Monday, January 27, 2014

6 Things That Make a Cohesive Staff

Guest Post: 6 Things That Make a Cohesive Staff

Think of your favorite team you've ever been a part of.  Got it?

Now think of the worst team you've worked on.  Ick.  Yeah.  Bad memories.

What made the difference?  What leaves us wanting to never leave a job vs. wanting to leave and erase the experience from our memories?  Here I investigate the 6 traits of a cohesive staff.

I write this not as a master of organizational leadership and/or a sage on how to build team.  I write this merely as a gal who's had opportunity to experience both sorts of jobs.  What follows is a compilation of what stands out to me as the characteristics of a cohesive team.

Mission/values alignment
The mission is why we are here.  This ought to be crystal clear.  Any team that expects to be successful must have a common goal, even when individuals within the team possess varying motivations for the work.

The mission directs the choices we make.  There will always be competing interests; there is so much to do!  But the mission helps us determine which actions are most necessary, and thus, what steps we take next.

Values are how we accomplish our mission.
Consider the mission of my school: prepare all scholars for college success, equipped with the passion and tools to begin innovative and world-changing pursuits.

A tall order for sure.  College success can seem nearly impossible when a junior gets her ACT scores back and the composite staring her in the face is 14.  14?!  There's no way, right?

But when a staff has collectively committed to the mission, it uses its value of perseverance (defined as "We never give up") to work and push and keep on, even in the face of such brutal realities.  It uses its value of achievement ("We focus on results and do whatever it takes to accomplish our goals.") to determine solutions to knock down the barriers that stand between her and college success.  The values are what a cohesive team uses to think about the challenges it faces.

A cohesive team talks about the mission and the values all the time.  They are more than nicely worded verbiage for posters in the hallway.  They are the inner monologue that come to live in the day-to-day actions of a cohesive team.

The Diff-Co
Just so we're clear, this isn't my idea.  The idea of the Difficult Conversation comes from this book.  At my school, it's a framework for how we approach the conversations that are hard to have, and we endearingly call it "Diff-co'ing" or "getting diff-co'ed."

Why have the conversations that are hard to have?
Because the work we do is hard.  And we are also human.  We make mistakes.  We also misunderstand others' intentions.

A cohesive team who has collective commitment to the mission and values has "organizational trust," meaning each member trusts that each other member is acting in alignment with achieving the mission.

But sometimes things happen.  A deadline is missed.  A teacher loses emotional constancy with a scholar.  A teacher loses emotional constancy with another teacher.  A schedule is changed last minute. <Insert recurring frustrating school event of your choice here.>

These things happen and our human emotions get involved.  A cohesive team knows that it needs to deal with these moments in a healthy way.  A cohesive team knows that it's actually a priority to deal with these things.  We have incredibly important work to do (as our mission reminds us constantly).  Our work is too important to waste working memory on adult issues.  You can't just bury it.  Anyone who's taken a Psych 101 class knows this.  A cohesive, healthy team encourages its member to address these concerns.  And why?  Because difficult conversations are how we remind ourselves and remind one another that we are committed to the mission.

A difficult conversation is always a learning conversation.
I could go very in-depth on the how to's of the Diff-Co, but that book's already been writ.  I stand here just to say that on a cohesive team the chain of events goes like this:
1.) Frustrating event happens.
2.) I get myself curious and to a place where I want to learn more about how and why it happened.
3.) I have the conversation, no matter how difficult it may feel.
4.) I have it so that I can learn and so that my teammate can hear the impact on kids, on the mission.  
5.) We leave with clear next steps of what we can both do to better act aligned with the mission.

Servant Leadership
There are many places where you can read about this concept.  I'm not attempting to steal anyone's idea here.  Uh, you can read about it in this book.  Or, the Bible.

The Servant presents an image of servant leadership that's simple to grasp.  The image "inverts the pyramid."  Instead of thinking of leadership as top down (where the CEO/principal is at the top and everyone looks upward), servant leadership ought to be thought of as bottom up (where the the CEO/principal is at the bottom, meeting the needs of everyone above her).

Servant leaders set clear goals and meet all legitimate needs in order to achieve them.

In the school context, the kids are at the top.  Every effort of the school is in service of the kids.  This hierarchy is clear for a cohesive team.

Friday Night Happy Hour
I have nothing more to say about this.

Teachers are soooooo good at accountability.  We hold our students accountable every day. We do this through homework, tests, merit/demerit systems, private conversations.  Why do we do we go to these lengths?  Because we care about our students and want them to become their best selves.  We know that their best selves is realized beside their best work.

