Monday, October 31, 2011

Independent Schools And Job Satisfaction: Reports Suggest Difference With Other Nonprofits

A recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy highlights the findings from two reports concerning a rise in job dissatisfaction among nonprofit employees.

Among the findings:
  • 70% of those surveyed said their work was either disappointing or somewhat fulfilling.
  • 25% said they were considering looking for a job outside of the nonprofit arena.
  • 40% said that the factors they ranked as most essential are not on display at their nonprofits:—“respect, trust, and support by management” as well as a sense that their organization has “a compelling mission.”
  • About 50% said they felt recognition and reward for their hard work and outstanding performance were essential.
  • 60% of workers in Washington and 65% in New York said hard work was not valued at their organization.
  • Pay cuts that many nonprofit workers have taken may be exacting a cost in employee satisfaction: About 50% of the workers in both surveys said a salary reduction would be a reason to leave and a more important motivation for departure than a change in work expectations or job description.
Compare this current (2011) report with another report on nonprofit employee satisfaction from 2002.  It was also featured in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Among the findings in 2002:
  • 75% of respondents reported that they are at least "somewhat satisfied" with their salaries and 83% said the same about their benefits.
  • 73%  surveyed strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that it is easy to burn out in their jobs, and the same percentage strongly or somewhat agreed that they always have too much work to do.
  • 44% of nonprofit workers said their organizations do not do a good job of disciplining poor performers, although this finding compared favorably with the 53% of for-profit workers and 67% of government workers who told researchers the same thing.
What can independent school leaders take away from these reports?  As nonprofit educational institutions, are there any lessons to be learned from these reports?

That answer may not be so clear.  

A report by the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) originally published by NAIS President Pat Bassett on July 25, 2004, but updated on January 12, 2011, suggests a much different picture about job satisfaction among independent school teachers than the rest of the nonprofit world.  The NAIS report speaks of satisfaction:
Recent research on independent school teachers indicates that 84% were very satisfied with their teaching jobs and 90% planned to continue teaching, a much higher satisfaction rate that in the general working population, and significantly higher than the satisfaction levels at other kinds of schools. On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = not comfortable and 5 = very comfortable), independent school teachers in the study indicated extraordinarily high comfort levels with the subjects they teach (4.74) and the students they teach (4.73). They indicated equally high scores on various litmus-test satisfaction questions: looking forward to work each day (4.36); teaching career as having more advantages than disadvantages (4.49); becoming a teacher again if they had the chance to start all over (3.95); and having a high level of influence on designing curricula (89%).1 Whereas teacher attrition in other types of schools tends to be high, especially in the first three years, it is quite low in independent schools.
It would appear that, to paraphrase Tip O'Neill's take on politics, "all job satisfaction is local."  I also recognize that the three reports above were not using a consistent survey instrument and comparing results from such reports is not scientific.

On the other hand, if you take the reports at face value, independent school leaders create and preserve environments that respect the value of each employee, provide opportunities for teachers to carry out the mission of the school

  • Compelling missions are attractive to potential independent school teachers.  As a school leader, you  need to constantly work to help teachers take the mission from the frame on your wall and put it into action on a daily basis.
  • Teachers who are not demonstrating a commitment to your school's mission either need to be engaged and guided back to the mission or counseled off of your staff.
  • Revisiting teacher compensation needs to be a consistent part of your operations.  Examining the entire package (salary and benefits) for potential support is key.  In tough economic times, considering or reconsidering innovative means to compensate employees is important.
  • Always be looking for opportunities to recognize outstanding efforts by the faculty and staff.
  • Remember to view decisions through a symbolic frame.  Doing so adds value to generally ordinary events.  Establish, respect, and observe your school's traditions and ceremonies.
  • Work to identify your key/core operations, make sure those are properly staffed, and seek out additional support for initiatives that fall outside of those key areas.  This is a great place to nurture your volunteers to help avoid employee burnout.
  • Independent school employees, unlike some other nonprofits, work very close to their intended audience on a daily basis.  It is easier to find satisfaction with your work when you are engaging with your target audience personally.  Teachers work with students and parents every day.  An employee at a large global nonprofit may rarely (if ever) actually work with the audience the organization exists to serve.  When you see first hand how your efforts are making a difference, it is more likely to be satisfied with your work.
As with many reports, there are lessons independent schools can learn from nonacademic organizations.  There also appears to be much other nonprofits can learn from the leadership of independent schools.

