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3 How Instructional Leaders Can Create Healthy Work-Life Boundaries

Principal stress seems to be at an all-time high, as a recent tragic story out of Western Australia illustrates. The West Australian reports:

It was not unusual for Laverton School principal Trish Antulov to stay at work until late at night, even on weekends.

So when she did not come home on Sunday before last her husband, John, did not become too concerned until several phone calls went unanswered.

About 10pm, he went to the school, where he found that his wife of 26 years had died at her desk.

Mr Antulov said the long hours she worked had contributed to her high stress levels.

“She just didn’t have time to look after herself properly,” he said.

“She was under a lot of stress and terrible pressure just to be successful in her job.” link

Now, certainly the sheer number of people who are principals, and the fact that we spend a good portion of our lives at school, means that a certain number of people will, understandably, pass away while at work.

It's jarring—but is it a sign of a troubling pattern in our profession?

Evidence is starting to emerge that stress isn’t just endemic to leadership—it’s an epidemic.

The Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, conducted by Associate Professor Philip Riley and his team at Australian Catholic University, recently released a massive report on the state of principal health and wellbeing in Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. You can follow @PrinHealth on Twitter to stay abreast of this important work.

The reality is that some jobs are more stressful than others. Some schools are more stressful environments than others.

And within a school and role, we all go through times of varying stress levels.

The societal forces creating stress on the principalship may be beyond our individual control, but we can act to reduce their impact on our health and well-being.

What can we do to protect ourselves from life-threatening levels of stress?

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First

We’re familiar with the flight attendant’s directions to “put your own oxygen mask on first” in the event of an emergency.

If you want to help others, the reasoning goes, there’s no point in heroically putting others before yourself to such an extreme degree that you lose your own life in the process.

But even if we’re not talking about extreme, life-threatening levels of stress, should we be worried?

Many hard-working educators seem to feel a strong sense of guilt around the idea of self-care, as if a “whatever it takes” attitude toward student learning rules out any effort to limit one’s own stress.

Is there an unselfish reason to limit our own stress, even as we do our best on behalf of students?

To answer this question, we must ask a fundamental question: how do we make a difference in student learning?

At its core, is our work the work of heroes, or the work of professionals?

To explore this question, let’s take a cue from a line of work that has made extraordinary gains in outcomes over the past century: firefighting.

How Firefighters Saved More Lives—and Made Their Own Work Safer In The Process

A century ago, firefighting was largely reactionary. Firefighters saved lives by rushing into burning buildings and carrying people out—and of course, by dousing fires with water.

As you can imagine, this is dangerous work, and since many victims suffer grievous burns or smoke inhalation, even someone who is heroically saved from a fire may ultimately die from their injuries.

Today, how do most firefighters save the most lives?

In a word, prevention.
Steven Pinker writes:

“In the middle of the 20th century, fire departments turned from just fighting fires to preventing them… Fire was designated a nationwide moral emergency in reports from presidential commissions with titles like ‘America Burning.’

The campaign led to the now-ubiquitous sprinklers, smoke detectors, fire doors, fire escapes, fire drills, fire extinguishers, fire-retardant materials, and fire safety education mascots like Smokey the Bear and Sparky the Fire Dog.

As a result, fire departments are putting themselves out of business. About 96 percent of their calls are for cardiac arrests and other medical emergencies, and most of the remainder are small fires. (Contrary to a charming image, they don't rescue kittens from trees.)

A typical firefighter will see just one burning building every other year.

—Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, p. 183

Consider this parallel to our own work: firefighters figured out that it's far better—for everyone, not just themselves—to prevent fires, rather than wait until they break out. And countless lives have been saved as a result.

To accomplish this feat, firefighters had to set aside any fear that they’d be seen as lazy or self-interested by promoting prevention. They had to set aside any pretensions of heroic martyrdom.

In effect, they had to become professionals, demand professional respect, and advocate for policies that would achieve the best possible results.

In every major city today, fire departments are highly professionalized. Firefighters spend most of their time on proactive work, like visiting schools and supervising fire drills, or inspecting sprinkler and alarm systems to ensure that they work.

Does every firefighter get to look like a Hollywood hero, carrying limp-bodied victims to safety, and bringing them back with CPR?

No. That hardly ever happens—and that's a good thing.

Professionalism outperforms heroism, every time. It's not as flashy, but it works far better.

What does a more professional approach look like in our line of work?

Defining and Protecting the Leader’s Work

For school leaders, professionalism means staying focused on a well-defined leadership agenda, and having systems to prevent and deal with distractions.

Who determines your agenda? Who determines what leadership work most deserves your time?

Ultimately, you do. You must decide what actions will make the greatest impact on student learning.

Then, you must protect your time to take those actions, and not allow yourself to be pulled off-course by distractions and minor emergencies.

When the alarm bells ring, of course you can still react. Classroom observations are important, but you can always reschedule them if you get interrupted to deal with an imminent safety situation.

But if you're fighting fires all day, every day, it's time to step back and look at the system you're dealing with.

Do you have a wooden building with no sprinklers, metaphorically speaking? Are you plagued with perpetual emergencies that could and should be prevented by proactive leadership?

For example, numerous stressed-out leaders have written to me to tell me how much time they spend dealing with substitute teachers:

  • Recruiting
  • Training
  • Calling them in when they're needed
  • Dealing with sub shortages by covering classes personally, or otherwise scrambling

If you're dealing with this now, don't just fight the fire. Install a proactive prevention system.

If you’re a principal, your core work should not be worrying about sub coverage every day. You have more important priorities—but if no systems are in place to seamlessly ensure sub coverage, it’s your job to build them.

Could you solve your sub shortage with 10 or 20 hours of really focused work? Could you consult colleagues in other schools and discover how they’ve solved their sub challenges? Could you recruit a good pool of people? Could you train someone else to train them? Could you train your teachers and office staff to secure subs whenever there's an absence?

Yes, you probably could. 90% of schools have already done this, and you can too. I don't have all the answers on solving sub shortages, but I know as a profession, we collectively do.

In fact, we have the knowledge and the ability to solve virtually every problem that's currently stressing principals out.

The key to sharing that knowledge and implementing it everywhere is to drop the pretention of heroism.

We must instead adopt a mindset of professionalism, stop tolerating the endless cycle of burning buildings, and install the “sprinkler systems” we need.

With the right preventative systems in place, we can create boundaries that protect against unhealthy levels of stress. Here’s how.