Students do their best work when they are held accountable to doing it.

I know we are grown up and all, but adults are the same way.

As adults we tend to get a negative feeling when we hear the word "accountability."  Maybe this is because many of us have had some really horrible experiences with accountability.  A boss who only cared about the bottom line.  A work environment where "accountability" was synonymous with "punishment" for not hitting a certain standard.  Those sorts of experiences leave us reluctant to engage positively with the idea of "accountability."

I propose, however, that we flip the concept and consider accountability synonymous with respect.

We have much work to do.  And the work we do is hard.  We are reminded of this from our mission.  The mission, when appropriately ambitious, dictates that we must do our best work if we are to achieve it.  When a cohesive staff is collectively committed to achieving its mission, it realizes that accountability is nothing but pushing each other to do our best work in order to reach the mission.

So why is that respect?  Let me ask you a couple questions.
Do you want your students to do their best work? (yes)
Do structures exist in your classroom to help ensure students are doing their best work? (yes)
Would you be a good teacher if you did nothing to push scholars to do their best work? (no)

Now flip it.
Do you want to do your best work? (yes)
Do structures exist in your school to help ensure you are doing your best work? (they better!)
Would your principal be a good leader if he did nothing to push you to your best work? (no!!)

A cohesive team realizes it's actually the leadership's job to make sure the team is doing its best work.  When accountability is viewed and applied as respect, a cohesive team will expect its leadership to hold it accountable.  Accountability is respect because its constantly pushing me to be the person I want to be.

I read in a book recently (How Full is Your Bucket) that the #1 reason people leave their jobs is because they don't feel appreciated.

It makes sense.  Our work is hard.  We work long hours.  The pay, arguably, isn't that great.  Kids are kids, and so yeah, we put up with a bit from them (a lot of input and not a ton of thank you's received at the end of the day).

A cohesive team recognizes that recognition is a necessity.  Our teammates do thousands of acts of heroism on the behalf of kids on a daily basis.  Most of them will go unnoticed.  Calling attention to a hand full of them, and simply stating your appreciation of the act, goes a long ways.

Recognition can be elaborate (awards, ceremonies, gifts), but it doesn't have to be.  In fact, I think more informal recognition is more powerful because it gets at the daily acts we do on a regular basis that most often go unnoticed.

At my school, each day starts with a simple routine called Value Village.  During this ritual, teammates give shout-outs to other teammates, calling out acts team members have done that have shown one or more of the core values.  It's a chance for teammates to say of one another, "Hey, I saw you do this thing, and I thought it was really nice."

A couple of powerful things about value village:
1.) You are expected to have a shout-out ready to give.  It's not like, "Hey, there happened to be a good thing that happened this week."  It's more like, "There are always things that my teammates are doing.  It is incumbent on me to notice these things and share what I'm noticing."
2.) This is how we start our day together.  Not with lingering anxiety about the copy machine that jammed, not with a mad dash into our classrooms hoping we get there before scholars.  But rather, we begin our days by sharing statements of appreciation for one another.  It completely changes the outlook for the day.
3.) Once you do this kind of ritual long enough, the thinking becomes a habit, and you start noticing more and more of the wonderful things your teammates are doing.  I actually think this kind of habit creates an identify for the team to do wonderful things and to be wonderful to each other.

That is a powerful habit that absolutely leads to a cohesive team. Try it out and see what you can learn. 

Kelsey Lambrecht is a higly-valued teacher of Special Education as well as the Director of Intervention at SCI Academy in New Orleans, LA. "She has the heart and the warmth of a Mother Theresa. She has the patience of Buddha, and the dry sense of humor of Robert Downy Jr." See her in action and talked about here. She is not on twitter. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Re-up: Martin Luther King Jr.

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Technological Tip: Twitter... no, seriously

Every teacher and pretty much every adult, and it's probably safe to say "every American" at this point understands social media - a bunch of people posting "selfies" in various places, thereby ruining any chance for future political stature.

However, if you are a person who likes to learn, and specifically a teacher, then you really should consider using Twitter, but for the right reasons (as opposed to the vain macaque monkey in previous link). Don't worry, not only will I tell you how, but ... no, I'll just tell you.

Here's your twitter:
Imagine you have a hobby, a question, a concern, or really any kind of interest. Just for the sake of having an example, let's say you read the book Drive, (and you really should read that book), by Daniel Pink and you loved it. So you have the thought, "that book was informative and amazing. I would love to learn more and/or see examples of what he talks about."

