Archive for the ‘Educational Leadership’ Tag

Resignation Hesitation

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

In the beginning I was a teacher, I grew to be an educator and now find myself seeking to be respected as a professional. The following represents the motivating factors that influenced my decision to resign my role as a public servant and begin the transition into the private sector.

Oh Education, how I have loved being intertwined with your pedagogy, respected by your admirers, growing with each swing of the initiative paradigms, and experiencing the numerous, exuberant characters that entered my classroom each and every period of each and every single day. Education has provided for me the opportunity to coach sports teams to championships, guide Science Fair participants to record breaking gold medals and placements,  mentor youth at risk and aid in their finding a focus and purpose in life.

Parallel to serving the needs of students, Education as a career presented an opportunity to assist fellow educators become more efficient in their respective disciplines through various Professional Development sessions I was able to facilitate; Science Ideas that Motivate, Social Media in the Classroom, Web 2.0 Services for Educators, and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). To top this all off lets go ahead and add in a Masters in Educational Administration degree and that my teacher evaluation holds me as a “Distinguished Educator” as measured by the diagnostic tool for my State.

I share all of this with you not to brag, but rather set the context for the remainder of this post so you may know that what is shared from this point forward is not from a jaded, do nothing, leech on the system individual just biding my time until tenure. I am not a teacher who was only in education for the “summers-off”.

Where to begin…?

Wages – I make less now then I did 6 years ago and have not received a raise in that same amount of time. Sorry, one caveat to that as there was a 1% raise that was accompanied by a 2% increase in Social Security deductions.  This reflects the statistic that being ranked 46th in teacher pay with the average NC teacher making $10,000 less then their cohorts in other states.

But wait, “teaching is not about the money!” and you’re right IT’S NOT!

Parents – Yes, parents can be stressful at times but when one takes into consideration that a parent’s most important job is to ensure the success of their child, one can appreciate the vigorous approach parents take towards education.

Students – No complaints here about the students. Yes, a few tend to annoy a person, but to complain about this a person would have to be a total jerk. They’re kids; get over yourself. I have had amazing students who provided constant checks and balances of ego, kept me up to date on the lingo/music/movies/dress etc… I will miss our daily interactions and professional dynamic the most.

Colleagues – Those with whom I work on a day to day basis have been some of the most innovative, respectful, caring, dedicated individuals I have ever met and tears will be shed for this loss. If you have a moment give the Lunch Crew a read and you’ll know what I mean.

What, then? What can be left…?

Leadership – Well, we have finally arrived to the heart of this post.

Bossvsleader

http://www.lolwall.co/lol/264722

During the past four years the leadership that governed my day to day existence was one of a Leader, not that of a Boss (see above image for clarification). Now, we all have issues or disagreements in one area or another with coworkers and Leaders; there are people few and far between that may agree 100% with our thoughts and pedagogy, and that’s okay; we all should not think the same. I had freedom to create, innovate, expand, and push the limits of creativity in the classroom.  Because of this freedom and trust, I was willing to accept those things I didn’t agree with, and any discontent was marginalized through this filter of reciprocity.

If trust in the teachers is removed, innovation will be stifled. If the creative freedoms of educators are actively suppressed, the climate of engagement at a school will drastically change. The preceding examples correspond with a Boss mentality:

 Do as I say not as I do. Do it because I said so. I don’t have to explain my actions. Loyalty that is to rise but seldom does it trickle down and pleasantries are feigned only when a specialized skill set service is required and arbitrary decisions of restructuring are implemented.

All of the above qualifications are symptoms rather than the sickness. That which is lacking, the true sickness, is that of a mission, vision, purpose, focus; what is lacking, to bring it all under one concise term, is a Philosophy.

In a profession like education there are two distinct sides to the profession: instructional and administrative. Although in the past I may have vehemently disagreed with my next comment, I have come to see some truth in it. An Administrator is better off having classroom experience. The obvious caveat to this is in respect to those duties that tend to focus solely on the business side of education, those duties being strictly administrative in scope. However; when instruction and the overall vision of the school is at stake having a background in the classroom is essential. It is always quite apparent when a Boss lacks an Educational Philosophy because lacking, too, are viable explanations for decisions perpetrated on their staff.