  • Provide and support a compelling mission.  Engage your employees in work that matters.
  • Show and tell your employees how much you value their efforts.
  • Nurture a climate that rewards independence and innovation.
  • Work to make sure your employees have as much time working with your intended audience as possible.
  • Use tradition, ceremony, and celebrations to highlight your accomplishments and kick-off new initiatives.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Rendezvous: Week of October 24 - 30

The Sunday Rendezvous is my weekly summary of posts I wrote as well as other items I bookmarked this week.

October 24 - 30

My Posts

Other Items

Will Your School Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? A Special Halloween Post

Image source: http//
Ok, I thought I would have some fun and write a Halloween themed post.  Since it appears a zombie apocalypse is inevitable, I assume you have been preparing your school for this cataclysmic event.
No, you haven't?

Well, here are a few tips to help you and your school survive a walking dead Armageddon.

Special note before I offer a few suggestions:

It is assumed that in the search for brains, schools will be prime stalking grounds for zombies.  If your school is not developing brains enough to be considered a zombie buffet, you have other issues with which to deal.

Now for a few suggestions...

  • One of the first breakdowns during the zombie apocalypse is the breakdown of civilization and basic humanity.  At this point, your school's character development and virtues program allows your school to avoid those pitfalls and work together.
  • As the world around the school erodes, leadership is needed.  In a dramatic switch from their platform to "make this year the best year ever", your student council rallies the students to work with teachers and administrators to make decisions that will decide the survival of the campus.
  • It is likely that the zombies have already knocked out the power to many schools.  Having anticipated this, you invested in alternative methods of powering your school (solar, wind, generators, etc.) and can use them to provide electricity.
  • Since you have electricity, you  use it to power your robust Internet network and hold 24-hour vigils trying to locate other survivors and/or recruit help.
  • Weaponless, you depend on speed and agility to avoid zombie capture.  Thank goodness you decided NOT to cut additional physical education from the curriculum.
  • Remember the students who are either always tardy or find ways to avoid being found when they should be in study hall, use them to guide your groups around campus.  If you can't find them under normal circumstances, it is unlikely they will be found by zombies.
  • Needing food and water, you now recognize the value of setting up your own school garden and water purification system.  Those "green" initiatives are paying off big.
  • Once you make contact with other survivors, you set up a rendezvous to meet up.  Therefore, your fleet of buses come in handy.
  • Put up a sign at all the entrances telling everyone to have a great summer break.  Zombies are probably not checking the calendar, will think no one is on campus, and stumble on towards the next town.
Thanks for visiting.  I hope you and your family have a fun and safe Halloween.

Finding Opportunities

The difficult economic climate presents many challenges for schools and school leaders.  While tough times may cause decision paralysis in some, the more effective leaders will find the opportunities created by these challenges and act upon them.

One way school leaders, especially private and independent school leaders, can capitalize on lean times is to critically examine their schools, identify the core elements that speak loudest to your mission, and refocus operations on maintaining those programs while working to improve current programs that are less "mission obvious."

When the economy was strong, many schools, "made hay while the sun was shining."  The resulting growth likely added programs, people, and infrastructure at an unprecedented pace.  Now that growth has most likely slowed (or stopped), school leaders can catch their collective breaths and use this time wisely.  Examining your school and its operations to find hidden opportunities can help differentiate your school from competitors and strengthen the ethos of your school.

