Thursday, May 31, 2012

Month in Review


May has been a big blogging month for me.  When I started this writing this blog I was unsure of what to write and who, if anyone, would want to read what I did write.

Fortunately,  I'm beginning to find my voice and most of the feedback I've received has been positive and best of all readership has increased greatly since my first post.  (Thank you all!)

Just in case you missed something I'm starting a "Month in Review" feature.  At the end of each month, I'll write a post with links to the month's top articles.

Top Articles for May

Book Review: Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker 

If you haven't added Shifting to your summer reading list yet may I suggest that you do so today.   An excellent book on personnel management that will prove to be an invaluable resource for school administrators.

After the State Test or 5 Ways to Combat the End of the Year

Many of my cyber-colleagues are lucky enough to be out of school already - for the rest of us - well ... Look here for ways to keep your teachers (and students) engaged in instruction through the last day of school.

Gotta Love Drama - 4 Steps to Deal

Isn't drama fun?  Here's 4 ways to lessen your headaches and deal.

Looking Ahead

Two series planned for June:

  • Surviving the Hiring Season - Selecting and Interviewing Candidates
  • Drive by Documentation - How to Document Employee (Mis)Conduct


I'm always looking for questions from my readers (I can't write about my own cases but I'm happy to write about yours) send your questions or situations to .

Photo credit: (CC) Judy van der Velden

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm Calling My Lawyer


I've got writers block.

Well not really block, I have topics to write about I guess its more of a 'want to' block.

You see, I write at my day job.  A lot.

Letters, emails, employment commission responses, EEOC position statements, reprimands, action plans, investigation reports, talking points, executive summaries, and on and on.

Don't get me wrong, I like to write.  It just makes writing at night hard.  Much of my day writing is the result of bad things that other people have done.  They don't agree with the outcome of the bad thing they've done - they get fired, demoted, suspended, placed on probation, something - so they complain.  They complain to government agencies.  Government agencies like written responses.

Here's the thing, I don't mind writing these responses.  It often means that a principal has done his/her job.  It means that a teacher has been held accountable for their misconduct or poor performance.

That's your job.  That's why you sit at the big desk and why you get the only private bathroom in the building.

Teachers will often threaten principals who hold their feet to the fire.  They  say, "if you do X I'm going to file a complaint with government agency Y."  or my favorite, "I'm contacting my lawyer."

Big deal.  Let them call.

As long as you've done your job and documented legitimate conduct and performance concerns, you've got nothing to worry about.

We got your back.

Photo credit: (CC) Foodjungle - Flickr (no real name given)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Distraction: Ode to Joy

If you're a soccer dad - like me - or a soccer mom - like my wife, you'll appreciate this video.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Shifting the Monkey ... by Todd Whitaker

Titi monkeys

Don’t you hate it when bloggers start off a post with a cliche’ or tired, overused phrase?  


I’m starting that way today.

Get ready for the tired phrase ….

If you read only one book about human resources / people management this year [that was it] read Todd Whitaker’s Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People From Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers.  

I’ve written many book reviews over the years but I’ve never used the “if you read only one” line before.  However, this book earns the cliche’.  In simple, easy to understand principles and examples Whitaker will change the way you manage people.  His basic principle is this - place responsibility (the monkey) where it belongs - on the back of the responsible party and don’t allow the responsible party to move his monkey onto someone else’s back.  In Whitaker’s words, “Shifting the monkey may sound like a zoo keeper’s technique, but it’s actually a powerful way to look at leading and living” (page 7).

Throughout the book Whitaker urges leaders to do three things 1) Treat everyone well, 2) Make decisions based on your best people and, 3) Protect your good people first.  To do these things the good leader must learn “to recognize the out-of-place monkey’s and then shift them back to their right owners” page 28.  The entire book is full of examples of wrongly-placed monkeys and tips on putting them where they belong - squarely on the backs of your slackers, latecomers, and other poor performers.

In chapter 7 Whitaker identifies some common monkeys and is particularly helpful to the school based leader.  His examples brought to mind several former principals I had served under as well as instances when I had been guilty handing out monkeys. Todd gave me permission to talk about my favorite monkeys in more detail.  See if you recognize any of them.  

The Blanket Monkey -
“ We use the Blanket Monkey when we want to avoid dealing with someone directly - like the employee who never arrives at the meeting on time, or turns in sloppy paperwork, or doesn’t turn it in at all.  Instead of dealing with these people individually, we try to correct the problem by addressing an entire group and putting the monkey on everyone’s back.”

The Rule Monkey -
“The Rule Monkey … the leader creates a new policy that makes more work for those who did nothing wrong.” “Leaders who use the Rule Monkey are under the impression that you can control a person’s behavior with rules.”  

The Avoidance Monkey -
“Leaders who use the Avoidance Monkey think they can manage without engaging in any potentially challenging situations.”

The Yelling Monkey -
“The Yelling Monkey is used by leaders who deal with everyone and everything by force: by trying to be loud and obnoxious.”