It is really easy to create an environment where teachers feel undervalued, under-appreciated, underpaid, and under the bus: when teachers are met with over-zealous, over-reaching,  overt retributive actions by a Boss. I know; I’ve lived it and seen others around me drown in it as well. A Boss can count for only so long on the philanthropic nature of the classroom teacher until the stark malevolent reality must be addressed.

So what do teachers do in this situation? THEY LEAVE. A teacher may choose to transfer to a new school or they may even leave education altogether. Teachers with any years of experience know that, at heart, there is little deviation between school aged children of similar socio-economic status regardless of City, State, and yes even Country and having taught in another country I know this to be true.

I know what you’re all wondering, and the answer is YES, I too have now left Education after defining myself as an Educator for thirteen years. For me, it is about Leadership. It is about seeing the same traits in administrative Bosses time and time again and realizing that no matter how I could try to shoe horn myself into a Boss role, my philosophy will never match the foot print. Boundaries are self imposed limits to which one can choose to duck under the orange safety ribbon and abound in the pleasantry of freedom and innovation afforded by such an act. Or one could choose not to transcend into an unknown and stay on the beaten path or beaten on the path.

I choose to duck under that ribbon and I cannot wait to see what awaits. How about you?

The following are related articles and content that I just did not have the ability to address in this post. Please take the time to read what these Educators had to say about their experiences:

A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher

Teacher’s resignation letter: ‘My profession … no longer exists’

A letter from a disgusted teacher: I QUIT

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Reciprocity

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

This is entry 3 in a series. If you would like to read the preceding posts in the series follow the links: I did what now?! and Compliance

Simply said: I do for you and you do for me. On the surface one may feel that the only reason why someone would act within the guide of reciprocity is the expectation of return action. Reciprocity goes much deeper than that. Give and take elements govern the majority of our relationships whether or not you may recognize the subtle exchanges that take place. Exchanges can range from; an emotional fulfillment from a caring friend, assisting in moving, sharing responsibilities, assisting in the completion of errands/tasks, intellectual support and the like.

Although many of the exchanges listed may lend themselves in retrospection, to our more personal relationships they are present in our work life. Ever have a coworker ask for your help in completing a task? Reading over their report? Making those last few copies? Covering for them (insert reason here)? Recovering that lost document? These, along with a myriad of examples bouncing around in your thoughts, are reciprocal actions. We help because we know that at some point we are going to need help.

No man is an Isand, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the belltolls; It tolls for thee.

– A famous line from “Meditation XVII,” by the English poet John Donne

 

If, as individuals, we could handle all that is placed upon us there would never have been ingrained in humanity the division of labor and communal living that has led to our survival as a species. This holds true for the workplace as well. As a community in the workplace we rely on one another’s assistance in both task completion and emotional wellbeing. Harm to either one of these safeties will have far reaching effects. As I discussed in Compliance the repercussions can run deep through an institution where reciprocity is replaced by demand.

 

So what needs to happen?

Be nice!

Communication before action.

Allocate resources to ensure success.

Always help those who need you.

Don’t act with the sole intention of reciprocal action.

Be nice! oh wait did I mention that?

Set personal agendas aside and do what is best in the situation that will have positive long lasting effects (if you don’t know the best course of action then talk with your cohorts).

Realize that people have sought you out because they think you are capable of helping them. Help them!

Make sure that within whatever role you play that you have afforded those you work with every possible opportunity for success.

Lastly… BE NICE! (I guess we just cannot get away from that one).

