Archive for the 'School Culture' Category

5 “truths” about teaching as a career

Resilient teachers understand that:

1.Those who can simultaneously do many complex tasks, teach; those who can’t go elsewhere (or at least we hope that they do). Teaching is intellectually, emotionally, and physically demanding. When done well, is a career-long marathon, not a sprint.

2. It is better to teach as part of a high-functioning team than alone. Having respected and trusted colleagues, preferably as teammates, makes the intellectual, emotional, and physical requirements of teaching  sustainable across decades.

3. Continuously changing circumstances (student characteristics, curriculum, and so on) require new understandings, beliefs, and skills.

4. Therefore, teachers have a professional obligation throughout their careers to improve their knowledge and skills through deliberate practice and feedback from students and colleagues.

5. All of the above require skillful leadership on the part of both teachers and administrators, particularly in creating cultures of continuous improvement.

What have I missed?

Can organizations survive dysfunctional leaders?

Imagine, if you can, an organization (or country) that has selected a leader who not only lacks the necessary technical knowledge and skills to do his job but also possesses one or more of the following qualities:

1. a consistent liar

li·ar: ˈlī(ə)r/noun/

a person who tells lies.

2. delusional

de·lu·sion·al: dəˈlo͞oZH(ə)nəl/adjective/

characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder.

3. a tyrant

ty·rant: ˈtīrənt/noun/

a cruel and oppressive ruler

4. a plutocrat.

plu·to·crat: ˈplo͞odəˌkrat/noun/

derogatory/a person whose power derives from their wealth.

5. a bully

bul·ly1: ˈbo͝olē/noun/

a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.


use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Under what conditions can such an organization have hope for its future?

• If it has sturdy structures (for instance, a respected governing document, such as a Constitution; the rule of long-standing policies or law; an effective means of holding the leader to account, such as a strong and independent press; and a resilient culture with widely-shared principles and values that are continuously nurtured),

• If there are mechanisms for curtailing the power of or removing the leader from his position before irreparable harm has been done, and

• If individuals speak and act with courage and remain hopeful because the organization has survived other challenging circumstances.

What is your experience with the resilience of organizations whose leaders possess one or more of those qualities?

The challenge of changing ourselves and influencing others

A quality shared by most resilient people is the ability to see the world as it is rather than as they wish it to be.

As a result, they understand that:

• Changing ourselves is hard, even when our health and lives may depend on it.

• Changing others is harder.

• Changing organizational culture and practices is even harder because it combines the difficulties of changing ourselves and others with the challenge of overcoming institutional inertia and active resistance.

In addition, most of us significantly underestimate what’s required to alter long-standing habits of mind and behavior in ourselves and others and to create organizational cultures of continuous improvement.

And, at the same time, we significantly overestimate the extent to which humans are rational and motivated to change because of evidence and logic.

That’s why reading a book, listening to an inspiring speaker, or attending a “research-based” workshop are almost always insufficient to produce long-term, meaningful change.

The essential elements of change

The most compelling explanations of what’s required to produce significant change are offered  by Alan Deutschman in Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life and by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Deutschman explains that people make significant and lasting changes by “relating,” “repeating,” and “reframing.”

Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships with individuals and groups to inspire hope and provide support.

Repeat involves learning, practicing, and mastering new skills until they become habits.

And reframe means finding others ways to think about a situation. Because established frames resist facts and reasoned arguments, deep-rooted beliefs and conceptual frameworks must be identified and altered to support desired changes.

A problem, Deutschman says, is that leaders too often rely on relatively ineffective change strategies—facts (human beings are not as rational as we think we are), fear (at best it’s a short-term motivator), and force (there are many ways it can be resisted) to promote change.

Instead, successful change efforts offer a sense of hopefulness that problems can be solved through a genuine sense of community that enables the acquisition of new habits.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain that our behavior is shaped by three forces—our intellect, our emotions, and the situations in which we find ourselves.

To explain their ideas the Heaths offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider:

The rider is our intellect. Although modest in size compared to the elephant, it plans and directs.

The elephant is emotion. It provides the energy that creates and sustains movement.

The path is the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. that either supports improved performance or hinders it. (For example, strong teamwork requires a “path” that includes regularly-scheduled meeting time, relevant data to make decisions and assess progress, and training in group skills.)

