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Friday, December 12, 2008

There is Always a Reason, Even for "Unreasonable" Actions

Usually the reason has something to do with a perceived benefit. People do things because they expect to get something out of it. The possible benefit may elude reasonable people like you or me, but people usually expect a payoff from their actions.

The Chicago studies found that Relational Trust surpasses money, parental involvement and a whole host of other variables as the number one predictor of positive feelings about school and improved academic achievement. Other surveys have found that the number one complaint teachers have about their jobs is not lack of money, but lack of administrative support especially when it comes to discipline*. Every parent knows the number one complaint students have about teachers is not that the teacher is hard, but that the teacher “doesn't like me.”

How can teachers build relational trust with their students? How can parents build build relational trust with teachers? How can principals build relational trust with teachers?

The first rule for building relational trust is an ancient one: the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have other do unto you. Treat me the way you would want to be treated if you were in my shoes. The first two tips are from Teacher Magazine.

1. Assume positive intentions. And its corollary: Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to ignorance. When confronted with a situation that seems ridiculous or outrageous to you, before jumping down someone's throat, ask "why" the person chose to do whatever it is. Sometimes there is actually a logical, reasonable answer.

I would add that the answer may not seem sensible, or perhaps the person is unwilling to disclose their motivations, but somehow, someway the person was expecting a benefit. Perhaps the person is disappointed only with the outcome.

2. When you are really, really angry with someone, wait 24 hours, if possible, before speaking privately with him/her about the issue. You may have to take immediate action to resolve the issue, but cool off before discussing it with the party or parties involved.

Counting to ten never hurts.

Praise, but do not flatter. People know if they deserve recognition. People may smile and seem to respond to schmoozing, but within themselves they resent the manipulative aspects of schmoozing.

Respect autonomy. Principals, your teachers will thrive when you believe in them. Teachers, have high expectations, but be prepared to work overtime with willing students. Be a partner in their achievement, not an overseer. Give students real choices and monitor their progress. Do not leave anyone in psychological isolation. Make sure the teacher's desk and the principal's office is a psychologically safe place.

Principals, advocate for your teachers. Parents, advocate for the teachers. Teachers, Parents and Principals, advocate for the students.

A widely reported study found that happiness is contagious. “Mary,” quoted in the Chicago Studies, teaches in a rural, low-performing school. She describes how a positive principal is making a difference, by communicating a servant attitude, “What do you need? How can I help you?”
I appreciate his early morning visibility and constant presence in the hallways every class period. He stands during all three lunches while we sit and enjoy our 30-minute meal. He writes personal notes when you do an excellent job on a project; he is open to suggestions that are results-oriented, and he chides negativity for negativity’s sake.

He keeps to the middle of the road and even if he has favorites, his choices are based on performance, not personality. In staff meetings, he does not preach, he shares. He has a sense of humor and attends most after-school functions.

He always greets you, and when he evaluates your instructional delivery, he stays the full 90 minutes. He actually reads over your plans to check for evidence of quality instruction, multiple tracks of learning, and assessment within your plans.

He learns the students’ names and jokes with them on their way to class or at lunch. At the same time he is firm and does not think twice about taking real troublemakers to our nearby town in handcuffs. He allows for flexibility some times in the teaching schedule to let kids display their talents, even in the midst of teachers complaining about instructional time lost. We are in a rural setting, so he realizes that for some students, school is the center of their total existence when it comes to cultural diversity and showcasing talents.

He reads a lot of different research and shares it with staff; he strives to establish some form of professional learning community in a school that knows very little about how it works. He meets with various groups repeatedly and has a 100% attendance rate except when he is at a workshop.

I have a different attitude about working for this principal because he actually notices how hard I work and lets me know that he sees what I do. He meets with every department to ask, what can I do to help you do a better job? What does your department need? How can we accomplish this or that? (bold added)
*The teacher's version rings true. Schools can be very insular places. His administrator probably resented his regular meetings with the local press. This poignant story should be a wake-up call.

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