Compliance

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Every role places us into an environment of expectations. Job, family, community, and to each of these a specific set of governing rules. In particular I d like to focus on the job and embedded expectation that accompany any workplace.
From a management perspective Compliance in the workplace may be leveraged in several ways; Investment by an employee in the total scope and purpose of the company, positive incentives such as monitary gains as interwoven in benchmarks and successful project completions, or the altruistic sense in assureing the success of your clients and the long term relationship gained. Knowing that the preceding list is far from comprehensive, all that I have mentioned is on the good side of compliance. Good as qualified by those actions that connect to a higher purpose in work and serving the needs of the client.
Now wouldn’t it be nice if we could end there and be happy? If only work life was so rose colored. Alas we too must delve into the mier of compliance as dictated by negative incentives; authoritarianism, threats, personal retributions, the arbitray restructuring of focus and support, and generated instability within the work force.
It is my hope that from those of you who read this post your day to day work life motivation is derived from the list of positives rather than being under the heavy weight of negative disincentives. However, for those fall prey to the latter, the rest of this post is for you…
“DO IT BECAUSE I SAID SO!” A simple utterance posited to nearly every child throughout history in an attempt to gain compliance from a parent. Well, I am not a child!
I am an adult with 13 years of experience in my discipline and have a track record of commitment, creativity, conscience and consultation (along with a little alliteration) to best achieve desired out comes. So why is it that I feel like a child when demands are levied upon me in the fashion of: “Do this, NOW!”
Personality defaults aside we all react in the same way when a higher up levies a demand in this manner and although some of you may be better at hiding your disdain at the time, the fumes of discontent eventually rise engulfing your demeanor and seep into the fibers of your being. As we sit in this fog of frustration along with the recollection of events playing back an ever present “who do they think they are?” Resounds and each echo carrying with it the expectation of respect and the violation held in the exchange.
What to do? Some will continue on doing their job with little to no affect, others may seek an alternative place of employment and others may subtly undermine the system though various forms of malfesient. However something worse may take hold; they just might meet expectations rather than exceeding as they once may have done. This last response, although sounding quite miniscule in retaliation, actually caries with it the most subtle and far reaching act of retribution in non compliance then those preceding it as optioned. I say this as not only has the individual made a conscience choice in opposition to the individual who is at the core of the disrespectful action but too those in proximity and that may request of the individual an extension into action that was once customary. The loss can be compounded depending on the size of the social leverage the new dissident carries as they may inspire others to inaction and a slow down of productivity.
Imagine all of this from an ill formed heiracically based command demanding conformity of action resulting in grotesque obsolescence of employee engagement when there are many other more positive ways to leverage action within the workplace.

Stay tuned for leveraging via resiprosity

I did what now?!

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

On leading…

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are numerous articles and texts that a person can read that may provide guidance in developing leadership skills, unfortunately, this is not one. Rather this is an anecdote illustrating the impact of lacking such skills.

Throughout education training and classroom management skills development, the concept of treating those who enter your classroom as individuals with unique experience and thoughts to share is touted quite vehemently. Support their learning and encourage each individual and success will be achieved, easy enough right? Well, how about this situation? For those teachers out there reading this I would bet a month’s wage, just think you can get yourself a tank of gas and maybe a coke, that you have had this experience… A student is in proximity to other students who are misbehaving. Not fully knowing the breadth of the situation you pull the group together and reprimand them all guilty and not. You may have achieved your desired goal of setting those misbehaving students back on their academic course, however; are you aware of the unintended consequences of your actions?

Through your actions you have created a new dissident among your ranks. That one non guilty student whose guilt lies only in proximity to the event now sees their experience lined with distrust and Machiavellian actions governing their environment. Is there any way to reconcile these new found understandings dwelling within this student? Maybe, however; at its core there is no way to repair the damage done within the relationship. To be wrongly accused of an action and to receive no conciliatory acknowledgement has to be one of the most disengaging acts held between two people. Damaged as it may be a person well aware of the situational power dynamics that govern actions in hierarchical relationships realize that the outcome in action can be narrowed to only one end course of action, Compliance.

