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Why Do We Do It This Way?

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With all of the different roles and responsibilities we have as administrators, I have to say that one of the meetings I had today is a great example of my absolute favorite part of my job. It wasn't the kind of meeting where everyone sits there and listens to one person pontificate or the kind where you feel like you're just meeting to meet. Neither was it the kind of meeting where everyone shows up physically but few are engaged mentally. Nope. Not that kind of meeting.

So what was so great about it? It was cooking--the energy was flowing and everyone was actively engaged. Two principals, a guidance counselor and me, the superintendent, talking about one of our programs. Evaluating what we do now. Examining how we make decisions. Identifying areas of strength and those of weakness. Solving problems and making improvements. Answering every question I threw at them without hesitation.

How did it happen? Everyone knew ahead of time what the topic was and what I needed from him. Everyone came ready to work, we were in and out in 60 minutes, no wasted time. I asked questions that got to the heart of our practices and questioned why we do things the way that we do. And every time we realized that we did it that way because "it's the way we've always done it", we reevaluated and planned a better approach. We reviewed everyone's role moving forward before we left and clarified what we'd decided.

Sounds good, right? But what really made it work? I've finally been here long enough to establish trust on this particular team. The three men in the room with me all know that I'm just asking to ask; I want solid answers based on data; I don't want everyone to agree with me just because I'm the "boss"; I love a good argument; and it's okay to uncover mistakes. It's how we learn and grow. I love that I've reached this with this team in six months. I don't take it lightly because I know it takes time for us to understand one another and for them to trust me enough to share openly.

Too often people are afraid to have that open exchange of ideas about where we are because they don't want to be blamed for it. If we can just take an approach that says "it is what it is" now "how can it be better?" we'll be able to brainstorm and IMPROVE. Fear of reproach is how we end up closing the doors to our classrooms and offices and doing the same things year after year--fear of reproach for doing it the only way we knew how in the first place.

The best part of this job is taking the time to watch people work through all of the analysis and come out on the other side with a better plan than the one we walked in with--and then empowering them to make it happen. Asking the right questions. Once we leave our egos outside and trust one another, now that's when we can really get cooking and make real change in our schools. Change that's so slow so often because so many people are afraid of exposing the problems. Unless we get messy and really look at the parts that aren't working--bring them out into the light and evaluate them--how does anything ever get better?

That's the part that makes being an administrator such a blast in the first place--the chance to make something better than it was when we got there. Otherwise, what the heck are we here for?

Loving this job--Kimberly Moritz

2 Comments

Kimberly:

Thanks for the post about what a meeting can feel like when everyone is on the same page about the need for honest evaluation and change! It is hard to achieve but certainly can be done.

Your post actually reminded me of a study that was recently added to IssueLab -- all about how the Portland Public School system had a similar experience, writ large. They decided to tackle HS dropout rates by asking each other and themselves the equivalent of "it is what it is" now "how can it be better?" -- and saw some pretty dramatic improvements.

Anyhow, thought it might be right up your alley. http://issuelab.org/pps_bridgespan.html

And as for letting folks know what a meeting will require ahead of time - yes, yes, yes :)

Thank you Kimberly,
I have been teaching a long time-43 years. I am very close to retirement but have a few years left. I am a life-time learner, learning new things and methods all the time. I try not be fearful of expressing new ways and approaches to teaching. But it is hard. They are not always accepted by colleagues who have done it the same way forever because it works. Fortunately, I have an administrator and superintendent who are very forward thinking so the reproach never comes from them. Your blog gives me encouragement to continue to speak out and try to move education forward in my little corner of the world. Susan Anderson

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