WTW – The hiring process

[What Teachers Want (WTW) — the continuing story of a transition to a new principal, as told by the teachers who experienced it, and the subject of my doctoral dissertation]

Phil announced that he was leaving and a hiring committee was formed to interview for the new principal. When things looked like they could not get any worse, the hiring committee became locked, with half the committee for one candidate and the other half for another candidate. Just when the district was ready to announce a locked hiring committee and to restart the hiring process, the assistant superintendent asked Fred, who had served on the hiring committee as the sister middle-school principal, if he would consider an internal transfer and accept the Lincoln position. Surprisingly, he agreed. Here’s what teachers said about the hiring process.

I cared a lot about what happened here, so personally I was invested in making sure we had the right person and the right fit from the interview process. I got along well with Phil, but then he was just drowning and falling apart personally. It was important that we got the right person, somebody that needed to have experience but also somebody who would be able to work with our population, work with our teachers, and push us instructionally. Getting into the interviews, it was hard because the two candidates that we narrowed it down to were both qualified, but it was evenly split. I think that added even an extra layer of what are we going to through. We did so many votes and I could tell administration was trying to figure out where to go and what to do next. Even though I don’t remember all the conversations, at least it wasn’t ugly, none of us were arguing, but people started going totally different directions—gravitating towards certain people they were passionate about. It was really hard. I couldn’t make a decision about who I would choose if it was all my choice. (T6)

It shows the dysfunction of the way we ended up with two candidates with an equal amount of support and the idea that if we couldn’t go one way or the other, we’d just have to scrap the whole deal. One group was saying, “This person reminds me a lot of Phil, so I want him.” The other group was saying, “I don’t want anything like Phil.” You have the fresh face, somebody who is saying the right things and who is eager, and then you have somebody else who is a very experienced administrator. Thankfully, the assistant superintendent said we were going to have to start all over. Then all of a sudden a week later, Fred came and it was literally like a fresh wind blew in. (T10)

It seemed like the whole principal selection process was so difficult, but once district administration settled on Fred, there was enough trust in him or respect from the district that we felt like this was really going to work. This was somebody who had already been here, we knew him, he’d already done a good job at the middle school, and the district was really going to let him run the building without interfering too much. (T6)

There were also many positive aspects about Fred’s appointment: He had previously taught at Lincoln; he had been a mentor in the district; and he had served as middle school assistant principal, and then as principal at the same school, where he had much success at turning around the school.

We knew of Fred’s successes at the middle school. We knew what he had done there; we knew how hard he worked. We knew about his successes at turning around a school, a fact that he brought up at our first staff meeting. He also brought up the fact that the assistant superintendent had called him while he was on the golf course and requested that he take this position. That reinforced the fact that he was going to again turn around a school. (T11)

Going through the other principals, it was a bit of a roller coaster, so staff felt that there was never going to be someone who would stay for a while. We saw principals come and go, each of them had some really great ideas here and there, but there never seemed to be really effective things put in place. Then we lost Phil. (T4)

So now we move on to discover what teachers told me about their experience when Fred came.  But first I’ll let you know how I did my research and the themes discovered along the way. I hope you’ll join me then.

Transitioning to a New Principal From the Teachers’ Perspective:
An Interpretive Case Study
, by Bruce Colglazier Pappas, Ed.D. (March 2016)

Say what you have to say; then be quiet.

Today I take a quick break from discussing my dissertation to share a very good article about slowing down and listening. Here are five things  author Michael Grothaus learned when he went quiet (mostly) for a week:

  1. I APPEARED MORE CONFIDENT.
  2. PEOPLE LISTENED TO ME MORE INTENTLY.
  3. I BECAME A BETTER LISTENER.
  4. I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING STUPID.
  5. I LEARNED HOW TO SPEAK LESS.

I have been a proponent of learning to be comfortable with silence since I started negotiating contracts in the 1980s. We tend to fill silence, especially when we’re uncomfortable, so I create this simple rule  to help myself. (It’s 1 of 6 that I created back then; I’ll share the other 5 in future posts.)

