A Superintendent Writes… Advice for the First Year Principal – Part 1

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In response to the 4/10/2013 post, “Advice for the First Year Principal – Reboot 1,” a LYS Superintendent writes:

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Wow, I was thinking of this very issue this week and I had some thoughts I was going to share with the LYS Nation, so this is timely.

First, I think everything Cain wrote is spot on.  The only thing I would add is I am not sure the writer is misguided or merely inexperienced in heavy front line leadership roles. Of course it could be both.  At any rate, here are my additional thoughts and experiences on morale.

Recently, I was speaking to a teacher who is thinking about quitting the teaching profession.  Of course I have noticed he is not happy, but I never really considered the morale issue, mostly because my philosophy is the same as Cain’s.  But after the conversation it occurred to me: this person’s morale really is bad, and I have a lot of teachers in the district with low morale, and in fact I realized that there really is a morale problem in public education.  And as I reflected more upon our brief conversation the reason for the epidemic of low morale of many teachers, including some in my district, hit me like a ton of falling bricks.

Cain is right about the definition of morale.  The first item he listed was this:

1. Instill a belief in the mission of the organization.

This teacher told me he was thinking of leaving the profession because he simply didn’t believe in what we were doing.  He said he didn’t think every child could go to college.  He said he didn’t think it was reasonable to be held accountable for children who were not capable or who were merely going to work at a local factory after graduation.  That’s when it hit me: I do have a morale problem!  Many of my people don’t believe in the mission of the organization.  And this man is considered to be a GREAT teacher I might point out.  As I had more conversations with teachers I viewed each conversation through my new understanding of morale lens.  Without fail every teacher that I spoke with that had low morale also had a philosophy of education and children that is utterly inconsistent with the current mission and direction of education.

You see we talk about things like “all children can learn”, but too many educators don’t really believe it.  Imagine being held accountable for an outcome that you don’t believe in in the first place!  That MUST be miserable!  No wonder their morale is bad, mine would be too if I had their philosophy of education and children in the type of student-centered district that I run.  How can a leader fix this problem?  I don’t think the leader can.  If the employee understands the mission but simply has a philosophy contrary to the mission, the employee needs to find another mission.  In the case of this particular employee, he needed to leave public education.

Now I hear you wailing, saying “But all children can’t go to college! Not all are capable!”  Well, I know that.  But let’s look at it a different way.  My doctor told me I am dying.  Of course I was shocked, floored.  My doctor said there is no reason for him to do blood tests, prescribe medicine, or run any more tests, because I am dying.  After I collected myself I said, “But Doc, I feel fine, are you sure?”

His response, “Absolutely, you are going to die. So it’s not worth my time to treat you.”

“Well Doc, of course I am going to die. But can’t you help me feel better while I’m still around?  I’m only 44 and life expectancy is over 80! Give me a break, Doc. Don’t put me in the grave just yet!”

The point is physicians can be assured that every patient they have will eventually die.  A 100% failure rate if you want to look at it that way.  BUT, they treat every patient to the best of their ability, every day, knowing full well that eventually death wins.  You might say they believe in the mission.  In the previous example we would call that a bad physician who needs to be sued and ran out of the profession.  That physician isn’t about treating patients to the best of his ability; he is picking winners and losers.  Yet we take educators who do the same thing and call them “Great.” Interesting…

I invite you to do some soul searching.  I will bet that if you have a morale problem, you also have a problem with allowing the reality of a cruel world sneak into your personal philosophy of education and children.  That is a dark path for educators that few can recover from.  Generally the only way off of that dark path is to change paths, as in a new profession. 

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

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