It may have a touch of Darwinism involved, but the schools that use this time wisely to strengthen their ethos and work to offer mission-focused programs will have an advantage when times begin to turn around.  The resulting focus will help you identify your top priorities and put your school in great shape to act quickly, decisively, and effectively when the sun shines again. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Embracing Frustration

Image found at
Talk to any teacher and you will find a diverse assortment of adjectives they use to describe their work.  Among those terms, you are likely to hear "frustrating" used at some point.  For some, frustration is among the more negative (or at least less welcomed) aspects of teaching.  On the other hand, your frustration may also indicate an important part of good teaching: you care.

Consider a few scenarios.  In each, frustration (at least some degree of it) emerges.  For each, examine the situation by asking these questions:

  • At whom is the teacher's frustration directed?
  • Why is it directed there?
  • What can the frustrated person do to relieve frustration?

Scenario 1:  An "A" student receives a "C" on his exam.
Scenario 2:  You are experiencing technical issues when trying to set up a presentation.
Scenario 3:  Standardized test scores for the year are not as good as you had hoped.
Scenario 4:  Your colleagues fail to embrace your idea for a innovative curriculum change.
Scenario 5:  Your lawn is not as green as your neighbor's.

As you reflected on these 5 scenarios, many reasons for the frustration may have come to mind.  In scenarios 1-4, hopefully the fact that the outcome mattered to you was a major component to that frustration.  Congratulations!  You care.

Number 5 may frustrate you, and that is fine, but I included it to highlight how things that we really don't care about normally do not frustrate us (and maybe I'm revealing a little about my yard - or my neighbor's!).

Now, what will you do to relieve the frustration?  

Do you give up on the idea?  Do you adjust your expectations?  Do you enlist the help of others?  Do you push on in the same way and hope for better results?

Consider this.

If you give up, did it really matter?  How important was that outcome?  Maybe you now realize that your impact on that item is not as direct as you thought.  Remember the Serenity Prayer: 

God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 

Following the same course and hoping for better results may add to your frustration, but it will likely be frustration directed at other things masking as the results.  Remember Einstein's definition of insanity: 

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Your best course of action may be to enlist the support of others, reflect on your goals and action plans, and make appropriate adjustments.  Once you do so, it is sometimes a good sign to realize that what your efforts were misplaced and are best directed in a slightly different direction.

If you care, you will experience frustration.  Learn from it and move forward having earned the benefits of focused, passion-driven effort.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Now on Google+

For those with any interest in my professional work, I have joined Google+.  As I am just now trying it out, I would appreciate any feedback or suggestions as to how best leverage Google+ to share my work, develop my professional network, and continue to learn from all of you.

I think you can find me by doing a Google+ search for Troy Roddy.  As I find a link to my profile, I will post that also.

Thank you in advance for any suggestions.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

School Leadership Maxims

School Leadership Maxims
As a school leader, you constantly make decisions that have an impact on the operation of your school.  Over time, you may notice a set of guiding principles emerge.  These constitute your school leadership maxims.  Your school leadership maxims emerge from the combination of many factors; among which the most influential are your beliefs, experiences, vision, and mission.


More than just statements, beliefs must represent conditions of willingness to take action.  Beliefs are only as powerful as they are accepted as true.  Whether based on current research or personal observation, what you believe about school leadership should have a significant impact on your actions as a school leader.


Eventually, we come to understand what works for us and what doesn't by experience.  As one of my professors told us, "There is no substitute for on-the-job training."  Experiences shape our maxims as we encounter new variables to apply our decision making.  The foundations we used for good decisions that had positive outcomes are more likely to be repeated than the principles used to make bad decisions with poor outcomes.


Your vision is your statement of a preferred future.  If all things were operating at their optimal level, what would it "look like?"  Of all the hallmarks of effective leadership, having vision and compelling others to share that vision is among the most widely accepted characteristics.  Your vision describes where you are going, what each person's role is in getting there, and what outcomes are expected as a result.


Your school may have a mission statement which guides its overall operational goals.  For organizations, missions are important if they can translate into actions.  Effective schools often have clearly aligned missions and operations.  If those two are not in sync, confusion and ambiguity is often present.

