Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is Your "Stuff" Broken?

If it isn't broken, don't fix it.
(If it ain't broke, don't fix it.)

Everyone likes their "stuff" to work.  In schools, the "stuff" can be any number of things.  As a classroom teacher, your "stuff" is generally limited to the classroom itself and your lessons.  Once you move into more formal leadership roles as an administrator, the "stuff" begins to grow.  As a department chair, the "stuff" is anything related to your department's curriculum.  As a division head or assistant principal, the "stuff" may include only your division or your building.  As you move further up the chart, as a headmaster or principal, your "stuff" becomes the whole school.  A superintendent's "stuff" is the whole district.

One things about having more "stuff" is that as you get more, you still "own" the stuff you already had, but now are sharing it with more people.  Which means as you get more, you will hear from more people about your "stuff."

As we get more "stuff" it becomes even more important that it work properly.  For many, working properly means not having any problems.  The challenge is often that you may be too close to the "stuff" to notice any problems.  This is why feedback is so powerful. 

So, at what point should you begin thinking that some of your "stuff" may be "broken?"  When should you at least start looking at a practice, event, lesson, text book, activity, venue, etc. with a more critical eye?  How do you know that something may not be working as well as you think it is working, especially if you are very close to that particular piece of "stuff?"

It is useful to have a filter system for such issues.  A filter system is helpful in separating the truly useful feedback from the gossip-type negativity.  The filter identifies constructive criticism from venting and complaining.

I use the "rule of 3" as my filter.  The "rule of 3" is very simple.  If I hear it from 3 people, the issue is probably valid and needs to be examined in more depth.

For example:
You have an annual event at the same venue each year.  You have had a good experience with the venue and like the SOP (standard operating procedure) for this particular piece of your "stuff" works - or at least appears to.
In the planning sessions leading up to the event, a few people ask about moving the event to a new venue.  You are perplexed as you haven't heard any complaints and wonder why anyone would suggest a move. 
 Use your filter.
If three people mention it, you may need to begin asking questions about why they feel the venue should be re-examined.  Maybe you are too close to notice some issues others are beginning to notice.  Its time to put on your problem solver hat and listen.
Most of the time, I hope, the "stuff" works well.  There are times when it doesn't, it is obvious, and our filter can be used another day. 

On the other hand, educators also have a tendency to get very involved in their "stuff."  That is a good thing.  Therefore, being aware of when the "stuff" needs some attention may help prevent a bigger problem later. 
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