A Reader Writes… Happy and Thriving – Part 2

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In response to the 10/9/12 post, “Happy and Thriving – Part 1,” a LYSer writes:

SC,

You know, the whole dynamics of leadership and teacher culture is complicated. One of the schools in my district is seemingly calm and friendly to the casual observer, but below the surface it is among the worse I have ever observed. 
Last year the principal was told to implement some needed initiatives.  The staff balked and complained, not much was accomplished and the principal was replaced.  The new principal, in terms of personality, is the polar opposite of the old principal.  In fact, he is a big teddy bear.  His job – implement the same initiatives that old principal was trying to do.  Yet the staff is even more defiant than they were last year.  Meaning that the belief that things didn’t change because the old principal was too “top-down” and not “collaborative” enough isn’t actually the case on this campus.  
You have more experience with a wider variety of school cultures than I do.  What do you think?

SC Response Staff resistance to change is not unique.  Every campus deals with it at some level.  The real question is why does that resistance reach a toxic level on some campuses?  There are two typical causes.  

One is that the campus is staffed with a bunch of jerks.  This doesn’t happen often, but I have observed this on more than one occasion.  In this case the only solution is a war of attrition.  As the jerks leave, either on their own accord or with encouragement, you replace them with staff who are not jerks. Then you do everything you can to insulate the new staff from the jerk staff and isolate the jerk staff to minimize their toxic influence.

However, the primary reason why this occurs is that it is engrained, learned behavior. In this case the following cycle has occurred over and over again.

A. There is a problem (either real or perceived) that has motivated campus leadership to institute a change.

B. The change, with a corresponding requirement for some new adult behavior is announced.

C. The expected new behavior is monitored, which requires either some level of compliance or else there is some level of punitive leadership intervention.

D. This change in practice, increased monitoring, fear of consequence and/or actual reprimand increases the level of stress for all staff.

E. Because of the very real effect the change is having on the staff, one or more staff members quietly but purposefully complain to someone who outranks the change agent. This complaint will invariably address the negative effect that the change is having on morale and how it will invariably drive away the good teachers. This complaint will be purposefully skewed to support a return to the status quo.

F. The higher ranking leader will at this time become a Monday Morning Quarterback and reach the firm conclusion that the change is either unnecessary or is being managed incorrectly.  This Monday Morning Quarterback will issue an edict to the campus leader to slow down, communicate more, exempt certain staff or stop entirely.

G. The campus leader follows the new order, which by the way is almost always contrary to the marching orders originally given to the campus leader by the higher authority, which caused the change in the first place.  The change is halted and staff stress immediately evaporates. 

What you now have is the prefect Petri dish for creating a learned behavior.
1. A replacement behavior (complain to higher authority to stop change).
2. A behavioral cue (campus leadership monitoring for a new teacher practice).
3. Reinforcement (stress is removed).

Which is why I point out that system failure is leadership failure.  It’s never the teacher’s fault for complaining. If you aren’t complaining, it is most likely because you are not trying to implement the change. Real change always includes an initial dose of discomfort.  It is the fault of the absentee leader who doesn’t realize that he or she is teaching the wrong thing, over and over again.

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