In a pre-Twitter world, you can do one of two things: 1. You can keep google searching "Daniel Pink" or "Interesting events inspired by Daniel Pink's Drive" every day, sort through all the links and occasionally find interesting links. This takes too much time. 2. You can hire a secretary and say, "your job is to keep me posted on Daniel Pink, what he's up to, and keep current about how his book is changing the world." This is too expensive.

What if, though, option two were possible? Not only that, but instead of hiring a secretary who may or may not know her Pink, you hire @DanielPink himself, for the price of free? You see, that's what Twitter is. Daniel Pink posts all the time, and because his full time job is to "keep the Pink in Pink", he's doing your searching for you and delivering the results to your doorstep (twitterfeed).

You don't have to post anything, ever. You can just make an account, pick the people you want to learn from, then watch them post the kinds of things you want to read. It's that easy. Furthermore, in the education world, twitter is huge. If you want to swap ideas, read articles, be inspired, learn about cool websites, listen to everybody bicker about Common Core and Charter Schools, twitter is literally updating itself on these things every minute. If I were to tweet my argument of twitter, it would be:

"If you use twitter, you can effectively have read every non-fiction book before it hits stores and know every idea before it's presented in a staff meeting."

Take my word for it. But, if you don't, listen to these guys say the same, maybe even with images:

Twitter "a useful tool for teachers"
Top Reasons Why Teachers and Educators use Twitter 
Digitally Speaking/Why Teachers Should Try Twitter
Why Twitter is a Teacher's Best Tool
10 Amazing Ways For Teachers & Tutors To Use Twitter In Education

To get you started, here are my recommended folks to follow:

@arneduncan - US Secretary of Education. His tweets are actually kind of boring, but probably important nonetheless.
@DanielPink - that's the last time I type his name in this post.
@web20classroom - this dude tweets about education all day long. He has a blog, radio show (I think), Top 50 Innovators in Education and is all about helping out the teachers of cyberspace via #edchat
@dawblack - this guy takes both teaching and tweeting seriously
@Larryferlazzo - 32, 902 followers can't be wrong.
@mqzoeller - that's me! Threw it in the middle to look less arrogant. I use twitter for reading, therefore only post jokes 90% of the time, but also links to this blog.
@paultough - yes, it's THEE Paul Tough, and he posts articles related to his educational best-seller all the time
@johnharrington - this is my friend from college. He works for Twitter. I just thought it'd be ironic.

If you've got any others that should also be on this list, please add to the comment section. There is more that can be done on twitter than I mentioned here, but it's enough to get started.
Give it a try, and see what you can learn.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Expectation of 100%

100% Participation - In the Classroom

The idea is simple to understand, but takes practice and patience to execute successfully. Coming from the must-own book of every teacher, Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov, the rule of 100% is this:

The percentage of students following a direction in a classroom must be 100. If it is any less, your authority quickly deflates and classroom loses value.

Knowing what 100% means is simple - every student listening when you give a direction. Being able to identify which students are and which students are not following the instruction is also simple - you look at their eyes. The difficult part is achieving full compliance and sorting out the stragglers quickly enough to maintain your purpose without causing a disruption. Here's a summary of what the experts have to say about it:

  • With your choice of language, make it clear that students must adhere to this for their sake, because they will learn and understand and ultimately be a better person, never because "the teacher says so." 
  • With the stragglers, use the "least invasive form of intervention". This can be done in multiple ways, but the point is that you want to be as quick and smooth as you can, especially if calling out a person by name. Some good phrases are, "I'm still waiting on three. You know who you are," or "This row is perfect, I still need this row."
  • When making these corrections, it is important to add positives and make it clear what the student is supposed to be doing. Like, "I don't have Diego, but I do have Carmen (+)" or "Jake, I need your eyes. Front row, great job (+). Much better, Jake (+)". 
  • If an individual reprimand is necessary, it is best to wait until the class is working again and talk to this individual quietly and calmly. Repeat the problematic behavior then say what is expected of them then walk away, sending the message that that's how it is and leaving no room for "onstage" arguing or embarrassment.

Quick, smooth, positive, and specifically say what to do. This expectation done well by a teacher will not only be a win-win for everyone in the room but also sets and reinforces the necessary tone of: we are here to learn. Think about this as you teach through this month. For video examples and a better description, get a copy of Lemov's book. Read this chapter, and see what you can learn.