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Recent blog posts
Nobody likes performance reviews; they are a leadership sucker test

Let’s be honest about performance reviews, nobody likes them and it’s a leadership sucker test.

If I were to walk up to you and tell you I want to give you feedback, your entire body would immediately tense-up. That’s because, in reality nobody wants to hear “Hey, I’ve got some feedback for you.”

Feedback is the ultimate sucker test.

What people really want is to be told how good we are and how much you appreciate us. That’s probably because of a lack of expectation setting. Think of it this way. When you took your current role, did you have any kind of discussion about how your team operates and how you were going to be talking about standards of performance? I’m guessing not. Without some kind of grounded expectation to the contrary, what people are left with a desire to just hear the good stuff.

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The Accidental Leader: What happens when you stumble into being in charge?

There are many things that make independent schools unique and wonderful environments for learning. One of the reasons among many that independent schools are so special is to focus on professional faculty to give students an outstanding educational experience.

For the most part, the attention schools give to professional development for faculty is second to none. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said about leadership development for the people leading the schools, both as Administrators and as Managers.

 

The Accidental Leader

Here is an example. Jason is the Dean of Faculty. He started his career as a History teacher and soon earned respect for being one of the best. When the Department Head retired, Jason was tapped to become the new Department Head. It made sense because; after all he was the best teacher in the department.

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Give One Gift That Keeps Giving All Year Long

The final frenzy of activity

At this point in the year, your school is racing to fit in everything possible before the holiday break. Faculty members are preparing for the last minute assignments. College office is maxed-out. The Admissions office is ramping up for the flood of applications. Development is calculating what pledges have (or haven't) been made. The business office is also likely wrapping up some audit functions.

Many leaders and managers are also figuring out what is the appropriate holiday gift to give their teams.

This is also the time in many schools when the annual performance review process kicks-off. Your HR Director has probably recently distributed criteria and guidelines for conducting performance reviews.

There’s a pretty good chance that these guidelines were received with as much appreciation as a lump of coal in your stocking. However, what might be perceived as a negative can actually be a positive with the right perspective. After all, what’s the difference between a lump of coal and a diamond? The only difference is pressure and time.

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The Myth of More: How Rest and Renewal Can Be the Best Gift This Season

How do you look at downtime?

We are squarely into the holiday season. As we approach the final days before your school starts to look at taking a break, it’s important to look at one of the most underutilized tools that leaders have.

This is a hectic time of year, and people are looking forward to a little downtime. As a school leader,

do you look at downtime as a welcomed asset or as an interruption to the productivity of your school?

There are 2 levels on which leaders should be aware of the impact of downtime. The first is your own rest and renewal. The second is the rest and renewal of the people you are leading. This is particularly true for managers who report to you.

Don't believe the myth

There’s a common cultural myth that “successful leaders” are the ones who do more. The myth is supported by the mistaken idea that longer hours, less vacation, more interruptions, and less rest makes us better leaders. When more is expected, we tend to sacrifice our own opportunity for recovery because we have a mindset that tells us just do more. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the research shows very clearly that this mindset of go-go-go and do-do-do is actually more destructive than productive. 

So, why is it that we hold this expectation that "more" is better?

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Doing this one thing will help get more from people working on your campus

Every school I’ve worked with has wrestled with one common question:

How do we get more with our existing staffing levels?

This usually becomes a very serious discussion around the time that the Board of Trustees convenes for their meetings. While this presents challenges and considerations at the cultural level in a school, it is possible. There is a way to get more from the people you already have.

Engagement Matters

At work people are simply MORE when they are engaged. There more productive. There more effective. The more committed. And they are more aligned with the organization’s vision.

Engagement with people at all levels of the school is crucial.

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The Great Hoax of Knowing About vs. Knowing How

The Dilemma

Knowing about something is not the same as knowing how to do something.  Here’s a completely made-up illustration.

All his life, Mike wanted to see the ocean. Growing up in a landlocked state in the middle of the country, he watched all of the shows on television about lifeguards and swimmers and people having fun in the ocean. One year. He finally got his chance. He planned his vacation to go to Southern California. There was just one problem; Mike didn’t know how to swim. Before his trip, he picked up several books about successful swimmers and the best swimming techniques and he read cover to cover. Before he got to California, he could tell you everything there was to know about swimming. As soon as he got there, Mike made of beeline for the beach. He ran across the sand jumped into the surf. The feeling of the waves crashing against him and the water filling his ears and his nose and stinging his eyes was something he did not anticipate. Mike quickly found himself over his head in ocean water. In a matter of moments, he had to be rescued.