Create Boundaries with Low Walls

When you've decided what's rightly on your plate as a leader—so you're tackling the right work on behalf of kids—go for it. But how can you protect your focus on that core work?

To be sure, other people's agendas will crowd their way in—if you let them. Our commitment to our core work on behalf of students, plus everyone else's priorities, is a recipe for burnout.

Of course, we can't just ignore everyone. We can't just say “Leave me alone! I'm focused on PLCs this year!”

A wide range of issues will come up, and it’s our job to deal with them. So how can we handle these issues, without distracting us from our core focus, and without working all the time?

As I’ve been immersed in the work of school leadership for the past decade, I’ve noticed that the most overwhelmed and stressed-out principals seem to be in a constant state of emergency.

It’s not just that they’re dealing with a few emergencies. It’s that everything is an emergency, all the time.

Yet in other schools, these same issues aren’t emergencies. They may or may not occur less often—that’s not the real difference.

The difference is that in effective, high-performing schools, systems are in place to deal with those issues, so they don’t become emergencies that warrant constant and immediate intervention from administrators.

Let’s return to the example of substitute teachers. In my school, finding subs was never something that took up my time or caused me stress.

Why? Did I luck into a staff of perfectly healthy teachers who never got sick?

Of course not. In fact, I can’t take any credit at all, because these systems were place when I arrived—a combination of technology, delegated responsibilities, and resources that made subs a permanently solved problem.

Did I occasionally have to become involved when the system failed to deal with an extraordinary set of circumstances? Of course—but not very often.

This system for obtaining sub coverage, like other effective systems, created boundaries to protect my time. Think of the stone walls around a pasture.

These walls aren’t especially high, but they’re high enough to deal with 80%-90% of what might otherwise reach us. Instead of taking up our time immediately, these minor issues are directed to what we might think of as the right “gate” or gatekeeper.

For example, teachers who need a sub are directed to our online SubFinder system. If that doesn’t solve their problem, they move onto the next gate, our school office manager, who can work her magic when the automated system doesn’t get the job done.

Can people still leap over the wall and reach me directly? Yes, that’s always an option—and that’s why there’s no real risk of becoming aloof or unresponsive with systems like this. With low walls—modest barriers protecting our time and attention—we can see what’s happening on the other side, and we can ourselves leap over to lend a hand when necessary.

Of course, other problems can’t be permanently solved in the same way, because they’re one-off situations that warrant an individualized response. How can we keep these situations from becoming an onslaught of emergencies?

Designated Exception-Handlers

One of my summer jobs in college was dealing with “exception” mail at a multi-national corporation.

Customers would send in their payments by check to a national payment processing facility in Nevada, and if those payments didn’t contain anything out of the ordinary, the payment facility would process them with mind-numbing efficiency.

But if a customer enclosed a note, such as a change of address or a question, it would be an “exception” to what they normally handled, so it’d come to me and the rest of the “exception mail” team in Houston.

We’d open it, figure out what to do, and solve the problem. Many of these issues, such as address changes, were routine and easily handled, but others required some consultation or even management approval.

What’s the parallel in schools? If the designated point person can’t handle an issue, does it need to go straight to the principal?

Usually, no. The best next step for many kinds of “exceptions” is committees and meetings.

For example, let’s say we’re having a traffic issue around the school at drop-off time. Does this need to immediately go to the principal?

Again, the “wall” protecting our time shouldn’t be so high that we’re fully insulated from every issue. But the wall should gently guide issues to the right “gate.”

This means our traffic issue should probably go to the safety committee first, assuming there’s no immediate emergency.

And even if there is an emergency that requires a rapid admin response, the ultimately task of solving the problem long-term may be best handled by the committee.

“Let's put that on the agenda” is a magical phrase. It shows responsiveness and concern, but also a disciplined, measured response—you're not dropping everything in response to someone else’s issue.

Of course, sometimes we need to drop everything momentarily, but still delegate the solving of the long-term problem to a committee.

Low Walls In Action

Sometimes we’re the first responders to urgent issues, and may bear ultimate responsibility for installing the right preventative systems, but it’s still best to involve a designated team or committee.

For example, if a parent comes to you saying “My kid is being bullied. What are you going to do?” You’re probably going to talk to the students involved, and come up with a short-term resolution.

But if the ultimate solution is implementing a school-wide PBIS system, that's going to be far more work than it was for the parent to report the issue. That may be your real work.

But you may also have situations where you do have a good system in place, and the parent is just having a bad day, or is coming to you because you're an easy target.

So we need a bit of a “wall” to keep people from dumping too many of their issues on us too easily.

Again, think of these as low walls like you might find around a pasture.

Some issues are big enough to get over them—and interrupt you immediately—like if there's a fight, or a serious complaint about a teacher, or some other emergency. But other issues aren't big enough to go over the wall, so you route them to the “gate.” They walk around for a bit, come to a gate, and try to get in.

“Have you spoken with your child's teacher about the bullying you're seeing?”

The gatekeeper may be an individual, or may be a committee with a process. Either way, the issue is handled in due course.

Let’s consider another example, of a parent who comes to you saying “My kid needs to be in the gifted program.”

If I’ve implemented the “low wall” approach, and I’ve decided that I am not going to spend my day worrying or arguing about whether this kid should be in the gifted program, I’m simply going to follow our established system. I'm going to tell them where the gate is, and they can fill out the relevant forms and follow the process according to an established timeline.

As much as possible, that process is not going to take up my time or rely on my judgment—because the more it does, the more people are going to suck up my time by lobbying and haranguing me.

Now, “process” is an idea that a lot of people don't like, because it sounds bureaucratic. And bureaucracy is bad, right?

Actually, no. Inefficient bureaucracies are bad, to be sure. Bureaucracies that don't effectively achieve their intended goals are bad.

But bureaucracies that are well-run are incredibly effective at solving problems at scale, without stressing anyone out.

Take the passport system, for example. Last year, we wanted to get/renew passports for our whole family. A nightmare of red tape, right?

Not at all. We went to Walgreens, got photos taken, and sent off the forms in the mail. A couple weeks later, the passports came in the mail. No drama—the process simply worked.

But imagine if, to get a passport, we had to appeal directly to the Secretary of State—phone calls, emails, trying to stop him in the parking lot or the grocery store. (Sound familiar? 🙂

Right now, too much relies on you, and there's no “low wall” to direct people to the right “gate” to get their issue resolved.

How do I know?

Because there's always an opportunity to become more systematic and professionalized in the way we serve kids.

