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Do You Use Your Pause Button?

During work the other day I received an email from a colleague that really pushed my buttons. The email addressed an issue we both had disagreed about, but, I thought, had settled on an answer. The email was a passive-aggressive effort to say, “I am going to do what you ask, but I still disagree and I am just waiting to be able to say, ‘I told you, so.’” I immediately grabbed for my keyboard and typed out a less than polite email.

The email reviewed all the points of the prior discussion and in a similar passive aggressive manner, I made my point that at this time I didn’t care what he thought, we needed to move forward. My hand moved the mouse and the cursor move to the send button…and then I paused.

Today’s technology makes it so easy to respond quickly and often without thought. Hit a reply or send button and instant communication—and gratification. Is it quick always best? Of course, there are times when a quick answer is important and necessary, but there are more times when we need to take the time to think of our answers, our rationale and our tone. Every opportunity for communication is an opportunity to build relationships.

So, you hit the pause button. What next? What are some of the questions we should ask ourselves?

The first question I suggest is, “What is the end result you want to achieve? And will this response help you achieve it?” Often we lose sight of what the discussion is about, and it becomes a win-lose situation—a test of egos. We need to bring into focus our goals and keep our eye on the prize, not the conflict.

Second, “What is the reason the person is responding in such a manner? What are they getting or what do they want to get?”

Third, “Where is the common ground?” Starting from a point of agreement, increases the potential for a successful conclusion.

Fourth, “How can I address their concerns/feelings without compromising goals?

The next step is the 24 hour rule. It is rule I use whenever I am angry or upset. It is the amount of time needed to calm down, ask the above questions, and craft a response that I think will help me achieve the goal. Some suggested guidelines:

Examine the reason the person is upset, walk in their shoes, and explore how you can address their concerns—without compromising the achievement of the goals.

Use neutral and non-judgmental language—don’t make it personal and don’t take it personal.

Use this “conflict” as an opportunity to either create a new relationship or strengthen an existing one. People expect a fight. They don’t expect communication.

I used my 24 hours and the next day responded with a completely different version of my first thoughts. I didn’t back away from what had to be done, but the way I relayed my message had a different tone and a different objective. The first time I wrote to rebuke. The second response was to engage and recruit. The end result? A stronger bond. It was stronger because we experienced conflict and worked our way through it. Stronger, because rather than use power to resolve the issue we used communication.

Do you use your pause button?

Leadership: Instructional, Transformational or Both?

Leadership is a key element to any organization’ success; rather effective leadership is key. As with most such statements, that seem so simple, there is often an underlying discussion of what actually constitutes effective leadership. These discussion can be polarizing as each side or different sides explain their position. Ironically, effective leadership usually brings people together, not apart; unifies, doesn’t polarize; and draws from the best to address issues; doesn’t restrict itself to one set of skills.

There are at least two camps (or people create two camps) when it comes to school leadership: Instructional and Transformational. Instructional leaders focus creating a learning climate free of disruption, a system of teaching clear objectives, and high teacher expectations for teachers and students. Transformational leaders are tied to such actions as engaging with their teaching staff and inspiring them; creating high levels of energy and commitment; creating a sense of moral purpose; and establishing an environment in which people can collaborate together to overcome challenges and reach goals.

In Visible Learning, John Hattie identifies those instructional leadership skills that most impact student achievement (increased student achievement is the primary rubric used to evaluate schools, teachers and leadership):

“The evidence from the meta-analyses supports the power of the former over the latter in terms of the effects on student outcomes. It is school leaders who promote challenging goals, and then establish safe environments for teachers to critique, question, and support other teachers to reach these goals together that have the most effect on student outcomes. School leaders who focus on students’ achievement and instructional strategies are the most effective (Connell, 1996: Henchey, 2001; Teddie & Springfield, 1993). It is leaders who pay more attention on teaching and focused achievements domains (Hallinger & Murphy, 1986) who have the higher effects.” (Visible Learning, John Hattie, page 83) (Highlights added)

“Specific dimensions of instructional leadership that had greatest effect on student outcomes were promoting and participating in teacher learning and development (d = 0.91; planning, coordinating and evaluating teaching and the curriculum (e.g. direct involvement in the support and the evaluation of teaching through regular classroom visits and provision of formative and summative feedback to teachers, d = 0.74; strategic resourcing (aligning resource selection and allocation to priority teaching goals, d = 0.60; establishing goals and expectations (d = 0.54); and ensuring an orderly and supportive environment such as protecting time for teaching and learning by reducing external pressures and interruptions and establishing an orderly and supportive environment both inside and outside classrooms (d= 0.49). “

Hattie also shares information about transformational leadership:

“In Chin’s (2007) meta-analysis, it is not clear if instructional leadership studies were therefore excluded. For example, she defined transformational leadership as including shaping and elevating goals and abilities to achieve significant improvements. The effects on teacher job satisfaction are very high (r = 0.71) and while lower, the effects on student achievement are also high (r = 0.48).”