To be continued…

Keep an eye out for the upcoming posts:

On Compliance and On Reciprocity 

 

Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking when Stakes are High

Monday, June 4th, 2012

“Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking when Stakes are High” by Kerry Patterson delves into a world of high stakes conversations bringing to the readers attention assumptions and narratives that often drive not only our engagement into situations but also our reactions within situations.
A conversation tips into the crucial when two or more people are engaged in high stake, opinionated and emotionally taxing conversation. According to Patterson people respond to these critical situations in one of three ways: avoidance, face the issue and handle it poorly, or face the issue and handle it well. Throughout the remainder of the post I will discuss influences, areas of focus and ways to combat our hardwired reactions.
One of the first steps in reducing the negative impact crucial conversations can have on our relationships is create a shared understanding of the context definition rooted in the act of conversation… dialogue. Patterson defines dialogue as the free flow meaning between two or more individuals (Patterson, p.44) and within this dialogue there lies the potential for conflict. More often than not people tend to avoid stressful conversations, however; no solutions nor growth can be derived from a lack of conversation. In chapter 3 Patterson posits that individuals who excel during high stakes conversations are those who start with heart (Patterson, p.54). Starting with heart requires an individual to be self reflective and examine the motivations they bring to the conversation as they work to remain focused on the facts of the conversation no matter the emerging increases to stress levels. Within this reflection and focused approach participants in the conversation must stay clear from making a suckers choice (Patterson, p. 54).

A Suckers Choice is a limitation of action as imposed upon by the individual narrowing one’s thoughts to winning or losing, or the either or choice. In order to avoid the suckers choice one must clarify what one wants and does not want to be able to find the pathway back to dialogue. More often than not individuals make a suckers choice when a quick easy descison with high emotional connections is made. When all parties needs are not taken into consideration the intellectual and emotional safety of the participants is compromised. If during a conversation a person believes their safety has been compromised their reactions may manifest in several ways with the first being silence. “Silence consists of any act to purposefully withhold information from the pool of meaning. It’s almost always done as a means of avoiding potential problems, and it always restricts the flow of meaning” (Patterson p. 75). The second tactic a person may employ is masking. “Masking consists of understating or selectively showing our true opinions” (Patterson p. 75). Masking can be delivered via sarcasm, sugarcoating or couching. Thirdly a person may simply avoid the situation or other party altogether thereby never having to address the issue. Finally a person may opt out of the conversation and exit the conversation or the room itself.

One can see that feelings of safety are essential to discussions, however; as safety is compromised and people move to silence others are compelled to cognitive violence. “Violence consists of any verbal strategy that attempts to convince, control, or compel others to your point of view. It violates safety by trying to force meaning into the pool” (Patterson p. 77). Individuals may engage in conversational violence via actions of controlling the tempo and flow of the conversation, labelling the other party as a means of dismissal, or a person will approach others by attacking with the intent to belittle and/or threaten the other person into agreement.

Becoming a vigilant self-monitor is key to breaking the silence or violence reaction in crucial conversations. Individuals are pre loaded with emotional reactions and unless one takes the time to reflect on what triggers this default reaction one may never be able to restructure their response. Pausing during the conversation and taking a moment to be aware of one’s emotional state is essential as it can allow a person time to refocus and scan the conversation for mutual purpose in an attempt to further dialogue. Mutual purpose is simply the common goal of all parties involved and the investment they carry into the outcome of the decision. Through sharing a mutual purpose tension in dialogue may be reduced as all parties are invested in success. While engaged in establishing or reestablishing mutual purpose one should always make sure that the other party knows that their concerns are being acknowledged and no hidden motives underlie the decision. Patterson suggests employing the CRIB strategy: Commit to seek mutual purpose, Recognize the purpose behind the strategy, Invent a mutual purpose if one is not currently present in the dialogue, and Brainstorm new strategies.

Patterson also suggests to utilize in concurrence with CRIB a listening strategy of Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, and Prime or AMPP to ensure individuals stories, a person’s narrative which drives their reactions, do not break down dialogue. When individuals Ask they should be looking to see if they understand the context of the other person as it has been presented as this is where mirroring comes in to help a person truly understand the other’s point of view or concern. As a means to further the dialogue within the mutual purpose framework paraphrasing is essential as it allows for the generation of continuity in the conversation. Finally with all other connectivity elements in place it is time to prime the conversation with mutual purpose as an endpoint to achieve the shared goal of all parties.