Does it feel “bureaucratic” sometimes? Well, yes. But it feels bureaucratic when the fire marshal comes and scolds you about using door stops on fire doors, and asks to see your fire drill logs.

Would it look more “heroic” to carry people out of burning buildings? Absolutely. Holding a clipboard looks downright geeky in comparison.

But which saves more lives—the professional process, or the heroic rescue?

So if something is routinely taking up too much of your time, put up a low wall—not a wall so high that it's keeping out issues that should rightly reach you, but a wall that encourages people to use the right process to get their issue handled.

And if you don't have enough of those processes in place, focus some of your attention on developing them.

Did some firefighter sit down one day in Excel and design a form to track school fire drills? Probably so, and it probably didn’t feel like a very heroic day at work.

But that's the work: building systems to do the work.

The Bottleneck Problem

As leaders, we face an asymmetry problem—there's only one of us, and there's a large number—hundreds, if not thousands—of other people who may make claims on our time and attention.

And there's an additional layer to this asymmetry problem—people can very quickly dump their problems on us, giving us work that's not quick to do. One quick email from a stakeholder can lead to days or weeks of work.

Even if we have great systems—low walls, and appropriate gates to send people around to—we’ll still get inundated with other people’s issues. It’s just the nature of leadership.

It’s important to recognize that this work is endless. There is no hope of every being free from this work, or ever finishing it all. Organizations naturally create work for themselves in the never-ending process of improvement, and most of this work will involve leaders in some way.

You’re often the bottleneck in your organization. So how can you keep these pressures from eating you alive?

Here are a few suggestions for specific boundaries to protect your time, attention, and well-being.

Keep Regular Working Hours

It's often said that the principalship is a 24/7 job, and to some extent, that may be true.

But it's only as true as we allow it to be. If you’re willing to stay at school until 9pm every night, your work will oblige you by expanding to fill whatever time you give it.

This phenomenon is known as Parkinson’s Law, and briefly stated, it says “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Parkinson was an administrator in, and observer of, British bureaucracy in the middle of the 20th century. He noted that bureaucracies have an endless ability to make work for themselves—for example, he noted that the office responsible for managing Britain’s colonies continued to grow, even as the number of colonies in the British empire dwindled down to zero.

Our schools face this same relentless pressure, to make up work for ourselves to do, even as we’ve solved many of our most pressing problems. As leaders, we must ensure that we’re directing this energy toward worthwhile improvement efforts, and not mere busywork.

And just as this is true at the organizational level, it’s true of our work as individual leaders—and protecting our time is even more urgent at the personal level.

Committees can live on forever, and can’t have heart attacks or strokes. People are much more vulnerable to overwork and stress,

So one boundary that you must create for yourself is working hours—and by the same token, non-working hours.

If you feel guilty leaving at 5pm, just remember this: you’re never going to get everything done, and the longer you work, the more time you waste. You’ll approach each additional task with less mental energy, and you’ll be working on less and less important tasks as the evening wears on.

Do the most important work first, and give yourself a hard deadline for going home. You’ll work faster and more efficiently, you’ll prioritize more rigorously, and you’ll be more effective.

Why not get the most important work done, save the rest for another day, and go home happy at 5pm?

But giving yourself a firm quitting time is just one of many steps you can take to establish better boundaries around your work life.

Email, Not Texting

I could list dozens of other tactics for protecting your time, but I’ll close with just one more: don’t allow other people to make requests via text message.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a remarkable rise in texting in a professional context.

This increase in texting has been accompanied by a decrease in reliance on email, even when email is the better communication medium.

Texting is great for quick questions, just as phone calls have been for decades. But text messages are a very poor way to manage work, because:

  • They can’t be marked as unread
  • They’re difficult to forward or CC people on
  • They’re difficult to manage on your computer and other devices
  • They don’t integrate well with productivity tools like Outlook and Google Calendar

I'm convinced a lot of our stress—and the perception that we need to be working all the time—is coming from our smartphones.

Do we love them? Absolutely—I'm on my phone all the time. But that convenience comes at a cost.

I'm not suggesting that you get rid of your phone, but do enforce some boundaries. Specifically, don't let people text you at 10pm and expect an immediate response.

Don't let people text you random requests that you'll struggle to keep track of.

Text messaging wasn't built for productivity. Email was, so insist that people email you if they need you to do something. And model this by treating your staff the same way.

For more tips on managing text messages, see this great blog post from Dr. Frank Buck.

Professional Work Has Boundaries, But Only If We Create Them

Boundaries are key to professionalism. If we're martyrs, we don't need boundaries. If this is a profession, and we want to retain professional people to do professional work, the boundaries are essential.

Those boundaries, like the low stone walls around a pasture, don’t build themselves. It’s our job to build them.

I believe we have the same opportunity today that firefighters had in the middle of the 20th century. We can admit that it’s better if we’re not fighting fires all the time, and we can build the preventative systems that not only get better results, but save lives.

Your turn: What are some boundaries that you have put in place to protect your time and your focus on the most important leadership work?

Leave a comment below and let me know.

How Instructional Leaders Change Teacher Practice

What can instructional leaders do to actually change teacher practice?

I believe changing practice starts with getting into classrooms and having conversations with teachers.

Office-based activities like analyzing data and planning professional development are important, but they're no substitute for actually seeing teachers at work, and talking with them about their work.

My book Now We're Talking! 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership is all about making a daily habit of classroom visits.

But what do we do when we get there?

For most school leaders, the answer is feedback.

We know we're supposed to provide feedback…but how is feedback actually supposed to work? And what kinds of feedback should we provide?

When we talk about feedback, we're usually thinking of directive feedback and reflective feedback.

In any given conversation, we want to either change the teacher's behavior, or help them change their thinking.

With a teacher who is struggling, we might take a more directive stance and play the boss:

“You must not raise your voice or yell at students. Instead of yelling, use a consistent signal to get everyone's attention, then give directions in a normal speaking voice.”

It would be a waste of time to ask reflective questions when you already know what you want the teacher to do.

But often, the teacher's behavior is fine. It's their thinking—the cognition and decision-making behind their actions—that you want to help improve.

So you might play the coach ask a reflective question:

“I noticed that you asked a series of questions during the discussion that gradually moved to the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. What are some ways you could get students to start asking these higher-order questions, so they can take more leadership in directing class discussions?”

Because teaching is complex professional work, we can't make teachers' decisions for them. Relying on directive feedback with highly skilled teachers is a recipe for disaster.