“Other correlates with achievement included the extent to which the principals were aware of the goals in the school that needed addressing (r = 0.66), the way they ensured that teachers were intellectually stimulated about current theories and practices (r = 0.64)., whether they were willing to actively challenge the status quo (r = 0.60), whether they monitored the effectiveness of school practices and their impact on student learning (4 = 0.56), the extent to which they communicated and operated from strong ideal and belief about schooling (r = 0.50), and whether the principals were knowledgeable about current curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices (r = 0.48).

The research is clear that instructional leadership has a greater impact on student achievement than transformational leadership. That does not mean there is no place for application of the transformational leader’s skills. As a matter of fact, an application of transformational leadership skills to advance the objectives of the instructional leadership foci when properly applied enhances the process. The effective leader focuses on the issues identified above, while using transformation skills to inspire staff to follow him/her, create teams, and establish a culture of collaboration and cohesiveness. We are talking about a transformational instructional leader.

Moral Purpose—A Powerful Tool for Motivation

Why do some groups seems to possess such a spirit, such a sense of mission, while others do not? One reason is what Michael Fullan calls Moral Purpose. According to Fullan, Moral Purpose “means acting with the intention of making a positive difference in the lives of employees, customers and society as a whole.” In the context of the school it means making a difference in the lives of your teachers, students, families and the community at large.

I often think back to my days serving as the director of a community based organization. In our early days our facilities were small and not pretty. One teacher, years later, told me she actually cried her first day with us. “The place was so ugly.” She also added that after while she fell in love with the place. I asked her what changed. “The place was still ugly wasn’t it?” She told me it was, but she fell in love with the spirit of the place, the mission, the culture. “There was purpose to what we were doing. You could see it and feel it every day. It made me want to be a part of it.”

That experience taught me that the best way to motivate people is to find ways to involve them in the mission, find ways to use their skills and make them proud of those skills and to value their knowledge and let them see the value they bring to the table.

In his article, “The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement” Kenneth Thomas identified these four key steps to self-management:

  1. Committing to a meaningful purpose
  2. Choosing the best way of fulfilling that purpose
  3. Making sure that one is performing work activities competently, and
  4. Making sure that one is making progress to achieving the purpose.

Again, we come to purpose. How does one create a sense of purpose? I believe it comes from the personal passion of the leader, a passion that drives the leaders and incites enthusiasm and passion in others. Passion alone doesn’t get the job done, though. Leaders must provide a set of strategies, a plan, and a vision that directs people. For example, in a school if the purpose is to create lifelong learners, the leader must provide the staff with sound instructional strategies, professional development, and good curricula—concrete and tangible tools and supports.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a
~John Quincy Adams

Culture? What’s the Difference?

Back in the late 70’s, I lived in Brooklyn, New York and worked in Manhattan. This meant getting up around 6:00 AM and catching a bus at around 6:45 AM and then a train at around 7:30 AM to get to work at 9:00 AM. Each morning I saw the same people at the same bus stop and the same group at the same train station. More often than not, I saw the same people on the train as well. We traveled each day, five days a week, in silence. People read books, read newspapers-did everything but talk to each other. As a matter of fact, most people did everything they could to AVOID speaking with others. Communication was pretty much non-verbal—looks, a push, etc.

In 1980 Transit workers went on strike, so no bus or train service was available. Most people in Brooklyn that worked in Manhattan secured lifts to the Brooklyn Bridge (via taxi, car pooling, etc.) and then walked across the bridge to Manhattan. I saw the same people that each day I saw on the bus or the train, but there was something different. People were exchanging hellos; they were having conversations about the strike, about the challenges of getting to work, and even exchanging information about families and plans for the day. What had changed?

The culture had changed, but how? It was clear that if the strike had never happened, people would still not be talking to each other despite a lot of common elements. We all lived in Brooklyn. We all worked in Manhattan. We all traveled on the same buses and trains. So what was it that transformed these non-communicative people into a group that did speak with each other? It was a common challenge that drew us together. The interruption in our lives from our normal routine and the challenge of coping without mass transit changed the culture of our group. It pulled us together first to complain, and then to joke, and finally to cope and solve.

Is a crisis the only way to bring people together? Is a common enemy the only way to create a group? No! This is where a leader’s vision comes into play. Leaders must present their staff with a message that mobilizes them. Involves them. Makes them feel vital. Energizes them. Values them. It should challenge them to raise the bar, to exceed what they perceive as their limits. Encourages them to create and share information that will make them successful. Makes clear to them the benefits for both teachers and their students. And, leaders must provide them with a roadmap on how to achieve this vision.

Do leaders have to do this alone? Should they do it in a vacuum? No. One of the reasons why we want to bring our people together and create a positive culture is to draw on their input, experience and strength. If leaders are successful in creating a positive culture, the mission, the change takes on a life of its own—the mission moves from being the leader’s to being the group’s.

If we don’t provide positive messages that people can rally around, we run the risk of that vacuum being filled by negative issues—lack of resources, resistance to a new instructional program, etc. These may bring people together, but it won’t help you achieve. Take some time to reflect on the issues that are important to your vision and have appeal to your staff and introduce them to each other. Make them a focus in your daily discussions, in your correspondence and even when you speak with your students. See the difference!

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