Sunday, November 27, 2011

Are we ever truly alone...?

A school district of 1,000 students or a school district of 30,000 students is extremely complex. From the simplest procedures all the way to the most complex and intricate procedures, many hands are involved in every decision and ultimately help make sure the "average" school day takes place...if there is such a thing as an average school day.

Before I even wake up on a given morning there are people working to make sure the buses are safe to transport students, there are people doing repairs all throughout the district, there are people coordinating before school programs, there are people arranging subs for sick teachers, and there are people preparing food to feed our students upon arrival to school. My point is simple; as an educator I would not be able to do my job if these often "forgotten and under appreciated rockstars" were not doing their jobs. When you work for a school district it is important to remember that we are all working toward the same goal. We are here to create a safe, positive and encouraging environment, that promotes lifelong learning so as to prepare our students to be successful democratic citizens.  

So, the next time you use your empty trash can in your classroom, you enjoy the nice air conditioned or heated school in which you work, you push the "on" button on your computer and it turns on, and you teach students who arrived at school on time, please remember the people who are responsible for making this happen. A school district is a complex and delicate structure that requires the expertise of several different people to run efficiently and effectively. Be aware, be thankful, and be appreciative of those who help us do our jobs, by doing theirs...

So, in this time of the year when many of us are thankful and cheerful about what has been and what will be, please remember to recognize and appreciate those around you who help make it all possible.

Be sure to pass this message along by showing your appreciation and gratitude!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Decisions, decisions, decisions...
As an assistant principal I am required to make a lot of decisions on a daily basis. Sometimes I am provided all the necessary background information to make the proper decision, other times I am expected to make a decision with very little or limited background information. Sometimes the decision must be made immediately and there is no time to gather further background information, other times I have the opportunity to investigate and give the decision the proper time it deserves. I make a lot of decisions on a daily basis, and no matter what happens, there will always be those who agree with my decisions, and those who disagree with my decisions.

Here's what I've heard:

If everyone agrees with your decision, then it's probably not the best decision...

If everyone disagrees with your decisions, then it's definitely not the best decision...

If some agree and some disagree with your decision, then you've probably made the right decision...

Here's what I've learned:

We will never all agree on what the right decision is...NEVER

What one educator thinks is best for students isn't always what another educator thinks is best...

It's very rare to have all the proper background information and necessary time before making a decision...

Here's what I'm doing:

Trying to listen and ask a lot of questions; the more information I have the better...

Focusing on making decisions that will effect the greatest good for students and colleagues...

Accepting the reality that each decision won't be well received by everyone, nor will it be hated by everyone...

As educators we all make tons of decisions on a daily basis, and as a result we are questioned, judged and evaluated on the basis of our decisions. What's your philosophy on making decisions? What strategies do you employ when making decisions that will affect others? How do you respond to the decisions that directly affect you...especially those you might not agree with?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
The Staff
Jeff Shanley – former CEO, now head of business development, a natural networker who was effective at raising money and recruiting talent, but management was a different story.

Michele “Mikey” Bebe – head of marketing, known as a brand building genius, but the least popular person on the Decision Tech team.

Martin Gilmore – head of engineering and the designer of the Decision Tech flagship product. His lack of engagement had become an irritation to the others on the team.

Jeff Rollins (JR) – a prototypical sales person who rarely followed through on commitments.

Carlos Amador – a very engaged, thoughtful contributor. Though his customer support role was not “fully developed,” he took responsibility for product quality.

Jan Mersino – as CFO, she was a key player at DecisionTech – a company with plans to go public.

Nick Farrell – his undefined role didn’t match his impressive title – COO. Given the company’s slow start, he had little meaningful day to day work. He saw himself as the only executive on the team with the ability to take over the CEO role.

Part 1 – Underachievement

- What were the main weaknesses that Kathryn immediately noticed with her new team?  How would you describe a typical meeting at DecisionTech before Kathryn’s arrival?

- What are the characteristics and qualities of a “good” and effective meeting?  How can we make sure we have “good” and effective meetings here at our school?  

- Can you associate yourself or somebody you know with any of the characters presented thus far in the story?

Part 2 – Lighting the Fire

- Pg. 30 – Email versus face-face conversation – when is one okay and not the other?  Are you guilty of this?

- Pg. 44 – “Great teams do not hold back with one another; they are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal?”  How do we create an environment where you can voice your concern without fear of reprisal?

- Pg. 65 – “It sounds like your strength and weakness are rooted in the same things.”  Do you agree with this statement, and if so, how can we use this information to our advantage?