The Blame Monkey -
The Blame Monkey is used by leaders who operate as if nothing is ever their fault; all problems are laid at someone else’s feet.  

The Pouting Monkey -
“People who use the Pouting Monkey become aloof or withdrawn in a silent expression of resentment when they’re upset about something.” 

The Arguing Monkey -
“The Arguing Monkey is handed out by people who are great at arguing.  They love to confront others, take exception to just about anything, and flat-out contradict others.”

Whitaker gives readers tips on how to deal with each one of these monkeys - and the ones that didn’t make my list - but you’ll have to buy the book to see his solutions - this is only a review after all.  A great resource for school and business leaders.  I highly recommend that you add Shifting to your summer reading list.  

The link below will take you to the print and Kindle versions of the book on Amazon*

* Disclosure - I was not paid for this review - I purchased my copy of the book - however, I will receive a small commission if you purchase a copy using the link provided above.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

After State Test Movies -or- 5 Ways to Combat the End of the Year

Drive In Movie Sign 

It’s officially mid-May and that means some teachers are ready to be done with school for the year.  You can see it on their faces when they walk in the building in the morning.  Hidden behind venti Starbucks cups they grumble as they shoot you the evil eye on their way to the classroom.  

Once there they fire up the DVD player, turn off the lights and hope for the best.   Students come -students go. Play - pause -stop …. play - pause - stop.  They doze in their over-sized office chair brought in from home.  Any student brave enough to speak is sent to the office for ‘class disruption.’

At night they practice telling their spouses how movies like ‘2012,’ ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘The Princess Bride’ fit into the curriculum.   They write objectives like, “Students will compare and contrast the picture of medieval life as portrayed in the film [film sounds better than movie] ‘The Princess Bride’ with the actual portrait of life studied in Unit 3.”

They make sure every student has written the objective at the top of their paper just in case an administrator walks in.   The papers will never be collected.

Tough situation and not an easy fix.  Especially since it's (almost) understandable.  In our world of high stakes testing the end of the curriculum and the end of the year do not coincide.  

So what to do?

1) Express to your teachers from day one that your expectation and belief is that everyday is an instructional day.  That includes the days before and after breaks, half days, spirit days, adjusted dismissal days, and everyday after the test.

2) Continue observations - formal and informal - through the last day of school.  Have your APs do the same.  Follow-up with written summaries and use the observations for evaluative purposes.  Write documenting and summary letters when needed.  Document conversations with emails.

3) Walk the halls and put an end to lessons that do not meet your standards.  Be diplomatic but have the tough conversations.  “Dr. Smith, I noticed your students watching an animated film today - can you tell me what your instructional objects were?” -Listen to response - “Huh, doesn’t sound very rigorous - Remember the expectation here at Suburban High School is that students will receive quality instruction through the end of the year.”

4) Explain the bigger picture.  Low engagement activities - like watching films - increase opportunity for student misconduct.  I often think, who’s to blame in those instances, the student or the teacher?

5) If someone really is retiring at the end of the year - help them to exit the profession gracefully.  There are some slight-of-hand type things your HR department can do if someone needs the last few weeks of school off but we won’t tell you (or the teacher) unless you ask.  

Photo credit - Brett O'Connor, "negatendo," CCL

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gotta Love Drama - 4 Steps to Deal

Don’t you just love drama?  

Recently, I received a question from a principal dealing with two teachers who are supposed to be collaborating with each other (they’re both reading specialist) but drama that started outside of school has been interfering with their ability to perform their jobs.  The school is suffering.  The students are suffering.  The principal is stumped.  

I know because he added the hashtag #stumped to his message.  

(Aside to principals - don’t ya just want to slap your teachers sometimes?)

Just guessing here but I’d bet these teacher view themselves as good teachers.  If you ask they’d probably tell you, “I’m here for the kids.”  “I love my job, it’s a calling.”  Blah blah ad nauseum cliches that teachers say when they know they’re in the wrong.  

My second guess is that these teachers know they’re wrong.  They know they’ve let a (presuablty) petty drama get in the way of their students and their school.  Not functional.  That was the term the principal used in describing their current performance.  

Not functional. But, individually fantastic.

They can’t play together and now the principal is thinking about re-assigning them.   Drama.  These reading specialist are ready to lose their jobs in order to keep the drama going.  Sometimes I find our jobs as administrators unbelievable.  

“Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King

The principal wants to know how to fix this - not an easy thing to do but I’ll give it a try in 4 steps.

1) Ignore the why -click here for more on that - and I mean admintaley ignore the why.  Don’t get involved in the drama.  Don’t entertain conversations about the drama.  Don’t offer to mediate the drama.  IGNORE THE DRAMA.