But by asking the right questions at the right time, we can prompt the kinds of thinking that can help teachers improve their practice.

So these two roles are a core part of most instructional leaders' practice:

  1. The “boss” who uses directive feedback to improve teacher behavior, and
  2. The “coach” who uses reflective feedback to change teacher thinking

But I've noticed a problem with these two roles: they aren't enough.

A brief observation usually doesn't provide enough information to have a high-quality directive or reflective feedback conversation.

When we try to jump into directive or reflective feedback without enough information, something feels “off.”

We trigger the teacher's resistance, or our own. The higher the level of resistance, the more we hesitate to get into classrooms.

So we know we need to be doing something differently…but we're not sure quite what it is.

Too often, this confusion about our precise role as instructional leaders—how we change teacher practice—keeps us from taking any action at all.

So the norm in our profession is for administrators to spend very little time in classrooms—at least, very little substantive time, beyond the required formal observations.

I believe we can do much better, but first, we must understand precisely how the “boss” and “coach” roles function, so we can fill in the gaps.

The Boss Role: Changing Teacher Behavior with Directive Feedback

To help us think about the way teachers respond to directive feedback, let's consider the way we view advice from our doctors.

When you go to the doctor and get medical advice…why do you trust that advice?

Trust is essential, because if you go to the doctor but don't do what your doctor prescribes, your health won't improve.

All the prescriptions in the world won't help if you don't take your medicine…and often we feel like our struggling teachers just aren't taking their medicine.

We know what they need to do…so why won't they do it? Why do teachers resist directive feedback, and how can we increase our odds of success?

When your doctor prescribes a medication, or recommends a procedure…why do you take their recommendations seriously?

Three main reasons come to mind.

First, there's expertise. You expect that your doctor has been to medical school and developed a deep knowledge of:

  • The various types of injuries, illnesses and diseases
  • How to make a proper diagnosis
  • The various treatment and medication options
  • How to decide what kind of care is best for a given patient

But you also want your doctor to know you. So in addition to expertise, firsthand knowledge matters.

It's not enough to know about medicine in general—you also want your doctor to know about YOUR personal medical history. A medication that's perfect for one patient may be harmful to another patient, even if they have the same symptoms. The details of each individual case matter.

Third, you expect your doctor to listen to your complaint, and to ask questions that will help you describe the situation more clearly, so you can get an accurate diagnosis and prescription.

Listening is at the heart of strong relationships. According to the New York Times, the biggest cause of malpractice lawsuits against doctors is poor communication.

I would argue that similarly, the biggest reason we fail to change teacher behavior—even when we know exactly what needs to change—is a failure to listen.

These are the conditions for getting the professional treatment one needs to get better—and the same conditions hold whether we're at the doctor or in the classroom. We need:

  • Expertise
  • Firsthand knowledge
  • Listening

As leaders, if we're going to tell teachers how to improve, we first need to have expertise.

But instructional expertise isn't enough. We also need to know the person we're working with—their strengths, weaknesses, and current situation.

In order to make an accurate diagnosis and give an accurate prescription of what needs to happen next, we need to know the individual case in detail, and that means we need to listen.

Even when we're working with teachers who are making serious and obvious mistakes—like failing to plan lessons, or screaming at students—we need to have expertise, gain firsthand knowledge, and listen.

The best way to accomplish all three of these requirements is to spend time observing and talking with the teacher.

Once- or twice-annual formal observations aren't enough. The more time you spend in each teacher's classroom, the more you'll be able to provide accurate and helpful directive feedback to teachers who are struggling.

But what if teachers resist directive feedback? What if a teacher needs to make obvious and immediate changes to their practice, but refuses?

Overcoming Direct Resistance to Directive Feedback

I once supervised a teacher who wasn't planning his math lessons in advance—he'd just wing it, every single day.

When I discovered what was happening, I was fairly direct:

“This is not working. You need to plan in advance. You cannot read out of the teacher's guide during class without any planning ahead of time. You need to plan and prepare in advance so your students can learn.”

I was 100% right in diagnosing the problem and prescribing the solution. But accurate information wasn't enough to change his practice, because he resisted, head-on. He said:

“Actually, I don't really think I need to change the way I plan. So, no—I'm not doing that. In fact, I don't really want you to come in my classroom. I've got this under control. Just leave me alone—you do your job, and I'll do mine.”

He called the teacher's union, and just as quickly, I called my supervisor. Both the union rep and my boss backed me immediately—which, as a young principal, I greatly appreciated.

Direct resistance is usually best handled directly—with clear expectations, and clear role definitions.

Once he understood my expectations, and that they weren't optional, he made the necessary changes.

Positional power isn't the only way to overcome direct resistance, but sometimes it's the right approach.

In other cases, though, resistance comes not from a bad attitude on the teacher's part, but from a mistake we make as leaders: giving directive feedback to professional teachers who can only grow if we take more of a coaching stance.

And sometimes, we need to play both roles at different times for the same teacher. Once the teacher above accepted the fact that he needed to do lesson plans, I could play a coaching role in helping him develop effective lesson plans.

It wouldn't have worked for me to write his lesson plans. That was his job as a professional—and my job as an instructional leader was to help him get better at it.

The more frequently you observe and talk with each teacher, the more clearly you'll know when it's time to set the “boss” role aside, and start to take a coaching stance.

The Coach Role: Changing Teacher Thinking with Reflective Feedback

When I became a principal, I didn't have great expertise in elementary instruction, because I had been a middle school science teacher. I had never taught primary reading or math.

I could give directive feedback if a teacher was struggling with the basics, but what about stronger teachers? What if they needed ultra-specific feedback in an area I knew nothing about? How could I help a 25-year veteran Kindergarten teacher improve her 1:1 reading conferences?

Because I didn't have expertise, I couldn't diagnose and prescribe appropriate next steps for teachers who were already doing well.

So what did I do?

I didn't try to tell teachers what they did right and what they did wrong. Instead, I asked open-ended softball questions like:

  • “Tell me more about when you did ___…”
  • “What were your goals for the lesson?”
  • “What are you thinking you'll do next?”

I was worried that this would undermine my credibility. After all, what kind of doctor asks the patient

“So…what medication do you think I should prescribe for you?”

And sure enough, teachers did start to catch on. They realized that they could end the conversation quickly if they played the game.

Overcoming Indirect Resistance to Reflective Feedback

Indirect resistance often takes the form of what I call the Fake Feedback Game.