On an individual level, mission is often overlooked in terms of its impact on leadership.  While school leaders more often ask, "What is our purpose?" or "Why do we exist?" in the context of the school as a whole, it is less likely that school leaders ask themselves those same questions.  Having a clear sense of your personal mission is a powerful component to the development of your maxims.  Strong beliefs, a compelling vision, and quality experiences are certainly important, but adding a clear sense of personal mission into the formula helps maintain focus and keeps your efforts meaningful.

Examples of School Leadership Maxims

One of the aspects of developing leadership maxims is that you can always add to them as you refine and revisit the factors listed above.  Below, I include some of my own school leadership maxims to serve as examples.

As always, you are welcome to share your own by leaving a comment.

Dr. Troy P. Roddy's School Leadership Maxims

  • Nothing school related is more important than the student standing in front of you.
  • When in doubt, the student comes first.
  • School policy is not intended to serve "the exception to the rule."  If it did, the exception wouldn't exist.
  • Working harder is not the same as doing more work.
  • If choosing between working harder and working smarter, work smarter.
  • If it is important to say, it will still be important in a few seconds.
  • Be better, daily.
  • Information serves individuals, sharing information creates knowledge, knowledge influences your future.
  • The primary function of the schedule is to support learning.
  • In all things, recognize effort and growth.
  • There is no teaching if there is no learning.
  • Everything learned was also taught, but the "teacher" need not always be a person.
  • Meaningful learning happens when content mastery meets skill building.
  • If you do not invest in understanding your team, you cannot serve their needs.
  • The teacher who says nothing is often saying the most.
  • Never assume failure, but always ask "Why would this fail" while planning.
  • We learn from mistakes.  School are about learning.  If you cannot find areas to improve, you are mistaken - now, what did you learn?
  • We expect students to change as they grow and develop.  The same expectation should be placed upon the school.
  • Mistakes are not necessarily bad.  Not learning from them is.
  • Tradition and ceremony are powerful elements of school culture.
  • Find time to allow teachers to stay motivated.
  • Be friendly, responsive, and interactive.
  • Planning is only as valuable as you are willing to take action.
  • Begin all planning with the end in mind first.  Define your "shipping date" and work backwards.
  • Rarely does anyone complain about too much communication.
Additional information about leadership maxims

Recently, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote an interesting blog post in which she writes about the process she used to articulate her leadership maxims.  If you haven't reflected on your maxims, her post may help jump-start your thinking.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday Rendezvous: Week of October 17 - 23, 2011

The Sunday Rendezvous is my weekly summary of posts I wrote as well as other items I bookmarked this week.

October 17 - 23, 2011

My posts

I wrote three posts this week.

The first, Commitment or Condition?, suggests that if you have conditions placed on whether or not you actually follow through on a plan, then you are likely not really committed to that plan.

In the second, I speak of a Difference Between Good and Bad Ideas.

Finally, I finished my three-part series on leading changes in schools by exploring how to Overcome Faith-Based Beliefs (note to readers:  I'm NOT referring to religious or spiritual beliefs).

Other items of interest

Independent School Management (ISM) produces some very good free .pdf documents.  It is worth giving a look through.

Student Assessment services has an interesting student survey that measures middle and upper school students' school readiness.

Nice blog post by UCEA about school leadership.

Daniel Pink reviewed a book on how to find great talent, The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Anyone Else.  I'm putting this one on my reading list.

If you are not reading John Kotter's posts on, you should be.  It is always a nice read.  This one, invites you to take part in the Seize Your Big Opportunity contest.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Leading Changes: Overcoming Faith-Based Beliefs

This is the third part of a series of posts in which I offer some suggestions to school leaders about leading changes in schools.  In the first part, I described a major challenge of leading change as overcoming previous beliefs.  I went on to suggest that beliefs are built upon two general platforms: evidence and faith.  In the second part of this series, I wrote about overcoming evidence-based beliefs.  In this post, I provide some ideas about how to overcome faith-based beliefs.

