In response to the post, “Teacher Stress – Part 15,” a reader writes:
“I’m an old school LYS change principal, so I’m not talking about my first rodeo.
At my previous high school, I had the complete support and trust of my superintendent. In that position, I let the assistant superintendents and central office directors know I was in charge of my campus, not them. Under their supervision, the campus drove full speed into the ditch, costing the former principal his job. Additionally, no one in central office, other than the superintendent, had ever been a high school principal.
This arrangement worked great until the superintendent resigned for health reasons. Then the central office knives were unsheathed. Talk about disconnect, improved student performance wasn’t even a blip on their radar.
Now I’m in a district where none of the assistant superintendents, deputy superintendents, and even the superintendent has ever been a high school principal. Talk about disconnect.
I’m starting to see a pattern.”
Great, there you go finding more patterns that nobody wants to address. Let’s dissect the pattern of a common “doom loop” district:
1. Central office is made up of a mix of former successful principals from by-gone accountability eras, former principals who are milking the last couple years of salary for retirement purposes, former unsuccessful principals who were demoted up and non-principals.
2. How does each of these groups have the potential to accelerate the doom loop? The former successful principal from the by-gone era often doesn’t understand the tempo required to maintain adequate performance and the sensitivity of current accountability standards. Operating from this outdated experience base, support is often slow to arrive and/or out of touch with current realities.
The former successful principal who is milking the last couple of years for retirement purposes often refuses to engage in meaningful initiatives that require significant work, loath “problems” that require their attention and avoid conflict when at all possible.
The unsuccessful principal who was demoted up generally bring nothing to the table accept the misguided notion that they were actually “promoted” in spite of objective evidence to the contrary.
The non-principal often brings a lot of technical expertise to the table. Unfortunately many have convinced themselves that they are true “leaders” because their small departments run effectively and principals are generally polite to them. What they miss is that there is a big difference between leadership in small, protected settings (departments) and leadership at scale in unpredictable situations (the principalship and superintendency).
3. How does this group kick-start the doom loom? This group of generally well-meaning central office personnel exacerbates the problem by rarely (and sometimes never) spending significant time on campuses for the purpose of examining and improving instruction. When they make unilateral decisions without input from key campus leaders, when they pull staff from campuses to come to them, instead of the other way around, and when they attach their ego to their idea, at the expense of effective campus tools and practices, they are no longer part of the solution. These actions transform them into a problem to be worked around.
4. What is the outside variable that puts this doom loop into play? The dual pressures of increasing accountability standards and declining wealth of the student population. This change to the macro environment in which the school operates renders business as usual into an exercise in futility.
Throw all of this together and the system drives straight towards the ditch. This is where you (the writer) come in. You are great at getting the school out of the ditch, but by doing so you illuminate all of the leadership failures that led to the disaster in the first place. But instead of existing leadership learning from their mistakes and changing their practices, they harbor significant resentment and lie in wait for the first chance to tear down the source of their pain and embarrassment (see: ama crab theory).
This brings us back to why we regularly point out that the Superintendent and Principal occupy the two most important positions in the system. The Superintendent can change the system and the Principal can overcome the system (until she gets tired or quits).
Now here is the warning, if your results are still acceptable but you recognize the pattern of the doom loop emerging, do something about it before it is too late. It’s never too late to put aside empire building and refocus on campus needs. But know that your hubris can be the ruin of your district.
Think. Work. Achieve.