Last summer I had the opportunity to work with a great group of leaders in the upstate New York area. They were enthusiastic, engaging, welcoming and honest. What a great combination of qualities.
Our one day workshop was scattered with interactive discussions, presentation of information and case scenarios. I know it was invigorating for me to see a roomful of leaders during their summer days off not just being there, but working hard to learn and share.
One of the case scenarios gave rise to some great ideas and observations. Here it is:
“Mrs. McGreevy has taught Regents earth science at Marble Middle School for 19 years. She clearly cares about her students and their learning and is often one of the first teachers to arrive in the morning and one of the last to leave after school. She volunteers for many student activities and often attends sports events to cheer her students on. Parents love her because she is so clearly dedicated to her work, and her track record of students passing the Regents is excellent. She lives in the community and is highly involved with local events. For years, Mrs. McGreevy received the highest rating under the old evaluation system, which had been a district developed check list.
Ever since the Danielson Rubric was adopted as the evaluation instrument, Mrs. McGreevy has received Proficient ratings. She has felt hurt and confused about how she went from being an outstanding teacher under the old system to one who is merely Proficient now. She has struggled to understand what a ‘student centered’ classroom looks like and cannot accept that her teacher directed approach (which gets excellent results) is no longer good enough.
Mrs. McGreevy has shared her discontent with parents, who are now ready to call a meeting with Principal Scott over what they consider his unfair treatment of a prized teacher like Mrs. McGreevy.”
What We Did
The group spent about 20 minutes working in groups. Half of the group was asked to view the scenario through the eyes of the principal, Mr. Scott and the other half was asked to view the scenario through the eyes of Mrs. McGreevey. Both groups delivered some great insights and comments. Here are just a few with comments:
It was hard to put my teacher hat back on and think like a teacher
As we move through different phases of our careers we are bombarded with new information and new responsibilities. These, naturally, fill up our day and our thinking. However, it is important to remember where we come from –the experiences and challenges. First, they brought us to where we are. Second, they help us to have empathy for the people we are leading. They can remind us how we wanted to be treated as team members. These insights can help guide our actions as we try to foster relationship.
Did the principal explain the framework and the new rating system?
How we communicate information is important. Participants felt that the principal probably did not sit down with staff members and go through the new framework and what the new rating system meant. And, if he did, it was not clear. Did they explain criteria for each level? If leaders think like their team, they would ask themselves, “What information would I want to know? What would make me feel more comfortable with this change?”
How was the new framework introduced to the staff?
This is similar to the point above, but different enough to merit a mention of its own. Change is a difficult process for everyone. In this case it was difficult for both the leaders who had to not only learn the new rating system, but explain it to their staff and then use it and it was difficult for the teacher who all of a sudden found herself, after years under one system, being evaluated with a new rubric and no longer at the top of list.
The group agreed that change is a thoughtful process. The unrolling of a new system that affects teacher’s performance rating and income, needs to be thoughtful. The leader might have put together a team of administrators and teachers to plan how this could happen, to identify what were points of concern, what were the questions the staff had and how best to communicate this information to the teachers.
Did the principal visit Mrs. McGreevy’s throughout the year?
Participants felt feedback is essential when guiding people through change. A good strategy is to visit classrooms on a regular basis and provide feedback on how they are doing in regard to that change. Mr. Scott should have provided Mrs. McGreevy with specific feedback on what she was doing well and what she could do better. This consistent flow of back and forth information would have kept both Mr. Scott and Mrs. McGreevy informed on her progress, her strengths and the areas that she needed to improve. It could have led to a discussion on HOW she could improve—specific behaviors that Mr. Scott was looking for. In addition, a one on one conversation asking Mrs. McGreevy what were her expectations and helping her design a plan on how to achieve them would not only be effective, but foster a strong relationship between them.
What kind of relationship existed between Mrs. McGreevy and Mr. Scott
This was a recurring question from all the groups. Why did Mrs. McGreevy choose to speak to parents about this issue as opposed to go to Mr. Scott? The most prevalent answer was that there was no relationship or at the very least, no trusting relationship between the two. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, relationships are key to successful leadership and especially leadership during change. Making time in the day to establish and sustain such relationships is time well spent and pays in dividends as the relationship grows and matures.
Leading during change is a thoughtful process and leaders need to be mindful on how they introduce new ideas. Time needs to be taken to reflect, consult and create a step by step process to implement and support the change. Change takes work from both sides. Leaders and their staff both need to be proactive in asking questions, providing input and feedback and keeping the lines of communication open and clear.