New Thoughts, and Other Detritus.

Over the last two days, and one more tomorrow, I’ve been at the UbD By the Sea Conference hosted by Authentic Education’s Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  It’s late and I don’t really feel like I have the writing chops to handle a huge thought explosion, but there are a few elements I’d like to get out in this space to see if they get legs.

Quotes from Andy Greene

Andy Greene is the principal at Candlewood Middle School in Long Island; his work was featured in Wiggins and McTighe’s Schooling by Design, and he is a charismatic speaker.  In his afternoon session, among many great ideas for creating controversy in the best possible way, I also pulled some interesting quotes.

I live by the rule of thirds: if I give my staff something to read, 1/3 are going to devour it like their hair is on fire, 1/3 is going to pretend they like it but not really do anything with it, and the last 1/3 is going to unabashedly ignore it.

This one is paramount for anyone willing to assume a leadership position, regardless of whether or not you are a teacher or an administrator.  One of the greatest pieces of advice I received was that I should expect to be stabbed in the back early and often by those from whom I least expected.  I ignored it out of my belief in the collective good will of the staff I worked with.  Nothing personal to them, but they tested the waters, and I found out very soon what that felt like.  Taking Greene’s words to heart will aid in avoiding those initial feelings of betrayal, should they arise again.

Be willing to call out those that do not exhibit collaborative behaviors,

or more broadly,

be very willing to have difficult conversations.

In an earlier post about the new humanities, I had written about the death of the grey areas in America discourse.  This statement reminded me of that idea.  Having conversations where we feel uncertain about the outcome is unnerving, but just as we must fall back on our ability to use learned strategies to decode difficult text and argument, we can do the same for difficult dialogue.  What I admired about Greene is that he firmly knew what he believed and was willing to discuss that with nay-sayers or teachers who challenged the schools mission and vision.  Our conversations about what we believe in education are very murky areas, but there is nothing more important than having them.  As leaders we have to help our staff get to a place where they can have those discussions.

Management is doing things right.  Leadership is doing the right things.  (taken from Stephen Covey).

My father-in-law was a huge Covey fan and he’ll often use phrases like the one above to characterize a tough situation and how we need to act within it.  This is the difference between completing checklists of tasks that allow a school to function well, and getting the school community together to agree on who they are as a community of learners and designing the systems and curriculum together to ensure the students arrive at the place we want them to.  Checklists are great, but not as great as a sound vision.


3 thoughts on “New Thoughts, and Other Detritus.

  1. Andy Greene’s position is a variation of Pareto’s Principle and he’s right on in acknowledging it:

    Too often, schools want to treat every the same, students, faculty, staff, everyone. By acknowledging their faculty 20 percenters (or 33% in Andy’s case), school leaders will be better able to leverage their talents and enthusiasm for maximum results.

    1. Great reference and great link! We can never be all things to all people, and I appreciated how he always turned back to the kids when making decisions. Don’t do what you feel or she feels or he feels, do what is right by the kids.

  2. The rational part of me understands why Andy Greene’s advice regarding the thirds. Another (larger) part of me rejects the advice, as you did. I am an optimist and I too believe in the good of people. I make it a point to expect the best in any given situation. I believe that this is part of what makes me a good teacher and I also believe it helps me to be a better leader. The difference may be that when my students try to push the boundaries, I don’t take it personally. My students and I do not share the same perspective and their reaction to something I have said or done is their (often limited) perception of the situation. It is also possible that they know better than I do and I try to take that into consideration when they confront me.

    This attitude has also helped me to face difficult things head on. If I stay optimistic and expect the best then I expect that the perceived difficult situation will be easy. I will apologize if needed or if I believe it will help the other person be more objective.

    I often hear people offering this sort of advice about expecting things to go poorly so that you won’t feel hurt. I say do things from a caring place, work for the best, expect the best and don’t automatically assume that things you perceive to be defiant are personal attacks. There may be a lesson in there somewhere.

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