The term "faith-based" is often associated with religious beliefs. For the purposes of this series, I am NOT referring to faith-based in any religious sense. In this conversation, I use the term "faith-based" to represent beliefs whose foundations are not based on any published research, experience, or observation.  Beliefs about teaching and learning that are based more on intuition, culture, and tradition would be considered faith-based.  To clarify even further, you are likely hearing a faith-based belief if the teacher to whom you are talking speaks from one of two angles:
  1. A broad stroked statement about some part of the school (intended to overwhelm the change effort) that actually has no basis in known fact.
  2. Uses, either directly or a derivative of, "We have always..."
Potential Problems With Both Angles

The problem with the broad statement is that is generally is based on an untested assumption.  You may have heard something like, "We cannot do that, our students wouldn't attend."  Did anyone ask any students?  How do you know they wouldn't attend?  Often this is a statement that masks personal preference by trying to connect one's displeasure to a large group - safety in numbers.

"We have always..." presents a similar problem.  Often, the "always" is much less time than the speaker would like you to believe.  I have been faced before with such statements.  For example, once I faced some opposition to a schedule change from 80 minute blocks to 40 minute periods for middle school students.  "We have always had 80 minutes blocks." was a frequent visitor to the conversation.  The problem was that the school had used 80 minute blocks for only 4 years - not "always."

Another potential issue with "We have always..." is that if a change effort is needed, then the "always" practice may not be delivering the results the school needs to see.  Yes, you can stick to what you have always done or you can consider an option that could make a welcomed adjustment.

Suggestions for Overcoming Faith-Based Beliefs

Call the broad statement out and put it to the test

If you are dealing with a broad, unsubstantiated claim, test it - and ask the person making the claim to be a part of the test.  Of course, you risk confirming the claim, but at least you now have confirmation - which is good for both sides.

Speak to the claim maker one on one to determine if the statement is actually a personal opinion

Some people do not like to voice their opinion publicly.  They use "everybody" as a mask for their own feelings.  Talk to them aside and see if the claim is actually a community concern or a personal one.  If community - test it.  If personal - dig deeper to find out why there is resistance.

Use facts to counter the stated myths

This requires you to do your homework.  If you have facts to counter the baseless claims, use it.  At least those who value evidence-based beliefs may begin to turn your way.  This may swing momentum in your direction and propel the idea further.

Demonstrate your own faith in the team

If you demonstrate faith in the team and use faith based claims in their ability to make the right decision, you may build credibility with the faith-based group.  Genuinely showing faith and trust in your team is always a good leadership strategy, but is will have huge pay-offs when trying to overcome faith-based beliefs.

"We should always..." and "We will always..."

When faced with "We have always..." do an exercise that asks the group to complete these two sentences: "We should always..." and "We will always..."  The answers may lead you to a strong connection to your idea.  Remember, changes are about the present and future.  "We have always..." is about the past.  The past is not inherently bad, but if you are talking about a change, then there is probably a reason.


If you followed this series from the beginning, "Thank you."  Of course, you can access the other parts using the links provided in this post.

Leading changes is tough.  In schools, it may be even tougher because school tend to take on a very personal and emotional life that other organizations do not have.  School leaders who can overcome the challenges of leading change are in a good position to maintain a culture of student achievement and innovation.

If you have any other suggestions about how to overcome resistance to change, please feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Difference Between Good and Bad Ideas

We are familiar with this story.

An average person is put through unusual trials.  Throughout these trials, the person is challenged and triumphs by virtuously employing the talents and gifts provided.  When the person emerges, a transformation has taken place and the person assumes life anew. 

We call these people heroes.

The truly great heroes are those who are repeatedly challenged and yet continue to find a way to triumph without compromising their ethics.

Ideas are similar to these people.  Good ideas survive, and often thrive or get better, by being challenged.  They emerge stronger by being put to the test.  Good ideas are heroic.