2) Focus on the observable and the effects of the drama.  “When you argue with your partner in earshot of the students it confuses them and makes it difficult for them to concentrate and learning suffers.”  or the opposite extreme, “When you ignore your partner, important collaboration doesn’t take place and teachers get inconsistent support.”  “When data is not disaggregated and submitted on time we are unable to update our school improvement plan.”  The goal here is to paint a bigger picture of the drama - the effect the drama has on the entire school and the students as a whole.  

3) Document the observable.  Have conversations and follow-up with a summary email.  Dear Teacher, On Tuesday you and I met to discuss the effectiveness of the reading program.  Specifically, we discussed the lack of collaboration and cooperation of the specialist.  Be detailed and direct.  If the email doesn't work send letters.  Complete observations and interim evaluations.  If your division has an employee assistance program make mandatory referrals for both teachers.  

4) Follow through - if one or both of the teachers are unwilling or unable to correct the behavior do what you said you would do - in this case move the teachers back into the classroom.  

Four steps is probably not enough but hopefully it’s a start - the most important thing to do is have the difficult, candid conversation.  “Look, you’re screwing up here - and it’s about to have an adverse effect on your employment.  Cut the crap and get back to work.  Your behavior will not be tolerated. Take steps to fix it or I will.”  
Let me know how it goes.
Picture credit Credit 1.00FTE used with permission.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Transfer Has a Bad Rep: 5 Steps to a Smoother Transition

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at deskOver the weekend I received a question to my direct inbox on Twitter. Because it was sent to me privately, I’m keeping the identity of the sender private. And because it was sent to me on the weekend, obviously weighing heavily on the sender, I’m giving it the top spot on this week’s blog post.

How should I approach a transfer teacher who has known performance issues? How can I find a balance between offering a fresh start and monitoring deficiencies?

For administrators in larger districts this question comes up often. The HR department starts tackling staffing allocations for the upcoming year - your phone starts to ring.

“Good afternoon Dr. Principal, this is Mr. Jones in HR. How’s things, good? Listen, I’ve got this teacher that I need to place with you next year. Issues? No not really, well maybe a few - I don’t know … just call their current principal. I’ve directed the teacher to report to you in August. Thanks for being a team player - Bye!”

You call your colleague who laughs out loud when you tell her the teacher is coming your way. Before she hangs up, just so you’ll be prepared, she runs down the list of complaints and deficiencies adding that she’d been praying for this day for years. And, oh by the way - good luck!

You’re inclined to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt -or a fresh start- come August but are concerned about ignoring the reports you’ve received regarding performance. What do you do?

Well how about 5 easy steps? (We all like steps don’t we?)

1) Within the first week of the teacher reporting to your school call him in to have a one to one conversation about the information you received. Be open, honest, and lay it all out on the table. The conversation could go something like this … “Mr. Transfer welcome to Suburban High School - I’m glad that you’re here. Listen, we need to talk about your past performance. I’ve heard some things and this is not going to be an easy conversation but we need to talk about it.”

Then lay everything out - use quotes and supporting documents if possible - give the teacher a chance to respond and offer his perspective. Take note of whether the teacher accepts or rejects the reports. Does he accept responsibility and admit the need to improve? Does he deflect and assign blame (to students, staff or administrators)? Does he say the other principal never liked him? His responses will give you a great deal of insight into how you’ll have to proceed moving forward.

Offer a fresh start but also let him know that you have a responsibility to check out the reports of his performance. Follow-up the conversation with an email that summarizes the discussion, send it with “read-receipt requested,” print out the email, the read-receipt, and any response and add it to the teacher’s school based file.

2) Schedule at least two observations (one announced and one unannounced) within the first month of school. Follow up with post observation conferences to discuss your findings. Good or bad, compete an interim evaluation and begin painting a picture of current performance.

If both observations are good and you have not noted any problems then continue to monitor but with greater distance until you are convinced that the teacher has corrected the pre-transfer problems. If the problems persist then go on to step 3.

3) Develop an Action Plan for Performance Improvement for areas of noted deficiency (the ones you observed directly). Schedule regular observations and follow-up conferences. Begin to provide weekly or monthly coaching sessions and resources to the teacher. Assign a department chair or curriculum specialist to work with the teacher. Provide opportunities for the teacher to observe model teachers.

4) Document, in writing, the teacher’s progress on the Action Plan. Determine follow-up needs and revise and extend the plan as necessary. Look for ways to mitigate the effects on students - i.e. pair with a strong inclusion teacher.

5) If improvement is not seen then begin to build your case for dismissal.

There is a balance you must strike between a complete fresh start and smacking the teacher in the head as soon as he walks into the building. Your initial conference and observations will set the tone for your relationship with the transfer teacher for as long as he or she is in your building. After all, this could be that rare case when personality issues and conflicts came into play. The teacher may appreciate the clean(er) slate and increase performance. If not, then I’m not a believer in the “pass the trash” philosophy. If you can’t get the teacher straight then you move for dismissal. Remember it takes at least two years for students to make up ground and learning lost from just one year with a bad teacher. If you can’t fix it - stop the cycle.

Good luck.


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