see how much of an advocate you can be for kids. So, moving full speed ahead varies depending on whether you are in a VW Bug or a Corvette. Push your vehicle as hard as you can, and if it doesn’t run like you think it should, find yourself another vehicle.”

SC Response:
Just some random thoughts related to the above comments.

First, politics. When I was working for the Great State of Texas, I was meeting with the Superintendent of a very large district that was in trouble. This Superintendent took pride in his reputation as a politician. I was there to explain in no uncertain terms, that the clock was ticking. Frustrated, that I would not yield, he said, “Well, the Commissioner never had to deal with politics like this.”

To which I responded, “I have worked with lots of Superintendents. The ones that I have to clean up after are the ones who worry about the politics first. The ones that put students first, like Neeley and Brezina, never seems to find themselves in this position.”

Politics are always an issue, but when you put students first, and have results to showcase, the next (if necessary) job will find you.

Second, speed: Learning is not the critical factor I am looking for, engagement is. Get people to engage rapidly and the learning will follow. If you can’t generate any engagement, you are a dead man walking. So how do you generate rapid engagement? Here are some helpful cliché’s. However, as Fullan argues, it is the artful understanding of the nuance that drives the success of any rule. So understand that just because this worked for me, it may not work for you.

1 – Live and execute the principle that you are ‘frequently wrong, but never in doubt.’ I learned this early. I was a quarterback. When I called the play in the huddle, if I didn’t exude the complete confidence that there was no better play for the situation than the one called, we were stopped before the ball was snapped. If you are not supremely confident, your staff will hedge their bets. Now, ‘frequently wrong,’ this is the hard to do side of the equation. No one is always right, and the more dynamic the situation, the more likely that you will be wrong. Know that up front and look to constantly adjust. Again, from my quarterback days, we ran a triple option. That meant that the play evolved based on what the defense did. Every time we were wrong, we adjusted, at full speed.

2 – Always sell. You have to constantly be out with your people, selling them on what is being done and why it is being done. If you don’t, know one else will sell the message you need sold. Instead they will sell their own message. The message that furthers their agenda. And as we know, the connection of that replacements agenda to the betterment of students can be tenuous.

3 – Love is conditional. That’s right, conditional. Your staff needs to know that when they do right, they get all your love (and make sure it is a lot). When they do wrong, they get no love until they do right again (there should be a noticeable difference between love and no love). Interestingly, a nun taught me this.

Third, reaching the limit of individual staff. Yes, this happens. Sometimes, the issue is not willingness, but aptitude. This is where attrition is powerful. Todd Whitaker writes, “The most valuable asset a principal has is a staff vacancy,” and he is absolutely right.
Use attrition to increase the capacity of the organization. And realize that everyone is not a “Superstar.” That is why you have to work on the system and provide your staff with the tools they need to survive. When I design district and campus systems, this is my intent. 1 – Expose the frauds. 2 – Get the weak to average. 3 – Get the average to strong. 4 – Get the strong to great. 5 – Be able to reload without moving backwards.

Finally, when you are in a “no win” situation, you have to “out work, out think, and out achieve” the competition. If you lose, you get to leave with your head held high, but there is a good chance you may pull out a win. Most people are lazy and don’t have the commitment to finish the job, especially is the job is messy or uncomfortable. Use this to your advantage.

Out Work. Out Think. Out Achieve.

Your turn…

A Reader Writes… (Brown Wisdom)
A Reader Writes… (Comments on Brown’s Wisdom)

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