January 12, 2014

I thought we decided that

Had a great conversation with some fellow administrators this weekend.  We were reflecting on how sometimes people have trouble accepting a change in practice.  While I have shared posts before on how to go about making changes in practice or procedures to create buy-in from staff, the discussion we had was geared toward what to do about staff that have not seemed to embrace the change and keep bringing it up in a negative manner.  It's funny, depending on your perspective of course, how the little things can seem to be such a large distraction to your day as a building leader.  The change in practice, one of my Tweeps shared, was a small practice that had taken place in the past, but it was one of those procedural things that shared information about student and was now easily handled through technology with the use of the Student Information System the district uses.  However, staff members were used to having this information delivered to them daily.  I know, many may say this seems to be a first world problem, but as a building leader it becomes more than that.

Technology has made our jobs easier and more efficient in many ways, but some people are still reluctant to use it, or even attempt to learn to use it.  But this post isn't about tech, it's about the reaction of staff members that did not want to change a practice that actually effects them in a minor way, if at all, and actually the information they desired was there in front of them the whole time. But this simple change in practice was continually being brought up by just a few staff members, and they wanted another staff member to go back to doing a time consuming task just so they could have it as before.

I know many administrators have faced a similar situation to this, and I know I have before as well.  It is frustrating, it's annoying, and addressing it repeatedly can be time consuming.  Nobody just says it as they walk by you in a hallway, they tend to send e-mails, take valuable time in staff meetings, or as you are working on one of the many managerial tasks that also come with the job.  While your initial thought may be to snap at them, or to look at them with a that disgusted teenager look of, "didn't we discuss this already," you really need to dig deep and keep calm. The fact the role as building leader, comes with the duty of making changes to the system to make things run smoother and ensure that everyone is working efficiently and effectively.  That of course is just one of the many duties, but it sure is important, as this one duty makes everyone better. But since this duty includes a change, then it includes changing something that may have been embraced by someone.  How do we help them see that this change is beneficial and that it can help the building as a whole?

While I am an advocate for relationships, coaching and giving time for staff to grow and change, I am also a firm believer in a strong majority and that culture can conquer many things.  I also believe that a negative attitude can be a virus that can grow to affect others. There is a difference between a little cognitive dissonance or beating up an idea to ensure that all aspects have been thought out, as compared to the practice of complaining about a change that has been implemented and some just cannot let go of.  

After a decision has been made it is time to get on board.  Don't become an anchor to the team on the ship.  I will always try to pull the anchor on board and make them part of the team, but if they refuse to accept the change, if they struggle against the team so they can go in another direction from the ship, then I will cut loose the anchor so I can find a sail.  I may be willing to help the anchor find another ship, but it certainly appears they don't want to be on ours.  This ship is moving on, because we decided that already, and I'm not wasting time going over it again.


  1. Great post, Tom. Provide a bridge so they can "get over it". Provide a straw so they can "suck it up." Provide a cup full of water and a lid so they can "shut the full cup". The decision has been made so it's time to move on.

    1. LOL!! Ha, I may need to purchase a nice picture of a Bridge to hang in my office. :-)

    2. I was thinking more of a box of straws -- for me to chew on when encountering this very situation!

  2. Tom, good stuff, as always. Appreciate you asking for my feedback and enjoyed the read. Keep pushing forward, even when the current is strong. That's when we make the biggest difference. Anyone can make the easy decision: it's the hard one, the unpopular one, the one you know you will get static from but keep pushing forward anyway because you know it's the right choice, is the one that matters most.

  3. What happens when, as the school leader, the majority of your staff believe in a practice that you disagree with? Do you let the majority rule? It is not hard to build a consensus as a boss for something that YOU want. If my boss acts me something, I used to not even question it, because they were my boss. I believe in building consensus, but sometimes bad practice is the "consensus" in schools. What do you do then?

    I think too often we want to have a conversation with a staff member that basically says, "get on the bus, or get off the bus", but I also think that we spend a lot of time trying to defend a position and why it is right, as opposed to asking questions and understand where they are coming from.