- Pg. 79 – Revenue, expenses, new customer acquisition, current customer satisfaction, employee retention, market awareness, product quality were listed as the team’s “scoreboard.”  Is this applicable to education?  How often should we check the “scoreboard?”  Daily, monthly, biannually, annually……?

- Pg. 81 – “Your department cannot be doing well because the company is failing and if the company is failing then we are all failing and there is no way that we can justify the performance of our own department.”  Is this true in education?  Is this true at our school?

- Pg. 84 – “Could you start saying us and we instead of you?”

- Pg. 92 – “It’s the lack of conflict that’s a problem.”  Do we have conflict in our staff meetings?  PLC?

- Pg. 95 – “They just need to be heard, and to know that their input was considered and responded to.” Are your opinions and ideas heard?  How do we establish an open arena to discuss our ideas at our school?

Part 3 – Heavy Lifting

- Pg. 137 – “When a company (school) has a collection of good managers (teachers) who don’t act like a team, it can create a dilemma for them, and for the company (school).”  Do we have this at our school? In your department?

- Pg. 153-159 – What did you think about Mikey’s departure from DecisionTech?  How do we deal with somebody who is obviously good at their job, but detracts from the overall effectiveness of the team?

Part 4 – Traction

- Pg. 175 – At one of the last off-site visits Nick proclaimed that the biggest issue that needed to be addressed was the avoidance of accountability, which ultimately leads to low standards.  How do we prevent avoidance of accountability at our school?  Within our departments?  Within our classrooms? 

- How can we hold our colleagues more accountable without creating conflict?  Is it our job to hold our colleagues accountable?  If we are creating conflict for the betterment of the school is the conflict justified?

- What is your reaction to the idea that the larger the unit, the smaller the leadership team needs to be?  Do we have small leadership teams at our school?  Are these small leadership teams more effective than one overlapping leadership team?  Why or why not and how?

Do you see yourself as any of the characters presented in this book?  Can you still contribute to the success of your team even if you posses less than stellar team qualities? 

- What specific skills and strengths did Kathryn possess in developing the leadership team at DecisionTech?

- How do we develop the skills and strengths that Kathryn demonstrated for her team?……applicable to schools?

- How and why does a book like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team continue to be on the best seller-list after 7 years of being published?

- What were your key take away points from this book and why/how are they significant in your life or work?

Do we have enough time...?

Tick tock goes the clock. Tick tock and the school day is gone. Tick tock and the decision is made and we are moving on. Tick tock and the opportunity is lost. Tick tock and we had our chance to leave an ever-lasting impact...

Time is something we can't ignore. Time is something we can't get more of. Time is the enemy we all must endure. Time can never be defeated, and how you use it makes all the difference...
Regardless of our capacity in a school or a district, time is constantly on our minds and in our sights. Time is the one thing that is for certain. We all have 24 hours in a day, and we all only get 60 minutes per hour. Deciding how we use our time is perhaps the most important decision we make on a daily basis...

- Will you spend the extra time it takes to speak with a child to find out why he/she has been struggling lately? (what will your other students be doing at this time...)

- Will you take the long way just so you can say "thank you" to that colleague who really helped you out by going the extra mile? (will you need to get up earlier than usual for this to happen...)

- Will you read the page/blog post/article that was given to you by a colleague who felt it was relevant to what you are doing? (will you still have ample time to prepare for this week's classes...)

- Will you notify the parent of a student who has shown great improvement recently? (how do you decide which parents to call and which parents not to call...)

- Will you complete all the necessary paperwork/documentation that is being requested of you? (which of your other duties will receive less time while you complete these tasks...)

- Will you put the needs and requests of others before yours? (how will you decide which requests to fulfill and which needs of yours to ignore...)

As educators we all lead busy lives and we all have more on our plates than ever before. As our responsibilities and expectations increase, the only thing that remains constant is the amount of time we have. This post is not meant to be a pity party for educators, but rather a reminder that the choices we make every day on how we utilize our time have an impact much longer than we might realize.

Every time we make the decision on what to do or which task to complete first, we are making a decision that involves time. Guard your time and prioritize your time. Focus your time on what must be done to effect the greatest good, and never take your time for granted. Most importantly, recognize that when you decide how to use your time, you are also deciding what you don't have time for.

How do you prioritize your time? How do you decide what you don't have time for? Are you willing to accept that in order for you to fully devote yourself to a set of tasks, you must also be willing to sacrifice those tasks you don't have time for...?

Do we have enough time...?