In this game, there are two players: the administrator, and the teacher. The rules are simple:

  • The administrator must pretend to provide feedback, and
  • The teacher must pretend to appreciate it,
  • They both must pretend teacher practice has changed as a result of the conversation

I was pretending to “provide feedback” with my softball questions, because I didn't really know what else to say:

“Oh, so you were trying to use higher-order questions in your discussion today? Great! I wonder if… you might use more analysis and synthesis questions with ELL students? Maybe…?”

I'd hope and pray the teacher wouldn't disagree or call me out on my softball questions.

Teachers knew the fastest way to get rid of me was to smile and nod and play along:

“Oh yeah, great point, Justin! I will definitely work on that and let you know how it goes, OK? Bye!”

When we play the game, the teacher's practice doesn't change.

But there's a bigger problem—I don't know any more than I did before I walked into the classroom:

  • I don't know if my feedback was helpful
  • I don't know if the teacher will act on it
  • I didn't learn anything I can use to help other teachers improve
  • I didn't learn anything I can use to improve my school overall

When it comes to improving our schools overall, we need good information to make good decisions.

If all we're seeing is teachers who are doing OK and enthusiastically agreeing with all of our feedback, we won't discover our best opportunities for improving teaching and learning.

Fortunately, I had a great staff, and we developed great relationships pretty quickly, so I ended up not playing the Fake Feedback Game very much.

I'm incredibly grateful to the teachers who trusted me enough to be completely honest about what they were working on, how it was going, and what they thought they—and the school—needed to do next to improve.

It was through these conversations that I discovered the true reason it's so hard to change teacher practice.

And I discovered that neither the “boss” nor the “coach” roles would take us where we needed to go.

Seeing the Whole Iceberg of Teacher Practice

When we get into classrooms, it's essential to recognize that we're not seeing everything.

Like an iceberg, most of teachers' practice is hidden beneath the surface.

I would suggest that the ratio is about 90/10—that is, only about 10% of teaching and teacher practice can be seen when we visit a classroom.

We're not seeing:

  • The training and experience that shapes the teacher's judgment
  • What happened yesterday, and what's in the rest of the unit plan
  • The teacher's knowledge of, and relationship with, each individual student
  • Connections between concepts in the curriculum that we may not know about

We absolutely need to get into classrooms, but we shouldn't deceive ourselves into thinking that we're seeing the whole of teacher practice.

When we get into a classroom, we can see what the teacher is doing and saying. We can see how they're acting. We can see what students are doing and saying.

We can take note of the resources they're using, we can get a feel for the learning environment, but we must never forget that there's also much that we can't see.

When we fail to see “the whole iceberg” of teacher practice, we tend to focus on just the parts we can see—the easily observable behaviors, such as whether the teacher is writing the objective on the board every day.

Trying to change your school by focusing only on observable teacher behaviors is exhausting and futile.

You can solve blatantly obvious problems by focusing on teacher behavior, but to take teachers from good to great, consistently and at scale, you must focus on teacher thinking.

Teacher behavior is like the tip of the iceberg, and teacher thinking is what's beneath the surface.

Thinking is largely invisible…until we make it visible through conversation.

There's no way to see what happened yesterday or five minutes ago. We can't see what will happen tomorrow, or even five minutes after we leave.

But we can ask—and it turns out that asking is remarkably simple, and remarkably effective.

If you want to understand teacher thinking and decision-making, just ask.

But here's a lesson I learned the hard way: don't ask “Why?” questions.

When you ask “Why” questions, you get justifications.

And using evidence to ask “why” questions only triggers more defensiveness, which doesn't lead to growth.

If—like me—you've spent countless hours in conversations that seem to go nowhere, you know just how unproductive these conversations become when we trigger teachers' defensiveness.

When you instead ask “how?” questions, you'll discover what you need to learn to lead effectively.

The more I asked “how?” questions—out of genuine ignorance at first—the more I learned that I needed an entirely new approach to feedback if I really wanted to change teacher practice.

The Leader Role: Shifting the Iceberg with Reflexive Feedback

Why does our feedback so often fail to change teacher practice?

When we take responsibility as instructional leaders, we can't just say “Well, I gave them feedback, but they aren't changing.

That's like the teacher who says “Well, I taught them, but they didn't learn.

If we're leading, but no one is following…we're not leading!

Our leadership must be differentiated if we truly want to change teacher practice:

  • To deal with direct resistance, and change teacher behavior, we must play the boss and use directive feedback
  • To deal with indirect resistance, and change teacher thinking, we must play the coach and use reflective feedback

But teachers don't change their practice in a vacuum. So if we truly want to take responsibility, we must address the system within which teachers work.

Too often, when we try to change teacher practice, we focus only on the individual teacher. We try to change either the teachers’ actions or their thinking, but all of that occurs in a system—in a context that can't be ignored.

We must see the whole iceberg of practice—what's above and below the surface—but the current the iceberg is floating in matters even more.

W. Edwards Deming, who’s known as the father of the Quality Management movement, put it this way:

“In my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belong to the system.”

So there's a third kind of feedback, which I call reflexive feedback, that gives us the greatest opportunity for improving our schools, because it gives us the feedback we need to improve the system.

  • To improve the system teachers work within, we must play the leader and use reflexive feedback.

Reflexive feedback conversations involve both parties in talking, listening, reflecting, and taking action. The idea of reflexivity, which comes from the social sciences, suggests a two-way street—a feedback relationship that runs in both directions.

Leaders who use reflexive feedback are more effective at changing teacher practice because they're willing and able change things other than the teacher, in order to support positive changes in the teacher’s practice.

Teachers who are engaged in reflexive feedback know they have a voice, and that their feedback to leaders will be taken seriously. As a result, they're more willing to invest effort in making changes to their practice—because they believe they'll get the support they need.

Reflexive feedback is what distinguishes leaders from coaches.

When I was a principal, I had a supervisor, and I also had a coach, and I had many great conversations with both of them. My coach was extremely helpful in getting me to reflect, and I know I got better as a result.

My supervisors did that too, but also did something else: they listened, and brought about changes in the district that would make me a more effective leader. So when we talked about a problem, I knew I’d have to do my part, but I also knew my boss would go to bat for me at the district office and get things done.

And that’s what we need to do, almost all of the time, when we’re working with teachers. There’s part they need to do to get better, but there’s also part we need to do as leaders.

Deming realized that, for too long, American companies tried to improve manufacturing by basically yelling at their workers and telling them to try harder.