3. Say what you have to say; then be quiet. Be comfortable with silence.

Whenever I found myself talking too much (disclosing too much or not giving the other side a chance to respond), I referred to this.  Eventually, I started applying this idea to my personal life with great success.

So next time you find yourself filling the silence, just simply shut up.  You’ll be amazed how well it works…and how difficult it is to pull off.

LINK:
What Happened When I Spent A Week Keeping My Mouth (Mostly) Shut by Michael Grothaus in Fast Company Leadership

WTW – Phil, the outgoing principal

[What Teachers Want (WTW) — the continuing story of a transition to a new principal, as told by the teachers who experienced it, and the subject of my doctoral dissertation]

If you listen to what teachers said about Phil, the principal prior to this transition, you’ll see that they liked him, they did not blame him for their problems, and frankly they felt abandoned when he took a principal job in a less demanding school in another district.

I think Phil was very well liked and I think that he had good intentions. I really enjoyed him.  (T4)

When Phil left, I felt like saying, “Hey, take me with you,” I said to myself, “Oh gosh, things are stressful, things are out of control, maybe I should look for a job in a different district or in a different school or on the west end.”  (T4)

It wasn’t Phil’s fault for so many things. We were just broken. (T9)

Phil would try to shoulder a lot of it. His wife even told us one time that she watched Phil throughout the year and his shoulders would drop more and more every month because of the stress he was under. When you can physically see the stress on your leader, it takes its toll on everyone because everyone liked him as a person. We felt that he was wearing down and, in turn, we were all wearing down. (T2)

I’ve heard staff members bash him for his leadership style, but at the same time I think to myself, you send this gentleman here who is tasked with trying to solve all these issues on top of running the building, providing all these initiatives to staff, and then having the barriers that our students face. It’s easy to criticize him for not knowing how to deal with all that, but that’s unfair to him. (T1)

For the first five years, I thought of Phil as an amazing principal, primarily in that he worked 24/7—always trying to make this school better, always office door open, and really giving people the opportunities to try new ideas and set up their own projects. He gave us a lot of freedom in that sense. But I think, on the other hand, he made his experience more difficult for himself, personally, by devoting so much time to our school without a clear determined goal. (T11)

So…Phil announces he’s leaving and the search is on for a new principal. And, trust me, that’s an interesting story…

Transitioning to a New Principal From the Teachers’ Perspective:
An Interpretive Case Study
, by Bruce Colglazier Pappas, Ed.D. (March 2016)

When Teachers Talk vs What Teachers Want

Okay, I’ve changed the informal name of my dissertation from “When Teachers Talk” to “What Teachers Want.” During my MEA presentation, I discovered that there was already a book called When Teachers Talk: Principal Abuse of Teachers / The Untold Story (Rosalyn Susanne Schnall, 2009).  Read this description from Amazon:

Principal abuse of power and principal abuse of teachers, which has been clearly documented by teachers in this book, may very well be the most significant underlying cause contributing to the decline of public education in America today. Abusive and incompetent public school administrators who treat teachers with anything less than the dignity and respect they deserve do so at the direct expense of teachers, their student populations, and the communities in which they reside. Throughout the interviews in this book, teachers give detailed accounts of how principals do not provide them with the administrative support needed to effectively teach and maintain discipline in their classrooms. They explain how they have been prevented from functioning optimally and how their best efforts to help their students have been frustrated. The inevitable results are dysfunctional, permissive, non-disciplinary school environments which produce a steady stream of students who leave school and enter mainstream society totally unequipped to take on the responsibilities of functioning adults.

I wish I’d found this book when I was doing my research. I thought that I had done a thorough research, but somehow this book title escaped my searches. If I had found it, I would have used it as a reference for what some teachers say is wrong with our schools. And my research could have served as the antidote.

