Why and How This Matters

The last post was all about how anything bad - or good - starts at the top of a school, with either the principal or the higher powers.  This is also the most important sentence and point of this entire series.  

Why is that?  And how is this true?  That's what I intend to explain in this post, because any school (and/or district) that sucks can be fixed with a good leader.  Conversely, any good school can become bad with a bad leader.  Improvement can start very quickly, with the right people in the right places.  If there is a school around you that has a bad reputation and performs poorly, what it means is that the people in charge of that school suck at their jobs.  Period.  

Here's why?

Principals put the initiatives that schools follow into place.  These initiatives (ex. matters of curriculum, things that are important in the school) must be followed by all teachers.  Teachers, by and large, are rule followers.  In a lot of ways, they're simply students with power.  They follow the same bell (and calendar) schedule that students do, and are even in the same classes.  The major difference is that they (usually) control what happens.  Every school has mandates and initiatives they implement and follow every year.  These are put into place by the the leaders of the school.  Bad leaders put bad initiatives into place.  Teachers have to follow them.

Here's how?

Since everyone is following a bad initiative, everyone is focusing on what doesn't matter.  While doing so, major issues aren't dealt with and students aren't properly educated.  It looks something like this: If someone is broke, homeless, and hungry, you have several options of how to deal with them.  You can give them a room for a night, a meal or two, and some cash.  This will shelter and feed the person for a time, but when that cash, shelter, and food is gone, the person is simply back to where they were before they met you.  

This is how it is with bad initiatives.    

Mandates and initiatives are also called vision.  The vision of the leader, which becomes the focus of the school, is apparent immediately.  It is very easy - like it only takes five minutes - to see if a school is good and what it focuses on.  Is it clean? Are people friendly? If someone bumps into you in the hall, do they say excuse me or push/fight?  Are the walls painted and fresh?  What happens when the bell rings?  Are staff visible?  When you walk in the office, are you greeted or talked harshly to?  

Good school focus on good things.  Bad schools focus on bad things.  Failing schools - very often - focus on the wrong initiatives. They'll look at only the surface of a problem, completely missing the root. And then years go by and no one is the better for anything.  And then so does another one.  And then they change the initiative, and that is also bad.  And then a decade has gone by.  And then the district is in turmoil.  

This must stop.  It is unacceptable.  

Pt. 11 Examples

With the posts that remain in this series, example will be the best way to demonstrate my point.  I'm closer to Tim Ferriss than I am to Alex Jones, and find all fire and brimstone to be boring.  Pt. 11 was on the importance of vision, and how it must be good.  Here is a good and bad example of what I mean.  

Bad Vision: Parental Involvement.

I was at a school where all teachers were required to make phone calls to parent on a weekly basis.  After we did so, we had to write down who we called and when, and turn this information in.  Then, our names were checked off the list, and we were all good.

The reason we were making these phone calls was due to the principal's mandate to get parents more involved in their child's education.  Phoning homes was the way to do this.  

So we did. 

But in practice, it looked like this: on Fridays, all teachers would rush to the phones at the end of the day, and make one or two calls.  We'd leave a message, write the name on the sheet, and turn it in.  All good.  This was usually the last thing I did during the week, and I'd make one call - often to the same person - and go home.  

Phone calls have never worked for me.  I suck on the phone.  For me, change happens in person, with a real conversation.  But by following my phone-call method, I was fine.  I was following the initiative, and considered a team player.  

Another reason the phone calls didn't work was that it was the teacher that was being proactive, taking a further step from action and involvement.  We were subtly enforcing that parents didn't need to make inquiries.  If there was a problem, the teacher would call.  Not to mention we had about 120 students.  Calling each parent was impractical.  

Other teachers got more into the phone calls than I did.  They'd make dozens of calls a week, adn use doing so as a threat.  But I'll be honest, I didn't notice phone calls working for anyone.  I heard a lot of teachers make threats, but didn't see tangible results.  

Good Vision: Uniforms.  

In many schools, the issue of wearing uniforms and how to enforce this rule is a big deal.  A school I was at had a uniform policy, and found a great way to enforce it.  The biggest thing the school was cracking down on was hoodies (hooded sweatshirts).  To enforce the policy, what they did was get all of the security guards together and went through every class.  Each kid was looked at in one hour.  If they were out of uniform, they received a punishment.  The first time was a warning, the second time was a consequence.  If they were wearing a hoodie, it was taken on the spot and had to be retrieved by a parent.  Within two weeks, kids complied with the uniform.      

The phone calls did not work because nothing was attached.  There were no tangible results, other than a checklist.  The uniforms worked because consequences were attached.  Non-compliance equated to punishment.  

These same principles can apply to all mandates and initiatives.  

This same thing applies to all matters of curriculum, staff, and iniatives.  By focuisn on ones that work for hte school, everyhting can run smoothly.