    Here is what I would try to figure out...is the person out to do what is best for kids? If that is where you are starting from, you will make more headway.

    As much as this might not be popular, I believe that sometimes you have to be a leader and sometimes you have to be a boss. If you believe that something is wrong and it is detrimental to kids (either directly or indirectly), you have to be able to make it clear why it is unacceptable. The hard part of being an administrator is knowing when to do each. If you allow the "negative virus" to take over the culture, others won't just question that person, but also your leadership.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts George. I'm always learning from you and I agree there is a balance of Loose/Tight Leadership that always needs to be considered. I'm not in it for popular, it is always about what is best for kids. When it isn't about the kids, its about the team as a whole. And yes, there are often decisions and practices that must be followed that come from a higher position than mine. Those are easy to defend and move forward with. I have been fortunate that this situation wasn't in my school (this time) but I have seen it before.

  4. Tom,

    A couple of thoughts. Reflection is imperative in these situations when staff members do not appear to be on board or in some cases, come across as negative. I can tell you from personal experience I have changed my view on this over the years. I do think it is important to remember that there are countless variables that go into why staff members do not engage or on board with a decision. If we give one the benefit of the doubt by having a one/one conversation & giving them a fair opportunity to express to us where their concern really lies, then we begin to establish a culture of how we do business. One characteristic of an effective leader is one who has the ability to listen and seek to understand where the problem truly lies. Once determined (& at times this requires a prerequisite of a trusting relationship built over time) the next step involves a leaders' ability to either influence a mindset and although this may not happen immediately, it does begin to set into place a practice where people feel valued and listened to which then leads to the beginning of a shift in practice and a standard of expectation perhaps never encountered before, especially for an organization under new leadership. Regardless, there will be times when fierce conversations are a necessity, but even then, I often feel that difficult conversations are just part of being a leader and if we approach in a way that is fair and consistent, then over time we will begin to earn trust if we are able to demonstrate over time that we are there to support. Sometimes supporting means making a decision for others. My experience is that people will accept if we communicate effectively why the change was made. The more information we can give up front (if there is an agenda, just be honest and tell people what the agenda is) and communicate why we are making a change, the more likely we will earn their respect over time. And in those few cases where a staff member does refuse to move forward, then a direct conversation is needed. However, we must remember to follow up and give them a chance (similar to students) to get back in the game. It is imperative we model what we expect of our staff on how to manage kids - at some point we need to show them we still care, move forward, and most importantly, give them an opportunity to recover ( we all have been stubborn at one time or another).

    Thanks for pushing my thinking my friend and for challenging me to reflect and think about how we lead. I know one thing....I am better because of you. Keep being great my friend! - jimmy

    1. Once again I need to thank my Mentors. I always glean ideas from you, George and Eric. You were the one who introduced me to Covey and the "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," philosophy. It has benefited me many times. The other thing that is unwavering is the belief that hangs on my wall --> "Kids First"

  5. I agree with George that the fundamental question should be "Is this what's best for kids?" Sometime the change doesn't affect kids directly, but if it's procedural as you mention above, it may mean freeing up time for someone to do what's best for kids or other ways to help kids indirectly.

    All in all, I think we must focus on the ones who ARE on board. There will always be that small percentage who don't want any kind of change, and those people won't change no matter how much we try to help them to move forward. (Easier said than done sometimes, I know. In those cases, find an admin friend to vent to.)

  6. Even what might seem the most simplest form of change us can be extremely difficult for someone else. Patience is an understated leadership quality that must not be forgotten. George hit the nail on the head, if a staff member refusing to change is having a detrimental impact on students then WE as leaders must act. However, patience combined with support, positive reinforcement, and modeling will form the foundation for sustainable change.

  7. We must always remember that the very same qualities that we look or in a well-rounded student--thinking for himself, questioning, and then developing his own opinion--shouldn't be looked down upon when it comes to faculty members. A faculty member who questions your decisions isn't necessarily toxic or even detrimental to the mission.