So…after much thought, I’ve come to realize that my research was not just “When Teachers Talk.” Asking teachers the question “What did you experience?” is very powerful. My experience as union rep and HR director showed me that teachers flat out struggle. And they don’t struggle from teaching and not knowing how to teach. They struggle from lack of direction, overburdening mandates from the district office, lack of student supports, too little and/or too much parental involvement, and fatigue. My research could better be summed up: When Teachers Talk…This is What They Told Me that They Want. So I’m going to informally rename my research simply: “What Teachers Want.”

 

When Teachers Talk – Intro

In March, 2014, I began the two-year journey of writing my dissertation for my doctorate in Organizational Development from the University of St. Thomas. Actually, our cohort (Cohort 5) started our first coursework in May 2008. My doctorate degree was awarded in March 2016, so the entire journey was just under eight years. There were times that I thought I’d never finish this “four-year” program. To be honest, the thought of NOT finishing was as big a motivator as finishing. I’m glad I stuck with it.

I went through a number of possible topics before I landed on this one. I am quite interested in negotiations, so that topic dominated my preliminary ideas. I wanted a topic that was meaningful, doable, and personal. I spent time with a veteran principal as he transitioned from a middle school to an elementary school. The teacher union president kept telling me good things about what this principal was doing and how much the teachers liked what he was doing. So it made sense to ask them about their experience during this transition. So I titled the research, Transitioning to a New Principal From the Teachers’ Perspective: An Interpretive Case Study. And I was off and running.

I chose  the methodology of interpretive case study. If you want to read more about it, refer to Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research.  To summarize my approach, I wanted readers to say to themselves after reading my dissertation, “Ah, that was what it was like to be a teacher in this school during this principal transition.”

I set out to answer these two research questions:

  1. What was the experience of teachers in a Minnesota elementary public school during the transition to a new principal, a transition which was reported to be positive?
  2. What was the perception of teachers about the principal’s role in making the transition a positive experience?

A few things to note:

  • This was a single case study; it involved only one school in Minnesota. A broader study would have involved multiple cases in other schools. For my research, I wanted to go deep into one case, and make the research doable, so I stuck with one.
  • The subject of the research was the teacher experience during a principal transition, not the principal. This is important to note, as you will see that teachers wanted to talk more about the principal and what he did than their own experience.
  • The transition was reported by the teachers to be positive. I believe that this makes the case exceptional, because the high degree to which teachers reported liking what happened was rare.
  • Last, I did not try to assert a cause-and-effect relationship between what the principal did and how that affected teachers. I merely reported what the teachers perceived about the principal’s role.

I will leave you with this thought, which we’ll pick up on next time. Chapter Two of my dissertation was dedicated to an extensive literature review. The most relevant thing I discovered was this: I found NO research to date that focused on the teacher experience when a new principal is hired. That itself is significant. I believe this is because educators have accepted the fact that we really don’t want to know (or we think we already know) what teachers go through. Teaching is a difficult profession.

When Teachers Talk…

Recently, I presented my dissertation research to a group of teachers at the Minnesota Educators Academy.  It was the first time I shared it with teachers. It was a great experience for me, as I had to refine my thinking and point of view for the presentation. My research was based on the teacher experience during a principal transition and what they thought the principal did to make the transition positive. In the next few weeks, I will share my research and findings. I hope you follow along.

If you want to get a jump on things, you can find my dissertation here:
Transitioning to a New Principal From the Teachers’ Perspective:
An Interpretive Case Study

Top Five Management Myths

Human Systems Dynamics, in which I am a trained associate, helps people leverage uncertainty in their organizations. In a post that I have been meaning to share, Glenda Eoyang talked about 5 management myths:

  1. Management is not leadership.
  2. You can measure everything that matters.
  3. “It is only about the people,” or “It isn’t about the people.”
  4. Theory isn’t practical.
  5. I don’t have time.

I love how complexity theory can underline what we need to do in our work. Read more here and let me know what you think: http://www.adaptiveaction.org/blog/201508/Top-Five-Management-Myths