Bad ideas do not survive challenges.  They are abandoned.  They fade into oblivion only to be viewed as passing fads.

In schools, we still employ ideas that have well established roots.  They are ideas about learning that have survived the trials and challenges of time and are still considered good ideas (for example, Socratic method).  Other ideas about school may have, at one time, seemed like a good idea, but have not stood up to the test of time (corporal punishment, etc.).

Today, there are new ideas about teaching and learning being offered at an incredible rate.  The level and pace of educational innovation is very exciting.  But how many of these new ideas will pass the test and emerge over time as truly good ideas and which will fade and be looked back upon as passing fads?

Only time may tell, but I suspect that those new ideas that are most closely linked to already well established and successful practices have an advantage.

Commitment or Condition?

Commitment does not require conditions.  As a school leader, you can usually spot the difference in the language they use.  Listen for the words "if" or "but" because that normally reveals condition not commitment. 

For example:

"I would communicate better with parents IF I had more time."
"I want to be more attentive to individual needs BUT I teach too many students."

As a school leader, you seek and need commitment from your team.  One way to help move from condition to commitment is to change the "if" or "but" to "AND."  This tests commitment.  After making the change, start a follow up sentence with "Therefore..."  If the "Therefore" sentence includes a solution, you are building commitment.  If the "Therefore" sentence includes eliminating the difficult task, there is no commitment.

"I would communicate better with parents AND I do not have much time.  Therefore, I need to manage my time to schedule communication as part of my daily routine."

"I want to be more attentive to individual needs AND I am teaching plenty of students.  Therefore, I may need to have help hours after and/or before school."

If it is worth doing, it needs to be done regardless of circumstance.  The measure of commitment is finding the innovative solution that allows the important work to get done.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Rendezvous: Week of October 9 - 16, 2011

William H. Jackson depiction of one of the six rendezvous held at the Green River / Horse Creek site (1833, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40)
The Sunday Rendezvous is a post in which I bring together a number of items I either bookmarked, wrote, or found during the week.  Primarily a way for me to reflect on what I found interesting or useful this week; I also hope you find a few nuggets of wisdom in this weekly collection.

Sunday Rendezvous:  October 9 - 16, 2011

My Posts

I wrote two posts this week. 

The first was a short post suggesting 2 Questions Every School Leader Should Ask Themselves Daily.

The second was the second part of a three post series on leading changes - Leading Changes: Overcoming Evidence-Based Beliefs.

Other Items

Providing Support...

Questions to Consider Before Becoming an Instructional Coach

What Kinds of Spport Do New Principals Want?

Deconstructing "What Works" in Education Technology

I Take the Challenge

My One Piece of Paper


Friday, October 14, 2011

Leading Changes: Overcoming Evidence-Based Beliefs

In my recent post, Leading Changes: Sometimes It IS About Being Wrong, I suggested that school leaders face the challenge of allowing others the opportunity to accept that a previously held belief about teaching and learning may no longer be the right belief.  I also suggest that they foundation for those previously held beliefs (evidence or faith) are important in determining how leaders effectively work to overcome that challenge.  This post speaks of strategies to overcome evidence-based beliefs.

For the sake of this discussion, let's begin with defining what constitutes evidence.  In order for a belief to be based on evidence, there needs to exist some form of research based data.  In the context being discussed, we can accept two possible paths by which the teacher gathered the data - reading published research performed by others or self-observed results from one's own experiences.

Potential problems with evidence based on published research

Published research, while an excellent source of information, does have a few potential issues.  This is not to say that these articles are not valuable.  If you need to dig into published research, here are a few items to look for.
  • Is the research current?  Was it published in the last 10 years?  If not, there may be more current research available.  Teachers basing beliefs on old research can potentially be moved with more current research that points to your change initiative.
  • Research articles rarely prove anything.  They may suggest or move an idea further along the road to proof, but rarely does any published research "close the door" on a question.  The information in the article is one more pebble added to the mountain of knowledge gathered.
  • Does the context apply?  If you teach high school English in Louisiana, can research about how Korean lower school students learn math really apply to you?  It may, but the population and contextual differences are such that making that assumption is hard to defend. 