    Some of our ideas are the "right" way because we came up with them. One of the hardest things is to have someone question an idea that you developed.

  8. Tom, honored that you would ask for my perspective! Not knowing the full context of this issue, I will do my best to share my thinking.

    My simple belief is people will change when the benefits of it outweigh the pain of actually making the change. Change is hard, both mentally and even physically. One strategy that has helped me convey the benefits of an initiative is being concrete and visual about the rationale for the change. For example, my staff developed grade level units of study in informative writing. It required teachers to come to consensus about best practice. While I did share the research, what really made the difference was telling stories, providing metaphors, and using physical activity to evoke the passion and the "why" for the change.

    One story I shared that helped staff appreciate this type of collaboration was when a family member helped me install some light fixtures. He had the background knowledge and experience of this project, while I provided the physical labor. While there were a few minor grumblings about the process between the two of us, I could not have fathomed completing this project without him. I did note that there was already a level of trust and respect between the two of us, and that is critical when asking someone to change. Speaking with staff later, they said they appreciated these types of stories to help them understand why we were doing what we're doing, something that the research I had previously shared did not help accomplish. Sharing about myself in this way also helped them see me as a person instead of just their principal.

    If you are looking for further resources Tom, I highly recommend To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. It is a very accessible read. He makes the topic of sales very accessible to all professions, especially education. Lots of great tips are littered throughout this text. I also like Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation At a Time by Cheliotes and Reilly. Very user-friendly; you can implement their ideas right away. One final suggestion: Consider enrolling in the Connected Coaching course with Lani Ritter Hall through Powerful Learning Practice. I took it last summer and it is excellent, especially with getting staff on board with certain tech tools.

    Somewhat relate, and this may not be popular with other connected educators...I advocate for taking a day a week off from our connections. I took yesterday off, but usually my tech sabbatical is Sunday for me. No Twitter, blogging, email, and the like. When we are always in this stream of information, we forget that it is equally important to get out of the barrage of transmissions and take time to reflect. When we are connected, it can be like we never left our jobs. We can miss out on important moments that make our lives so rich if we notice them. For example, I was playing a board game with my kids last night. One of the questions was, "Which is oldest: the sun, France, or your grandmother?". My 5 y o daughter's response: "My grandmother." Ha! How sad if I had missed this because I was constantly checking my feed. (Of course, I did have to post this on Facebook so my mother could see it:)

    Good luck Tom! Let's connect if you want to continue this discussion.

  9. Tom, your posts always make me think and question my own thinking, and that is a great thing! First, to paraphrase Covey, "Someone's ideas should be as important to us as that person is to us." I think I butchered the quote, but the point is that we may not always agree with someone else's ideas, but we need to realize that they are important to that person and thus respect them as such. And I'm sure you do. And I'm sure it's tough.

    Jon Harper

    We hear a lot over the course of the day, but what we always hear loud and clear is our own voice, inside our own head, minus any filter or feedback. Nobody filters our thoughts before we have them, they just happen. One of all-time favorite quotes was from Robin Williams in "Awakenings" when he told someone, "I would agree with you if you were right." We have to be careful not to give the impression that we, or, as George pointed out above, the majority is always right.

    Having said all this, I know where you are coming from. It can very difficult when someone will not get on board with an idea or concept that we know is going to best for kids. Sometimes the only the only person that is going to change that person's mind is that person. We must also remember that that teacher is going to go back into a classroom and continue to influence chidlren for better or for worse each and every day. As mentioned by Nic above, if we want our students to continue to question the world around them we must continue to repsect those that question us and our ideas.

    Truth be told, I believe we discourage students from questioning and that is a problem. I wrote about it in a short piece I posted yesterday called, "Binky Where Are You?" As always you have provoked my thinking so thank you. And, thank you for taking the time to read my early morning ramblings.

    Continue to provoke because you helping me grow!