Work faster! Produce more! Be safer! Have fewer accidents!

How did it work? Not very well. Blaming the front-line employee for factors beyond his or her control doesn't get us very far.

Deming realized that the next level of productivity wasn't about fixing the individual worker.

It wasn't that American workers were lazier or less careful than workers in other countries. The difference was that, in organizations that were improving rapidly, the focus was on improving their systems—not on individuals.

I believe it's time for us to learn the same lesson in education.

Teachers don't teach in a vacuum—they teach in a specific organization. The system they're working within determines the majority of the results that they get.

So if you want to take your school from good to great, it's not enough to address each individual “iceberg” of teacher practice. You're responsible for the current that moves the entire ocean.

As a new principal, when I got into classrooms, I often didn't know what to say, so I just listened and asked questions that would to tell me what I needed to know.

When I talked with teachers and learned what was going on beneath the surface of their practice—and what was going on within our school that might be hidden to me—I started to see my school as a system.

Once I saw the whole system, I was able to make better decisions:

  • Decisions about what to address in professional development
  • Decisions about who to hire to add to our team
  • Decisions about how to allocate our budget
  • Decisions about where to spend my time and attention

Having these conversations isn't difficult—and in any conversation, you can shift between directive, reflective, and reflexive feedback as needed.

To summarize:

Three Roles Leaders Play in Changing Teacher Practice

The boss role helps you deal effectively with direct resistance and change teacher behavior through directive feedback.

As I explain in Chapter 2 of Now We're Talking! 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership, the best classroom visits have seven key features:

  • Frequent—Approximately once every two weeks
  • Brief—Five to ten minutes of observation, followed by a brief conversation
  • Substantive—More than just making an appearance
  • Open ended—Focused on the teacher’s thinking, not filling out a form
  • Evidence based—Centered on what actually happened during the observation
  • Criterion referenced—Linked to a shared instructional framework
  • Conversation oriented—Designed to lead to reflexive feedback conversations between teachers and instructional leaders

For ten evidence-based questions to structure your conversations with teachers, download the free PDF guide, 10 Questions For Better Feedback On Teaching

Free PDF Download

How To Document Quick “No Feedback” Visits in Repertoire

Sometimes when you're visiting classrooms, you don't want to provide feedback.

Perhaps you didn't see anything you felt compelled to comment on, or perhaps you weren't able to stay as long as usual.

Whatever the reason, it's often useful to document visits to classrooms, even when you don't take any notes or provide any feedback.

In our web-based app Repertoire, you can document visits of any length—from a brief pop-in to a full formal observation.

Here's how you can document a classroom visit, even if you don't take any notes, and don't want to email the teacher.

1. Create A Template

In Repertoire, click Templates, then Create Template.

Give your template a descriptive name that will easily come to mind when you're making a brief visit to a classroom, such as “quick visit.”

In the Subject and Content fields, put “n/a” or whatever you'd like.

Click Save to finish creating your template.

2. Use Your Template

Select this template when documenting a visit with no notes and no feedback.

This will save you the trouble of filling something in the Subject and Message fields, which can't be blank. It'll also help you distinguish visits in which you purposefully didn't takes notes from those that, say, were interrupted by an emergency.

3. Save as Draft or Hit Send & Discard Email


Then, you can either click “Save and continue editing” and leave the entry as a draft; or, you can click “Send” but then close the email when it opens in your email program, without sending it.

Clicking “Save and continue editing” to save the entry as a draft may be helpful for quickly seeing which visits had feedback and which were just pop-ins with no notes/feedback. Here's how they'll appear in your list of entries in Repertoire:

Note: You can also use the radio button on the Add New Entry screen to indicate whether an entry contains feedback:

Another Idea: Send A Quick Note

It's not a bad idea to send a quick email of acknowledgement when you visit a teacher's classroom, even if you don't have any feedback.

Repertoire's template feature makes this very easy:

As you can see, Repertoire will even fill in the teacher's name using template variables:

Try Repertoire

If you're already a Pro Member, you can login to Repertoire here.

If you aren't yet a member, you can try Repertoire for 30 days for just $1.

Try Repertoire for $1 $19month after 30 days—cancel any time

How To Track Your Classroom Visits

When I was a new principal, I spent a lot of time and effort figuring out how I wanted to do walkthroughs.

I knew I wanted to visit classrooms, but…

  • what app should I use?
  • How should my form look?
  • How should I structure my feedback?

Those may be important issues…but first things first.

I was missing a more fundamental question: How often was I visiting each teacher?

Avoidance

I assumed I was getting around to every teacher every week or two.

After all, I tried to visit classrooms every day. Rarely (I thought) did a day go by when I wasn't spending time in classrooms.

Then I decided to check my records.

In reality, I was systematically over-visiting the “easy” classrooms:

  • The classrooms closest to the office
  • The classrooms where I felt most welcome
  • The classrooms where I was unlikely to see anything troubling

And I was unintentionally avoiding the “tough” classrooms:

  • Teachers with performance issues
  • Teachers who didn't especially want me in their rooms
  • Teachers who had unusual schedules or physically isolated classrooms

Never did I sit down and say to myself “I really want to get into classrooms this year, but only certain classrooms. I think I'll just visit the most pleasant and most convenient classrooms, and avoid any that might be a hassle or give me extra work to do.”

That wasn't my intent at all, but the outcome was the same: Some teachers saw me almost every week, while others went weeks or even months without a visit.

This pattern of avoidance is completely natural, so if you've been doing the same thing, don't feel bad. We all do it.

And the remedy is simple: start keeping track.

3 Tools for Tracking Visits

Keeping track of your visits to classrooms doesn't have to be difficult.

Here are three simple options—it doesn't matter which one you use; what matters is that you use something, and start keeping track, to push back against your natural tendency to avoid certain classrooms.

The simplest way to track your visits is to just print a staff list—you probably already have one handy, so get a fresh copy and start recording your visits.

For now, just put the date (and perhaps the time of day) by each teacher's name when you visit.

This isn't an especially good way to track your visits long-term, but it'll get you started.

If you want to prompt yourself to visit teachers in a certain order, you might consider one of the other options.

Set A Goal

Finally, as you visit classrooms this year, work toward a specific goal.

We all want to be in classrooms “as much as possible.” That's not specific enough to guide your choices on a daily basis.

Life will get in the way. People will call you back to the office. Your schedule will fill with other meetings.