We promote change, the Heaths say, when we:

• create clarity of purpose and direction (influence the rider),

• engage people’s emotions (motivate the elephant), and

• create environments (shape the path) that enable rather than hinder the desired performance.

What, in your experience, are the essential elements of change in individuals and organizations?

I will be taking a sabbatical during the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under).

There is no substitute for resilient leadership

Resilient people are often called upon to be leaders, a responsibility that both draws upon their resilience and cultivates it for future use.

Early in my career I did not understand the importance of leadership. Schools, I thought, would improve if teachers were simply given the tools to do their work and the freedom to use them.

But then I had an opportunity to closely observe a school whose teachers and parents were frustrated and dispirited. Students performed poorly, and everyone felt hopeless about the future.

Eventually a new principal came to the school. Over the next 3 years things got better. Staff and parent morale improved, as did teaching and student learning.

That principal eventually went on to another assignment, and the school’s new principal was more like the first one. Things spiraled downwards into a hopelessness that felt more profound because of the school’s rollercoaster journey.

Later on in my professional development work I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching and learning.

I enjoyed those conversations immensely except when teachers were angry and cynical.

Without exception, I observed that those teachers were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three.

My work came to focus on principals and teacher leaders because without their skillful leadership teacher professional learning and teamwork were unlikely to occur in ways that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

What is your experience—is it possible to continuously improve teaching and learning without skillful leadership?

6 ways to ensure that things don’t change


Over the years I’ve written countless articles and posts on how administrators and teacher leaders can affect positive change through school culture, professional development, and the application of emotional intelligence, just to mention a few possible sources of influence.

But I have never approached that challenge from the flip side—what school leaders must stop doing if they want to create a ceaseless flow of positive energy that improves teaching and learning for all students.

So here are 6 ways to ensure low staff motivation:

1. Tell people what to do. Make demands: “I am the boss. Your job is to do what I tell you to do or else.”

2. Explain that what you’re telling others to do is a mandate (a variation of #1): “I don’t like this either, but we have to do it.”

3. Cite research combined with a demand: “Research says, so do it.”

4. Use guilt: “If you are really a professional (or care about your students), you will do this.”

5. Emphasize that you are smarter and/or have better intentions than they do: “If you would just read the research (or analyze the data), you’d see that this is the right thing to do.”

6. Explain that you have their best interests at heart: “Do this for your own good,” or “Trust me because I know what’s good for you.”

What would you add to my list?

No place for hatred…


Good teachers have always created inclusive classrooms.

Their work is made more difficult, though, by bigoted and demagogic political leaders who speak to this nation’s fears and arouse hatred.

While I have been pleased to see so many politicians from across the political spectrum rebuke Donald Trump for his divisive and hateful views, it may be too little and too late.

Even now Trump continues to be the Republican front runner, and I am deeply concerned about the damage he is likely to do here and abroad before he is done.

In such times the work of good teachers and administrators in building inclusive classrooms and schools is more important than ever.

Adult bullies…


Bullies come in all sizes and roles. There are playground bullies, cyber bullies, and  even faculty-meeting bullies.

When I was young someone older told me that the best way to deal with bullies was to stand up to them.

While that advice isn’t relevant for all types of bullying, it does apply to faculty meeting bullies. Someone standing up to him or her—one-to-one or in a group setting—is often all that’s required to end the bullying, or at least to blunt it.

Standing up to a bully, no matter the age of the bully, requires the exercise of courage in the face of our fear.

But fear is not a sufficient reason to allow bullies to destroy what others have worked hard to create—supportive relationships, teamwork, and improved teaching and learning.

Each of us has the capacity to act with courage in the face of destructive forces although it is seldom an easy thing to do.

It helps to prepare by becoming clear about what you want to say and when and where you want to say it. It’s also important to rehearse in a safe environment, perhaps with a trusted colleague, and to be ready for the emotional escalation some bullies apply to ensure they get their way.

Fortunately, each time we practice courage—like exercising a muscle—we become a bit stronger and more confident in future situations.

Unfortunately, it is likely that life will give you many opportunities to practice such courage in both professional and personal settings.

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