It is also important to establish clear decision making policies. Patterson cites four ways decisions can be made: command, consult, vote and consensus. All of these pathways reflect the level of involvement of parties connected to the issue or concern in discussion. Each of the decision making approaches carry with them benefits and detriments to the decision making process. It is important to choose which individual or combination of approaches best suits the situation. Command in decision making reflects the least amount of contribution from third party stakeholders and has its place in the deployment of initiative or problem solving. One must take into account the greater the pool of contributions via consultation or voting the longer the decision making process may take and comprises from both sides are an essential element. Consensus contains the most involved dynamics in crucial conversation. Consensus is going to be more laborious in time dedicated to sharing concerns and establishing mutual purpose and the possibility that this in turn may generate more crucial conversations is an element to be aware of.

We all have the ability to keep our emotions in check when stakes are high and chemicals start to run our thoughts as it takes effort and commitment to understanding roles, purpose, expected outcomes and group dynamics that work in times of easier decisions and especially during more difficult decision events. Always remember you have the ability to effect any discussion in a positive way and help stakeholders reach mutually beneficial results.

Educational Leadership

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

“Leadership is changing and approaches focusing on flexibility, collaboration, crossing boundaries and collective leadership are expected to become a high priority.” (Martin, 2007 p.3) Leadership is a complicated and multi-layered process which involves various approaches to problem solving and facilitation ensuring school success. School leadership is continually evolving to meet the changing needs of school clients and community members as various influencing factors work to alter the school leadership landscape. Throughout the following paper I am going to explore effective leadership practices including my results from the Connecticut State School Board educational leadership profile questionnaire.

Effective leadership practices are based on best practices and backed by real world studies as to their effects on school communities and school climate. Also mixed into various educational leadership approaches are the personalities and value structures of the leaders themselves. In discussing these issues I am utilizing the following five leadership assets as covered by Steve Fortier in his article “Community Leadership: Inside and Out”. First leadership must have purpose as “the leadership challenge is to create unity of purpose amongst diversity and to expand the leadership capacity in the network.” (Payne, 2005 p. 5) Purpose is then used to frame the context of decision making and goal setting for a school through providing boundaries within its structure as to not take on too many school based initiatives and burn oneself out. As Fink and Hargraves state, “leadership that drains its leaders dry is not leadership that will last. Unless reformers and policy-makers care for leaders’ personal and professional selves, they will engineer short-term gains only by mortgaging the entire future of leadership.” (Fink & Hargraves, 2003 p. 8) As a leaders purpose will drive decision making a clarity of purpose is key in solidifying values as well. Leadership values along with a sense of purpose can guide authentic leadership practices as developed through being a reflective practicioner. As leaders we need to close the gap between idealistic notions of utopian school settings and realistic effective school practices. “Collaboration, listening, empowerment, shared leadership, inclusively and democracy are a few values that, when acted upon, build community.” (Fortier, 1999 p. 2) Ultimately the larger community context in which the school should be an integral part of is the goal of administrative staff.

Neither of the above mentioned leadership attributes can provide direction if not advanced through leadership talents. Leadership talents are directly connected to ones leadership values and personality traits. An important aspect of talent is being able to discover or inspire a leadership want in others as “doing so creates what [Fortier] call a communiteam–a high-performing team at a community level.” (Fortier, 1999 p. 2) A major influence on leadership talents comes from leaders connecting with resources found both on site and within the community. Effective leaders must tap into all available community resources from traditional to non-traditional and should take into consideration the interests of stakeholders and community members as to leverage their engagement but not exclude the interests of those parties during decision-making.

As a final combination of leadership attributes Fortier brings all the elements together in leadership Vision. Even with all the above factors of leadership running concurrently all elements need to coalesce into a single leadership vision. The vision must combine a variance of approaches and perspective to be successful and leaders need to examine the past to discern where they want to be in the future in order to plan for today.

As stated earlier a leadership style is as varied as the leader and the individual perceptions the leader holds as values. Although every leadership situation carries with it its own unique set of issues a leader must attend to in order to achieve progress and success, there are three factors that influence a leadership situation. One need also to pay regard to the subtle nuances within each respective setting acknowledging the uniqueness of each situation. In the article “Leadership Styles” three factors that influence which leadership style used the following three factors are discussed as having influence on leadership: 1. The manager’s personal background: What personality, knowledge, values, ethics, and experiences does the manager have. What does he or she think will work? 2. Staff being supervised: Staff individuals with different personalities and backgrounds; The leadership style used will vary depending upon the individual staff and what he or she will respond to best 3. The organization: The traditions, values, philosophy, and concerns of the organization influence how a manager acts. With consideration to the above three factors I completed the Connecticut State School Board self assessment on educational leadership examining through reflection my personal influences, strengths and areas of improvement.

