Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Leadership Is Doing The Right Thing...Even When It Is Unpopular

Many corporate cultures reward productivity. Once you cost the company more money than you are bringing in…you are fired, re-organized, laid off and/ just gone. This sounds simple and is taking place daily in our Corporate America. Public school education is not one of those cultures. This culture rewards consecutive contracts (longevity) and loyalty (no insubordination). Few teachers are fired each year due to the difficulty of proving incompetence. Teachers who are fired, especially after a few years on the job, are usually blatantly incompetent, insubordinate or morally bankrupt.

It becomes difficult to remove an employee when a culture rewards longevity. What would you do if you were in a leadership position, had an incompetent employee and were told that it was ill advised to pursue firing that employee?

Leadership calls for doing the right thing….even when it is unpopular.

I once had a teacher who had been a very good teacher but she became very ineffectual and the children were losing opportunities to learn. I was told by my boss that I would not be able to fire her in less than two years due to what could be seen as potential litigation problem. I developed a 24 month timeline to deal with the problem.

An enormous amount of time was devoted to dealing with this one problem. It would be easy for a leader to say that it took too much time to devote to one problem when so many others needed attention. However, this one problem affected many children and could not be allowed to happen in the business. The following was the 24 month prescription to correct the problem:

• Weekly classroom observations were made
• Weekly notes outlining strengths and weaknesses of during the observation were made along with suggestions to address the weaknesses
• Bi-monthly conversations were held discussing any points of interest
• A follow up email with a requested read message returned was sent to the teach covering the points discussed and suggested during the meetings
• Additional formal evaluations were conducted as permitted by the Master Contract.

The teacher had repeatedly stated that she was not going to retire. She did decide through our meetings and our discussions that I was against her. She felt all of the negative reports were my fault, not hers. However, she turned in her school keys and resigned in March of the second school year. There is not enough time to discuss the shock this sent through the culture. It may have been an unpopular action, but it was the right thing to do.

Leadership Is Commitment


What commitment does a true leader need to offer his employer? What commitment does this same leader need to offer himself and his family?

I had to answer these question in 1989, 2005 and in 2008. I moved my family to Valparaiso in 1989 to make a commitment to the Valparaiso Community Schools. My commitment to my family was that I would not leave until 2005 when my youngest graduated from high school. Many exciting initiatives at Valparaiso were in the immediate future in 2005. I had met my family commitment and now was the time to make a commitment to my employer and myself. I was ready to start a new job, but knew that over 40 % of the staff would be replaced by 2008 due to growth and retirements. I made a commitment to myself to work three more years at my position to develop the strongest staff possible and leave them as experts in the new Valparaiso initiatives.

A strong leadership commitment was necessary to accomplish success in the following areas over a three year period :
• Employ new teachers with the greatest potential to be great teachers
• Give training and guidance to these new teachers so that their potential could be met
• Give training and guidance to all staff members for language arts curriculum development, student assessment development, standards based reporting, electronic record keeping, electronic report cards, electronic parent portals, North Central CASSI Accreditation, and development of a student writing program
• Establish supervision, goal setting and evaluations to help each staff member prosper with skills
• Strengthen and in some cases develop informal networks for the staff members to strengthen professionally

Change is not an event; it is a shift of beliefs and behaviors over time. My vision was that I would develop and lead my staff through these changes knowing that I would leave the strongest building staff ready for their new boss. My goal was to prepare everyone for an almost seamless transition of leadership as this would be best for the teachers, students and parents.

The new school year is four months old. The calls and emails that I get from the staff are all positive about what is happening at school, the processes being used, the teams and the new leader. The principal has affirmed my vision and goal as he states that the staff is generous, helpful, knowledgeable and outstanding educational role models. He went on to say that Memorial was a great place to work.

Leadership commitment paid off very well for my employer, staff and for me.