If you want to get into classrooms, be intentional. Set a specific goal that you can fight to achieve every day.

So here's my recommendation: strive to get into every classroom within a week—the first week of school, or the first week after you're reading this. It doesn't matter whether school is just starting, you're halfway through the year, or it's almost over.

Just start. Get into classrooms. Keep track.

And when you've made it around to everyone, I have something special for you:

Visit every teacher in your school, and I'll send you a limited-edition #EveryClassroom sticker while supplies last.

Visit #EveryClassroom The First Week of School

What's the most important thing for a leader to do in the first week of school?

Among a zillion tasks, it's this: Visit every classroom.

In fact, let's make it a hashtag:

Sure, everyone tries to do it. Most people probably end up visiting most classrooms.

But let's get serious: let's visit every classroom in the first full week of school.

You can even give yourself a few days to deal with opening-of-school emergencies. Start on the 2nd or 3rd day if you like.

But in short order, get out of the office and get into classrooms.

And don't stop till you've visited #EveryClassroom.

Tips for Visiting #EveryClassroom

  1. Visit systematically—a department or grade level at a time 
  2. Keep track—print a staff roster, or have your secretary help, so you don't skip anyone
  3. Don't give yourself any homework yet—just show up
  4. Don't evaluate teachers or provide feedback—that can come later

For now, focus on getting around to every teacher in your school. Just make an appearance, so no one is surprised to see you in October.

Be friendly, say hi, pay attention, and build relationships.

As a bonus, you'll have a great deal of information and context you wouldn't have without these visits. So make it happen!

We'll have more on #EveryClassroom soon, including a way you can track your progress.

If you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #EveryClassroom and mention me (@eduleadership) to let me know you're in.​ 

Whether you start school on Monday or not for several more weeks, I hope this is the year you make it happen!​

Finishers:

#500c Success Stories: Leaders Who Made 500 Classroom Visits This Year

And some remarkable variants on the challenge:

I'm a department chair of a department of 10 members in high school. During this school year I didn't get into 500 classes this year but I did visit every member of my department once every two weeks providing them feedback (email or face to face). That's 180 classroom visits in addition to my teaching classes. The visits have given me evidence of what I thought was happening, that I have an awesome department that knock it out of the park when it comes to educating our students.

Chris Geiser
Mathematics Department Chair, Central High School, Evansville, IN

How To Be Taken Seriously As A New Leader

Leadership isn't much fun if no one is following you. Yet that's where we almost all start.

A reader asks: 

How can I manage professional interactions with those who may not have respect for me or take me seriously?

If you're new to a school, in a new role in your school, or simply different from previous leaders in some way—age, gender, culture, etc.—it can feel like an uphill battle to establish your credibility and legitimacy.

I became a principal at the age of 26…about as close to starting from scratch as you can get. I had teaching experience, of course, but not at the elementary level.

Here are three essentials for quickly gaining respect as a leader. They helped me, and I believe they can help you.

Have A Plan

By default, people judge you against their own expectations for the role you're in.

If they've come to see the role as unhelpful to their work—perhaps because of your predecessor—they'll naturally assume you won't be much help either…

…until you prove that you're different.

As a leader, it's not your job to make everyone happy or fulfill their expectations.

It's your job to define your agenda, define your contributions, and determine the criteria against which you'll be judged.

People will still have their own expectations of you, but if you make it clear that you have a detailed set of actions that you're carrying out, they'll have far more respect for you than if you just show up and ask what your predecessor did.

In short, you need a plan.

I suggest developing a 90- or 100-day plan for the start of your tenure as a leader. Base this plan on: 

  • Interviews with individual staff members (more on this below)
  • Existing goals from your organization's strategic plan
  • Any particular mandates you've received in the hiring process (e.g. resolving major discipline or safety issues)
  • Consultation with your supervisor
  • Your notes on the school's needs as you begin your work

If you've already been on the job for a while, look for the next natural opportunity to develop a plan of action, such as the start of a new initiative or a new school year.

Suggested resource: Entry Plan: Your First 100 Days (available to Pro Members on-demand)

Listen

The problem with a lot of new leaders' plans is that they're based on assumptions, with little input from existing staff.

As a newly hired principal, my first action was to set up 1-on-1 interviews with every staff member, in which my goal was simply to get to know everyone and hear them out.

I asked questions like: 

  • How would you describe yourself as an educator, and what do you want me to know about you?
  • What about this school are you most proud of?
  • What's an emerging challenge or issue that you believe we need to address?
  • What are your hopes for what we're able to accomplish together?
  • Is there anything else you think I need to know?

If you've been in your role for a while, you might want to conduct similar interviews, but with a more topical focus.

For example, if you're a central office administrator in charge of a particular subject area's curriculum, you might set up interviews with teachers and principals and ask questions such as “What do you see as our gaps in this subject area? What are we doing well, and how can we support you more effectively?”

Follow Through

Finally, if you want to gain respect, nothing speaks louder than action.

If you say you'll do something, write it down. (I used a pocket Moleskine notebook.) Let people see you writing it down.

Then, do it. On time. As promised.

Follow through.

Everyone expects administrators to be busy, and most people only half-expect them to follow through.

Be different. Follow through, and you'll quickly gain the respect of your staff.

Is Instructional Leadership Undermining the Teaching Profession?

I'm proud to be a proponent of instructional leadership. So far, we've had over 9,000 leaders from at least 50 countries go through the Instructional Leadership Challenge.

But the bigger the banner, the more it starts to encompass misconceptions and distortions. And I had a terrifying thought this morning:

What if the surge of interest in instructional leadership is actually undermining the teaching profession?

What if, in our efforts to improve the teaching profession, we're driving out precisely the kind of professionals we need?

Olden Days and Elite Ways

There was once a time when principals were expected to be managers, but not instructional leaders.

Teaching was for teachers, and as long as they were relatively competent, they were best left alone.

The flaws in this mindset are obvious—teaching is a complex profession, and strong instructional leadership has a powerful impact on the quality of instruction. That's been firmly established for several decades now.

But this “outdated” division of labor lives on in a surprising place: elite schools.

At The Principal Center, we serve public, charter, private, parochial, and international schools (which is why we're in so many countries), and I've noticed a pattern.

By and large, public schools have made major changes in the way they evaluate teachers and they way they define the role of the administrator as an instructional leader. If you even hint that you want to be a manager—that instructional leadership isn't your top priority—you'll never get a job in any major public school district in the US.