Mike’s experience with swimming in the ocean is actually very similar to what many managers experience when it comes to leadership. They can read about what other people do, they can listen to experiences that other people have had. In the end, being an effective leader is something you have to do.

Knowledge is in the muscle

This reminds me of a saying from New Guinea that goes:

“knowledge is only rumor until it’s in the muscle”.  

And this certainly applies to the situation where knowing about swimming isn’t the same thing as knowing HOW to swim.

Let’s take this to a practical leadership level.

It is not sufficient for leaders to be familiar with concepts, models, ideas, or theories.

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Hey leader, bring on some tension!

The Utopian World?

At this point in the school year, most schools have established some routine. Classes are running along. School events are happening. The campus is being maintained. It’s usually at about this point in the year, though, when the “people issues” start to crop up.

It seems that most schools operate under a misconception that people will just go about their business in an ultra-professional, rational, controlled environment. In this utopian environment, people expect their leaders to give them nothing but calm, “let me work at my own pace”, conflict-free interactions in a workplace where nobody is offended or challenged?

Contrary to that perspective, that is not what leadership is about and it is not how leaders should operate.

2 Leadership Imperatives

In any organization, leaders need to do 2 things:

Bring a vision to inspire others and give them a direction to go.

Introduce the right amount of tension to get results.

Vision Alone Isn’t Enough

There have been volumes written about the importance of leaders setting a vision and inspiring others to adopt that vision as their own (Good to GreatThe Leadership Challenge, etc.). Vision alone is not enough. As an old Samurai saying goes,

Vision without action is dreaming. And action without vision is wasting time.

And, as my father used to say,

If you don’t know where you are going, any old road will take you there.

It takes more than a vision and a strategy to get results. How do leaders get results? In a word: tension.

Tagged in: Tension
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3 Reasons why Rhythm may be throwing you off your Game

Welcome to another school year.

At this point you are likely up to your neck with activities aimed at kicking off another school year. Students and faculty have returned and the dorms are clean and freshly painted. On some campuses there are new buildings. Classes are underway. This energy kicks off the start of the rhythm of a new school year.

What is the rhythm of a school year? What is the rhythm of a school? More importantly, how do you as a leader in your school tap into rhythm to make this year more productive? How can understanding rhythm help to make this year better? Would it be helpful to learn how to use rhythm to make your team more collaborative, while reducing unnecessary tension that seems to spring-up as the year progresses?

If this seems helpful, then read on.

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What First Steps Can You Take to Build Your Team?

Leading teams is an important function of a manager in any school. Your school relies on your ability to form and lead a team. Teams are the primary work unit in schools. This is true whether it is a teaching team, a grounds crew, a reunion event team, or a team planning the school vision for the next 20 years. It's also true if you have a standing department or leadership team.

But how do you build teams in a way that produces predictable outcomes?

As with many things, it’s important to be clear with what we are talking about. What is a team?

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3 Ways to Create a Collaborative Environment in Your School

Independent schools are complex environments that require the committed collaboration of faculty, administration, and staff to educate and care for students. It's an important responsibility.

This is an exciting time of year for schools. The school year has just kicked off there’s an energy all over the campus and there is a shared focus on what is possible for this year. Students, faculty, administration, and staff are all starting to get into the rhythm of the school year. Often times, however, that excitement begins to dissipate quickly.

Not too long into the school year I started to hear stories about how challenging it is to get things done across campus. The frustration starts to mount and before you know it you’re in the middle of the school year and you’re extremely frustrated because you don’t feel that you’re getting the support that you need to accomplish what you have committed to. People don’t seem to be working together.

Is this a familiar story?

From the perspective of leadership and teamwork, this is an indicator of a breakdown in collaboration. But, why does that happen? What happens between the start of the school year when there’s so much energy and so much possibility and excitement and midway through the year when frustration is so prevalent?

Tagged in: Collaboration Teamwork
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Posted by on in Value
4 Steps to Show Your Board about Value

At this point in the year, most schools are beginning to prepare for fall board meetings. This is always a time of tension for everyone involved in the process. I frequently hear about this tension because there’s uncertainty about how to get board members to understand the value of recommendations from the leadership team.

Why is it that conversations with board members sometimes become so challenging? What is it about board meetings, committees, and reports that create tension?

While there are many variables at play, two of the key issues are the concepts of assessments and value. School leaders who engage in conversations with board members need to fully grasp how these two concepts influence the outcomes they achieve.

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