More: Leadership Trap

My last blog post got some good comments. So I wanted to follow up. Ryan from KIPP in Newark:

Come up with a zillion priorities; pick one, two if you have ADHD, never three; abandon something old; execute like crazy. – Peter Drucker, 60 years ago.

Nancy G from NYC writes:

I did waaaay to much reinventing the wheel, no doubt. But there are cases where reinventing is a process of understanding and owning an idea, and building understanding and ownership of an idea within the community.

My response: Totally agree. That's the slippery slope. There's no question in my mind that principals reinventing the wheel are sometimes, perhaps even often, creating tangible improvements for kids and teachers.

The question - at what cost?

Imagine a school $ budget.

You can either

a) Spend almost everything on stuff relating to academics in core subjects - English/literacy more than any. Let's call that "obsessed with core."


b) Split off a big chunk for music, art, media literacy, counseling, sports, life skills, computer skills, character education, tutoring, social work, college trips, etc. Let's call that "balanced."

Both reasonable. What would you do?

I think the former (core) is generally better than latter (balanced) when dealing with kids who arrive with very low skills. Do one thing really really well.

Mom - you'd probably say "b" right? "All things in moderation."

Anyway, school leaders face a similar budget issue that sets up the leadership trap: but the limited resource is their time.

When I was more involved with day to day MATCH stuff, I'd nudge us more to the latter - making changes each summer to calendar, schedule, after-school, measurement, etc, and then working feverishly each fall and winter to try to make those changes stick.

I think I was wrong. We spent our MATCH school leadership "time budget" too broadly.

Now I see the world through rookie teachers that we've trained, spread across various schools. In the universe of No Excuses charters, only a few leaders - Williamsburg Collegiate comes to mind - are remarkably focused on day-to-day teacher issues. The rookie teacher experience in those few schools? Getting a TON of feedback, consistently.

Charters have tried to deal with this by having an executive director type to deal with outside issues. The hope is this leaves the principal to deal with "core."

But my lived experience, and my observed experience, is still that principals still face mighty obstacles to focusing on "core." Three big issues:

A. The core is kids, teachers, and parents -- and kids and parents absorb almost unlimited bandwidth

B. A million emails and requests come in each day -- it's hard to disconnect; classic MBA 101 issue, which is dealing with "urgent" (time sensitive but often small potatoes) instead of "important."

C. Executing/implementing the new ideas which were created in July/August. That's what yesterday's blog post was about.

My realization with Caleb's help was that this work in July/August -- which feels "right", the principal finally has a break and can fix a whole bunch of stuff that was a pain all year -- creates a September to December implementation to-do list which pins the principal, preventing him or her from simply walking from class to class to class, all day every day.

Something I remembered today: Linda Brown and Sue Walsh at Building Excellent Schools have been telling me that for years. Just didn't quite sink in.

Paul from Edward Brooke offers a twist:

Only do siginificant work on big structural changes in the late spring and summer in the process of planning for a new school year (when feedback to teachers is probably less useful) . Then, once they’re in place, work out the kinks through September, and then let them ride (barring disaster), until the end of the year when they can be revisited. Use October through April as peak teacher feedback time.

September only? Perhaps some principals can pull it off; if so, ideal. Often September stretches into December and the routine of "peak teacher feedback" never really grabs hold.