But in elite schools, teacher professionalism is viewed differently—closer to the way tenured faculty are viewed at the university level.

I did some consulting with an elite boarding school in Pennsylvania a few years ago, and I was struck by the degree of autonomy afforded to teachers. They made decisions fearlessly—like professionals—without feeling the need to run everything by an administrator. I liked it.

Yet, while clearly skilled professionals, these teachers weren't any better-prepared or more up-to-date than many of the teachers you'd find in any public school. If anything, they were free to remain a bit more traditional in their practices, due to their relative lack of struggling students.

If this degree of professional respect for teachers is good enough for our nation's most elite private schools, why isn't it the norm in public schools?

The answer is simple: because traditional practices aren't up to the challenge of meeting the needs of all students.

Enter: strong instructional leadership.

The Charter Revolution

Instructional leadership as a force for improvement comes primarily from the charter school world.

Teach Like A Champion? Charter.

Leverage Leadership? Charter.

Driven by Data? Charter.

Teaching As Leadership? Charter.

You get the idea. And so have public schools, which are increasingly adopting the charter world's “no excuses” approach to instructional leadership, which features:

Intensive administrator-driven coaching Extensive use of data by teachers and leaders Ultra-specific expectations regarding curriculum and instructional strategies

While I think this has mostly been a good change, I'm a bit concerned by its impact on the status of teaching as a profession.

To be blunt, teaching is being reduced to an entry-level job. And that's a tragic mistake.

Just look at the title of Doug Lemov's latest book: Get Better Faster: A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers.

I don't have a problem with helping teachers get better faster. That sounds like a good idea.

But this innocuous title reveals the charter world's dirty little secret: teaching isn't seen as a profession. It's treated like an entry-level job.

In a profession, you invest in preparation. (Medical school is four years long, not including residency.)

In an entry level job, you invest in training, because the professional skill and judgment of your employees can't be assumed.

Now, I understand why the charter movement has taken this tack: it's hard to attract highly skilled veteran professional teachers to struggling schools.

It's easier to attract energetic young people who are eager to commit to a cause.

And if you're working with new teachers, they certainly need a different kind of instructional leadership than skilled veterans.

And this is where instructional leadership is going off the rails: we're treating everyone—including skilled professionals—like clueless kids fresh out of college.

How To Build Capacity for Instructional Leadership In Your Organization

How To Build Capacity for Instructional Leadership In Your Organization

Your school needs more instructional leadership than any one person can provide. There are simply more opportunities, more needs, and more challenges than you can respond to personally.

How can you get more people involved—without chaos or hassle—in making decisions for the good of your school?

What Is Capacity for Instructional Leadership?

Let's begin with a definition: an organization's capacity for instructional leadership is its ability to make and implement operational and improvement decisions.

The reason you're the bottleneck for much of what happens in your school is that you're the only one who can make certain kinds of decisions…perhaps too many of the decisions that need to be made.

The solution, of course, is distributed leadership—creating more leaders who can do the work that you're currently doing all by yourself.

Distributed leadership is powerful, but hard to manage well. Let's take a look at why distributed leadership is uniquely challenging.

The Challenges of Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is much more than delegation. Delegation is fairly straightforward: 

  1. Decide that something needs to be done by someone else
  2. Tell them what to do and how to do it
  3. Make sure they do it, and provide guidance as needed

Pretty simple, right? But creating more leadership isn't merely a matter of delegation; you're still the bottleneck, because you still play a challenging and central role: decision-maker.

We need to delegate not just discrete tasks, but the decisions themselves. And that's where we can get into hot water.

It's easy to delegate certain types of decisions to people with titles that seem to come with the authority that those decisions require. If you have an assistant principal, no one will be surprised or bothered if you fully delegate decisions about student discipline or transportation.

Yet the real power of distributed leaderships comes from involving teachers, especially in decisions that directly affect teaching and learning.

But will handing over decision-making authority to teachers reduce the effectiveness of principal leadership? When we share the decision-making aspects of leadership, what happens to our own authority? Does it create chaos and confusion? 

The research is encouraging:

Principals may be relieved to find out, moreover, that their authority does not wane as others’ waxes. Clearly, school leadership is not a zero-sum game. ‘Principals and district leaders have the most influence on decisions in all schools; however, they do not lose influence as others gain influence,’ the authors write.” —The School Principal As Leader: Guiding Schools To Better Teaching And Learning, quoting Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning: Final Report of Research Findings, Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom and Stephen E. Anderson, University of Minnesota and University of Toronto, 2010. (emphasis added)

So we don't have to worry about having less influence when we build greater capacity for instructional leadership in our organizations.

But we do need to address potential confusion about who's really in charge, and why not everyone gets a say in everything.

Obnocracy: The Pitfalls of Open Discussion

Involving teacher-leaders in school-level decision-making doesn't mean turning your school into a direct democracy where all issues are decided by consensus or whole-staff vote. Nor does it mean that every issue is discussed in faculty meetings until everyone is satisfied.

Turning decision-making over to the “consensus” of a staff discussion is a failure of leadership, pure and simple. When unmoderated discussion becomes the way decisions are made, it's not distributed leadership. It's what I call obnocracy.

Simply put, in a group discussion, the most obnoxious and outspoken person usually has the most power. We'd never choose this form of decision-making on purpose, but I've seen it play out time and time again in schools, and it's not pretty.

Everyone wants a voice, and everyone deserves a voice in some way for many decisions, but open discussion and obnocracy don't serve adult or student needs well.

Instead, we need a structure for making decisions. We need a decision matrix.

Developing A Decision Matrix

A Decision Matrix clarifies three sets of agreements for various types of decisions:

  • Decisional Roles: Who makes the call? 
  • Consultation Methods: How do we talk with one another about the decision?
  • Decision Methods: How do we reach final agreement?

The decisional roles define decisional authority:

  1. The Decision Owner (DO) is responsible for ensuring that the decision is made, but may or not be the decision-maker
  2. The Decision Maker (DM) makes the call, and may be an individual or a group
  3. A Consulted Stakeholder (CS) provides input before the decision is made
  4. A Represented Stakeholder (RS) has a voice through a designated representative
  5. A Notified Stakeholder (NS) is kept in the loop, but not always before the decision is made
  6. Non-Party (NP) stakeholders may be affected by the decision, but are not directly involved or notified

Find out more about the Decision Making Matrix and how you can create a Decision-Making Handbook in our course High-Performance Decision Making (as part of our Pro Membership.)