Potential problems with evidence based on self-observed results/experiences

Many teachers base their beliefs on self-observed results or experiences.  If you hear something along the lines of "I have been doing _ this way for years and it has worked well." then you are likely working with someone in this category.

There are two reasons why this situation should give the change leader hope.
  1. These teachers are actually paying attention to how their beliefs affect learning.
  2. If you can get these teachers to give a new belief a chance, it has a good chance of sticking.
On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that there may be a few problems associated with self-observed results and experiences.  It is rarely productive to point them out directly to the teacher (though it may need to come to that at some point).  Most often, school leaders may just need to remember these to use as context during discussions.
  • The belief had to have some origin other than experience.  Was it something the teacher experienced as a student?  Was it the advice of a mentor in the early years of teaching?  Was it something the teacher saw in a movie? 
  • The advice or experience from which the belief emerged was not right when they experienced it?  In other words, just because your mentor did it 20 years ago doesn't mean it was the better idea then.  It was simply the one you were exposed to.
  • Self-observations are often less reliable than others' observations.  This is an issue that has connections with gathering data.  Often, self-reporting is very different than observations by others.  That is why self-ratings and rating by others sometimes do not match up.  We, naturally, have an opinion of ourselves that is not always shared by those who work with us. 
Suggestions for overcoming evidence-based beliefs

Leading change in schools is difficult.  One of the most challenging obstacles to change is helping teachers understand that a previously held evidence-based belief needs redirecting.  Leaders who effectively overcome this challenge do so by:

Respecting the other person's belief

Beliefs are formed over time and are often very deeply associated with a teacher's sense of self-worth.  It is critical that you respect these beliefs and tread carefully.  There is considerable potential to gain your most ardent followers with those who initially hold beliefs that run counter to your change.  Nothing will derail your efforts to recruit these teachers to your point of view faster than disrespecting the beliefs that they have used as the foundation for their instruction.

Avoid negative judgments based on that belief

It is easy to judge someone negatively based on different beliefs.  As a school leader, you need to get past those feelings and then process them.  Instead, ask yourself this question, "What does his beliefs about teaching suggest about him as a professional?"  You may find the answer leads you to a whole new conversation; one that may establish a foundation from which to move forward. 

Listen to and seek out the evidence themselves

It is too easy to ignore or cut those with different beliefs out of the conversation.  The problem is that those are the ones you need to listen to the most.  Seek out those who hold different beliefs.  Invite them to explain how they came to those beliefs.  Ask them for a copy of the research they use as evidence (or where to find a copy).  If you show an interest in trying to understand their beliefs, you have a chance at them treating you in kind.

Use the evidence to make a new connection with the teacher

Often, once you get a conversation going, it will lead to a better understanding and a willingness to listen to suggestions.  Using the evidence as a common ground to build the relationship gives the change idea a possible non-threatening introduction.

Suggest a blending of established ways and the change effort

You can suggest that a teacher not give up his evidence-based beliefs but simply incorporate a new set of beliefs into his planning.  This is a method I have had quite a bit of success using.  The basic premise is for teachers to address the new evidence/beliefs while working from their strengths.  This method can be particularly powerful if the teacher, in the course of working on the new ideas, realizes that the evidence from which they based their established beliefs does not define their value in the school.  Rather, any evidence, whether published or self-observed, presents another opportunity for us to reflect on our practice and hold up our efforts against the backdrop of new discoveries.


Leading change efforts in schools is difficult.  Overcoming resistance in the form of evidence-based beliefs is critical if you expect your change effort to find success.  Using a few non-threatening strategies can help leaders effectively address this challenge.  Remember, resisting change is natural.  Do not take it personally if teachers are skeptical or resist your change effort.  Rather, work to understand the basis for their beliefs and provide opportunities for those beliefs to blend with the new ideas.

