Monday, February 13, 2012

"Unsticking" Your Faculty Team

From time to time, you may find that your faculty team appears stuck in a daily routine that consists of them doing one task after another.  Teachers who are stuck in this cycle may be identified by looking for a few signals.

  1. lack of motivation and energy to perform tasks
  2. noticeable lack of advanced planning/thinking
  3. thinking in near future terms only
  4. when faced with a new idea, they focus on feasibility much more than desirability
  5. they appear to be all business, no pleasure
So, what can you do to help "unstick" your faculty team?

First, recognize that teachers who are focused on the daily tasks are operating mostly as concrete thinkers whose actions are guided by the question, "What do I do?"  What thinking is good for complex or unfamiliar tasks because it helps keep one focused on realistic, specific actions needed to act quickly and safely.  The problem is that this type of thinking is only productive with difficult and unfamiliar tasks which may take a long time to complete.  For tasks in which teachers are familiar, concrete thinking (what thinking) may not be the most productive type of thinking.

Second, you can begin to help shift thinking away from what and more towards why.  Why thinking is abstract thinking and abstract thinking has a number of benefits for teachers who are performing familiar tasks.

  1. can be motivating because it links actions to greater meaning
  2. guided by big picture, long-term goals
  3. less vulnerable to temptations and impulsiveness
  4. enhanced self-control
  5. more likely to plan in advance
  6. thinking is more focused on desirability
Third, if a shift in thinking is not the best strategy at the moment, then introducing a new, unfamiliar element into the work may help capitalize on the concrete thinking. For example:
  1. challenge the teachers to develop a new format for their faculty meetings
  2. examine a current program and explore new ways to leverage its value with other programs
  3. Ask each teacher to reflect on their best lesson and coach a colleague in how they planned, delivered, and followed up on that particular lesson.
Of course, there are times when concrete thinking is needed and there are times when abstract thinking is needed. The challenge is matching the circumstances to the thinking needed to move forward. It is also important to keep in mind that the faculty team is made up of a collection of individuals, each of whom may be experiencing various levels of comfort and familiarity with their work (i.e. veteran teacher vs. new teacher). As the leader, you need to also work to help align the thinking about how to accomplish one's goals with the individual's needs while maintaining a bigger picture view of the faculty as a whole.

The ideas presented here are greatly influenced by the work of Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson. Specifically, the thoughts about concrete and abstract thinking and how they apply to performing tasks and attaining goals are part of her outstanding book, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about how to set and attain appropriate goals.

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