Leading a group of people who are diverse in Philosophies, levels of experience and background is no easy feat, no matter what line of work you are in. There is no perfect way to lead, but there are basic practices that can be implemented to be a more effective and successful leader. On the flip side, there are also practices that showcase ineffective leadership.
Recently I witnessed the unraveling of a unit and the complete tanking of morale at a school preparing to start the year in 100% virtual mode. I’ll be the first to admit that there are some teachers – as in all professions – who will never be happy with any principal and who will complain rather than offer solutions. But what I heard during a small group break-out broke my heart. I saw a first-year teacher with total bewilderment on her face, confessing she was lost and had no idea what to do. Another teacher simply muttered, “I should’ve retired last semester.” I heard a 25-year veteran teacher choke back tears as she shared that never in her entire career has she felt this clueless, with zero grasp on what needed to be prepared.
The common theme I heard was, “How can we help our kiddos when no one will tell us anything?” There was anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness – a full range of negative, demoralizing emotions displayed. All of this was the result of a lack of effective leadership.
If you are currently a leader or you’re an emerging leader, here are some practices to implement if you want to be the ineffective leader whose team will have to work infinitely harder to achieve their success despite your lack of skills.
Always begin with a power play.
The first words of the first communication this principal ever sent to his faculty and staff was, “As your leader, I….” He has continued to use this phrase throughout his career there. The reason why he must utter these words to remind everyone he is the leader is because his actions prove otherwise.
Do not take the time to craft a clear message.
The principal’s first communication to the faculty and staff since June 4 was a “welcome back” email that included a vague agenda and ended with, “I look forward to seeing you on Friday.” Did that mean teachers needed to report to campus for onsite training? Did that mean, “See you on Google Meet”? Could teachers choose to attend virtually or use computers on campus? Teachers emailed each other with these questions. Their stress levels ticked upward, and contract time hadn’t even started yet. Twenty-four hours later they received a clarifying email with more specific instructions.
Never plan ahead, and definitely do not plan for contingencies.
The administrators of this school have been on contract since mid-July. They have known since then that starting the year virtually was a high probability. If they didn’t start the year that way, they most likely would have to transition to virtual at some point when someone on campus tests positive for COVID. On August 14, when teachers reported for their first contract day, there was no mention of the schedule that would be used, the attendance procedures, the grading policy, or other important details related to the students who would start school on August 24. Instead, the administration spent two hours on welcomes before the staff moved into yearly round robin meetings about what the counselors offer, what the nurse’s policies are and so on – topics that could be covered later. The added treat was their daily mini-workshop on mindfulness, complete with homework assignments. The teachers ended their first day back without ever hearing the mention of when the plan would be shared. Many took bets that there was still no plan yet.
Never put yourself in the shoes of those you lead.
Many teachers thought they’d surely receive on Monday the information they lacked. They did not. On Tuesday, one of the teachers dared to ask during their Google Meet when they’d get their schedules. The “right hand” administrator of the principal curtly replied, “We’re taking this one day at a time. You’ll get that information.” WOW.
By this point, teacher stress levels were nearing epically high levels. How could they plan lessons if they didn’t know how long the classes were, how often they were going to meet, and what the required number of daily or weekly assignments would be? How should they set up their grade weights in Google Classroom? What kind of tracking documents would they be required to set up and share with administrators?
On Thursday, August 20 (the second to the last weekday before school started), teachers finally got the answers to their questions. The morning was spent receiving an information download about everything under the sun that needed to happen by Monday morning. But now they had more questions about the schedule that was put in front of them and some of the logistics involved with what would be required of them.
If the administrators had looked at this scenario from the teachers’ perspective, they would have had everything prepared with clear instructions by the previous Friday so that teachers would have plenty of time to begin implementing the plan and asking questions as they arose.
Be sure to drive your people to work outside of standard work hours.
Starting Thursday afternoon, teachers went into high gear. Now, they could finally start planning all of their lessons and getting them posted to Google Classroom and Google Sites. But wait. If they just got the schedule, that means students and parents have no idea what the schedule is. So teachers scrambled to add their students to Google Classroom (this must be done one student at a time for all 150 students per teacher) and message students and parents about the new school schedule. Teachers were given a one-page template for attendance and told to create their own attendance rosters. There’s no way to download class rosters, so they had to copy and paste each column of Last Name, First Name, Grade, ID Number into a spreadsheet – and do this for each of their seven classes. They also needed to complete their mindfulness assignment and submit it to the administrator. And did I mention that they could just now start planning their lessons and scheduling them into Google Classroom?
The majority of teachers spent the entire weekend pulling everything together. And do you know why they did all of that mad, mad scrambling to get everything set up just right for Monday? Because they care about the welfare of their students. Because they will do what it takes to help their students succeed despite every barrier that their principal and vice principal put in front of them. Because they understand what their role is as the leader of the classroom, and the more prepared they are for class, the more success students will experience. Because they are good people. Because they are everything that their leader is not.