The following is a continuation of yesterday’s post.
The writer of yesterday’s post had seven valid concerns relating to my campus improvement recipe. I will address each, in order.
1. Yes, the staffs at the absolute worst schools blame the kids and reject training. It’s an emotional defense mechanism. If it’s not the kids’ fault and there are things that I can do better, then that means I’m to blame. Try owning 40% to 80% failure rates. Makes it awful hard to get up in the morning to go to work. But as you well know when a whole school fails, that is not teacher failure. It is system failure. And system failure is leadership failure. The problem you have specifically faced as the internal “Fixer,” is that higher leadership hired you to fix their problem without accepting their responsibility for the problem. This has put you in a “you vs. the teacher” battle. You have to shift that to an “us vs. them” battle. And pick any convenient “them” that gets the staff moving. Once you start to build momentum, change the target. But remember this; it is still easier to move the staff that is doing nothing at a low SES school than it is to move a staff that is doing nothing at a high SES school.
2. Yes, the more conversations you have, the more you irritate people. But you of all people should know that one of the fundamental laws of physics is that movement requires friction. If you just have one conversation, you might as well have none. As leaders we have to articulate and repeat our expectations until they are met. Anything less is best described as management.
3. Short term objectives lead to directives and growth plans. Possibly, but not always. They should always lead to coaching and conversations. If the staff has been expected to do essentially nothing, then you have to lay out what you expect and help them get there. The more ingrained nothing is, the smaller the window for measurement and the more achievable the goal has to be. And as for directives and growth plans, I’m not a big fan. I believe in “notice and opportunity.” The concept is more in-depth than I have space in this post, but in short, growth plans take too long and camouflage the real issues of contention. Finally, if you are concerned about a staff reacting negatively to change, let me ease your concerns. 98% of staffs react negatively to change. The only staffs that do not react poorly have been trained to understand that the only constant is change. They still don’t like it, but they don’t gripe about it.
4. Your AP’s and central office will fold. That’s a given. You have to go in knowing that. Which means you have to manage up and manage down. You have to keep your AP’s close and your central office informed. In my first turn-around, I shared my office with the AP and police officer. We talked, and I coached constantly. They had no choice but to become conductors on the “Cain Train.” And make sure that you communicate with your central office uplinks on a regular basis. That means updates on initiatives and regular progress reports. But most importantly, you have to warn them of potential negatives. I always told my principals, “I can and will help you weather the storm if I’m not surprised. However, let me get caught unaware and you may be just as surprised by my solution to the problem that I now own.” Remember, the Principal has the luxury (responsibility) to be the pure advocate for students. Central Office has the responsibility to balance competing agendas in order to maintain viable district operations. Perhaps not as noble, but absolutely necessary.
5. Time is never on your side. Which is why framing the issue correctly is absolutely vital. It is not about adults. Everyday we wait to improve we sacrifice the opportunities of each and every one of our students. And until all of your struggling students graduate and all of your stronger students are accepted into the finest colleges in the country, you, your staff, your campus and your district are the primary limits to student success.
6. You create turmoil. Yes, when you shift the focus to student performance you change the rules of operations and employment. In the short run, this creates a lot of uncomfortable adults. Is that prudent? Define prudent. Brezina told me that it boils down to the following. As a Leader, it is up to you to make the tough decisions. Do that with morality and conviction and you can look yourself in the mirror every morning (and find the next job if necessary).
7. Moving is expensive. Yes, but what costs more, moving, or selling out your students?
Think. Work. Achieve.