This post was the second in a three-part series.  Next, I will address leading changes and overcoming faith-based beliefs.  The term "faith-based" is often associated with religious beliefs.  For the purposes of this series, I am NOT referring to faith-based in any religious sense.  In this conversation, I use the term "faith-based" to represent beliefs whose foundations are not based on any published research, experience, or observation.  These are beliefs about teaching and learning that are based more on culture and tradition.

I hope you will join me for part three, Leading Changes: Overcoming Faith-Based Beliefs.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

2 Questions Every School Leader Should Ask Themselves Daily

At the end of the day, ask yourself:

  1. What did I do today to help a colleague get better?
  2. What did I do today to make myself a better leader?

No answer?  Bad day.  Take a mulligan.  Get some rest and try again tomorrow.

Got an answer?  Congratulations.  Go get some rest.  You deserve it (and you need to do it again tomorrow).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Leading Changes: Sometimes It IS About Being Wrong

Leading change is hard.  Sometimes, though, school leaders think the hard part is finding the better option.

It's not.  Using technology to connect us, finding ideas is very simple.

Some leaders believe creating an original idea is the hard part of leading change.

It is certainly more difficult than trying an idea found through your PLN, but still not insurmountable.  Besides, is your idea truly original or did you simply not do any real researching of other ideas before you began?

In my experience the hardest part is not in finding the better idea or even articulating that idea to your team.  It is the first roadblock that tests your change effort's ability to survive.  It is NOT convincing others that your idea is right.

It is:

Allowing those who were most convinced of the older way to accept that they might be wrong.

You may be saying, "Wait, it doesn't need to be about right and wrong; just different."

Ok, I accept that, but sometimes it IS about right and wrong.  Given what we are learning (and beginning to accept) about how people learn, how they are motivated, and the need to focus on essential skills as well as content, many educators are facing a major paradigm shift.  This is uncomfortable for some.

For example, try to imagine a fictitious school.  The earth was believed to be flat and that is exactly what was being taught.  All of a sudden, a new idea begins to get traction - the world is round, not flat.

Imagine the curriculum committee meetings at that school.

Should we adopt this change?  Can we phase it in over time to ease the pain?  Are their any other schools making this change successfully?  How will teaching this new idea impact enrollment?  What will our donors and trustees think?  Will we all be arrested for making such claims?

It is inevitable that all changes go through the test of challenging others' beliefs, but the basis of those beliefs can add yet another layer of complexity to the challenge.  Generally speaking, these are beliefs based on physical evidence (including valid research and data) and beliefs based on faith (those held without such evidence).

In coming posts, I will explore these two layers of leading changes:  overcoming evidence-based beliefs and overcoming faith-based beliefs.  If you have any insights into either topic, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Are You Present?

Students.  How do teachers know they are present?

Sure, you can take attendance.  How else?  I asked a few students this question.  Here is what they said.

"Teachers know I am present..."

  • when I ask good questions
  • when I give good answers
  • when I do really good work
  • when I contribute to the class

They also said:
  • when I am a distraction to the class
  • when I do not have my work done
  • when I am unprepared to participate

After reading these responses, you may notice that they fall into one of two broad categories.  Teachers know students are present when students are either:
  1. actively engaged in the class
  2. completely disengaged in the class.
Now, apply the same test to teachers.  How do your students know you are present?  How does your administrator know you are present?

Administrators, how do teachers know you are present?  How do students know you are present?

For teachers and administrators, a similar approach to engaging students, parents, and colleagues ensures your obvious and engaged presence.  Such a presence is achieved with taking a student-centered approach.  This approach includes an emphasis on building internal motivation, a focus on growth mindset, and using effective and disciplined communication strategies.  In addition, viewing your class as your cause and developing an "Open House Culture" is a clear signal to others that you are fully present and engaged.  Open House Cultures are friendly, trustworthy, reliable, responsive, and interactive.

Taking attendance may be necessary for record keeping, but noting who is truly present is necessary for establishing a learning environment.

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