A LYS Superintendent shares the following:
My understanding of Chain of Command has evolved as I have progressed through my career. And I have recently learned a very valuable lesson this year that I want to share.
Entry-level and mid-level administrators often view following the chain of command as essential to maintaining control of the organization. This certainly is one effect of following chain of command. Of course subordinates often take a different view of chain of command, seeing it as stifling and an attempt to suppress points of view. And indeed, in a poorly ran system with weak leadership, this can very well happen. But I discovered a deeper benefit to following chain of command, one that I intend to teach to all my young administrators in the future.
I work in a district that has a long history of end-running the chain of command. Teachers, parents, students, and anyone else with an agenda, go straight to the superintendent or a board member instead of dealing with principals. This is a learned behavior in my district because this has been allowed for years and it has produced the desired results of the chain breaking actors. At times, Board Members would intervene with the superintendent, other times the superintendent would get involved to prevent the board from getting unwarranted phone calls.
The Legislature rightfully allows teachers to directly contact board members, and in very rare circumstances this is the most appropriate communication avenue (criminal conspiracy involving the superintendent, perhaps). But, in general I think this right has done more harm than good. However, there is an easy fix. Superintendents should insist that people follow the chain of command because of the organizational benefits it brings.
I realized that my district was lacking something between teachers and principals… trust. Much of the lack of trust could be attributed to perceived past wrongdoings or hurt feelings. In other cases, the teachers simply didn’t know the principal. I decided to short circuit the end-running and insisted teachers follow the chain of command. It took a lot of effort on my part because teachers were pounding board members. Which predictably resulted in board members pounding me. Yet I held firm. At the end of last year I could see some signs of trust building in the organization.
I learned that in the absence of relationship, or trust, or collegiality, in the organization forward progress grinds to a halt. So I implemented a formal process for bringing the two sides together in a systematic way in order to solve problems. I got what I was hoping for when I forced everyone to comply with chain of command.
For example, I had a formal Level 1 grievance filed against the principal. The end result was a situation that was resolved at Level 1 and each side had a better understanding of the situation. The process took the place in a relationship and trust void, but by engaging in the process a small step towards building relationship and trust was taken.
So while it is tempting to allow end-runs of the chain of command, I really encourage you halt this practice. By end-running the process you are denying the two sides the opportunity to work together in a systematic way to resolve problems and to start building trust. As a superintendent or board member, if you circumventing the process, you are holding your organization back and you perpetuating a culture of mistrust and non-collegiality.
The real benefit of following the chain of command is not controlling the organization… it is in building the organization.
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