The Connecticut State School Board in collaboration with the Secretary of the State composed an “Educational Leadership Self inventory” which allows educational leaders to check her or his leadership style against a principals effectiveness graph (refer to appendix A for graph results). The twelve areas measured are: 1. The educated person. 2. The learning process. 3.  The teaching process. 4. Diverse perspectives. 5. School goals. 6. School culture. 7. School standards and assessment 8. School improvement. 9. Professional development. 10. Integration of staff evaluations, professional evaluation and school improvement. 11. Organization, resource, and school policies, and 12. School community relations. Once completed I reflected on the results of my scores with comparison to the Leadership Profile provided at the end of the questionnaire. My profile indicated the three areas of relative strength with consideration of the 12 standards are: 1. The educated person with a mean score of 3.29/4. 2. The learning process with a mean score of 3.4/4 and 3. School culture with the highest mean score of 3.5/4. On the low end of my educational profile with consideration of the 12 standards were the following: 1. Integration of staff evaluations, professional development and school improvement with a mean score of 2.4/4 2. Organization, resource and school policies with a mean score of 2.43/4 and 3. Diverse perspective with a mean score of 2.5/4. There are certain elements of the questionnaire that cannot be achieved by the classroom teacher and consideration to those standards was given as the survey was completed.

What do these scores mean for my leadership profile? Examining first the higher scoring standards the profile generated has my leadership style focused on the development of purpose, providing real time dialogue regarding the school mission and focuses on the development of a shared vision including fostering a climate of openness, mutual respect, support and inquiry. My profile also scored well in the area of staying current with research and theory, encouraging students to assume responsibilities and higher level skill development. The last of the higher mean scores focus’ on modelling and mentor-ship where the key indicators highlight positive working relationships with staff, students, and community members. This all works to keep the schools vision in the forefront of being a part of a learning community.

Areas on the Educational leadership survey where my mean scores were the lowest focused around staff development and staff evaluation. Based on these results I will focus on developing proficiency in the following leadership abilities once in a position where it is my responsibility to evaluate staff. As part of the profile where my mean score was the lowest was in regards to staff evaluation and professional development I take into consideration this score was low due to my role as a classroom teacher in which I am limited in my responsibilities of staff evaluation requirements.  Also the other areas in which low mean scores occurred where whole staff development opportunities should exist and was as various policy and school based decisions where classroom teachers are not normally involved in such matters. As a result I am not discouraged by the low mean scores in these areas but see them as areas in which to be cognizant once in a leadership position where the standards are within my ability to affect.

Once in a position of leadership I hope to take on system wide leadership roles, keep focus with moral and strategic purpose, commit to build connections and networks, better the education experience for all children, transform schools into learning communities and empower others to take on leadership roles and plan for succession. I am aware the preceding list of leadership wants highlights lofty aspirations however I believe that if we do not plan for the betterment of tomorrow we will be stuck in the permanence of today.

References

Fink, D, & Hargraves, A. (2003, December). The seven principles of sustainable leadership. Retrieved from www.marylandpublicschools.org/NR/rdonlyres/../seven_principles.pdf

Fortier, S. (1999). Community leadership: inside and out. Retrieved from www.communiteam.org/commleadership.pdf

Martin, A. (2007). The changing nature of leadership. Retrieved from www.ccl.org

Payne, G. (2005). Reshaping the landscape outward-facing leadership with a system perspective. Retrieved from networkedlearning.ncsl.org.uk/../nexus/issue-6/nexus-06-complete-issue.pdf

Spillane, J.P., Halverson, R. and Drummond, J.B. (2001). ‘Investigating school leadership practice: A distributed perspective’, Educational Researcher. 30 (3), 23-28.

 

Appendix A

Educational Leadership Profile

Results

Principals Reference

Reference

Principals Reference