Over the last several months, I’ve been highly critical of MNPS leadership and some of the policies they’ve enacted. In talking with teacher friends, they acknowledge the shortcomings of leadership but counter with the argument that in spite of all the turmoil, teachers are doing amazing work in the classroom. An assertion I don’t dispute.
Other people will offer skepticism to my criticism and say, “It sounds like you don’t think that anybody is competent in MNPS.” An argument I wholeheartedly refute. In fact, I would offer that I feel just the opposite. In the teaching ranks, and at the administration level, MNPS is filled with some incredible talent, albeit not as much as there once was, but incredible still the same.
It’s that very talent and dedication that gives cover to the district’s lack of leadership and the bad policies being implemented. What invariably happens when a shortcoming is exposed is that teachers and administrators – who, for brevity’s sake, I will lump under teachers – get together and figure out a workaround. The workaround allows progress to go forth, but it doesn’t allow the system to operate at full capacity or long term sustainability.
As Marshal Leslie points out in her blog post, The “Art” of Workarounds:
At their core, workarounds are caused by processes and systems that do not support the work that must be completed. While they are typically temporary fixes, workarounds are also testaments to the creativity of staff that are not equipped with the tools needed to accomplish the job at hand. So often we commend these actions as brilliant displays of “out of the box” thinking. In reality, workarounds represent a glaring example of tradeoff thinking. In order to achieve performance in one area, another key element (Satisfaction, Quality/Safety, Time/Utilization, or Financial) is sacrificed. Take the example of medication overrides. While valiant efforts are being made to reduce or eliminate override occurrences, workaround processes still exist that allow deviation from the approved (and safest) process for medication administration. Allowing this deviation reduces the need for the real time problem solving efforts that will eventually lead to the resolution of the issue. A short term need has been met, but long term patient safety has been degraded. When the system is stressed, failures will likely occur.
That example is from the medical world, but the same holds true in education as well. A prime example would be last year’s literacy plan. By September it had become apparent that for numerous reasons – inappropriateness of texts, progress rate, lack of materials – the literacy plan was not going to work. Teachers immediately got together and collaborated on creating individual workarounds for their individual buildings. Any progress that was made in literacy this past year came through those individual workarounds.
Personally, I appreciate the ingenuity and skill of our teachers, but unfortunately those workarounds allow district leadership to claim credit for gains that they didn’t earn. Those gains allow for the false presumption that quality policy had been enacted, and while it may need some tweaking, wholesale changes are not required. Because of that false assumption, the system will continue to function based on the workarounds created by teachers, which will provide some success but never reach capacity.
The literacy plan is but one example – hiring practices, screening for gifted students, substitute teacher procurement, and testing being others – of policy that forces those doing the work to create workarounds in order to achieve any measurable success. I would argue that MNPS as a whole is becoming a district built upon workarounds.
The tragic outcomes of depending upon workarounds for solutions means that we fail to create and implement policy that has the ability to hold up under pressure and produce lasting and replicable results. Go back to last year’s literacy plan and ask the following questions:
- How do we replicate results due to teacher turnover and variation of implementation in individual schools?
- Since the quality of the workaround varies from school to school, how do you insure that the “opportunity gap” does not grow?
Having to rely on a workaround solution puts undue pressure on those who are doing the work. Look at the sports world for an example. Lebron James is considered to be one of the greatest NBA players of all time, yet he has very few rings comparative to his talent. It’s widely recognized that his lack of rings is due to the lack of supports he’s had in his career. Whether it’s been due to lack of coaching, lack of quality game plans, or lack of supporting staff, the reality is that James’s career has been one of having to find a constant workaround.
James has the skill, like many of MNPS’s teachers, to create workarounds that result in a degree of success. In James’s case, he’s been to the NBA Finals 9 times. He’s only won the title 3 times though. Every time his team was beaten by a team that was recognized for having superior organization. Imagine if he had always played on teams that allowed him to play to his strengths and not have to create workarounds? How many rings would he have won?
James is set to join his 3rd team in his 16-year career, since he joined Cleveland twice. Invariably there comes a point in each stint where James comes to the realization that the workarounds aren’t getting him rings and he searches for a situation that will provide better supports. It’s not much different for teachers. They grow weary of the work involved in developing workarounds and they explore other options. Thus we see the large churn of teachers MNPS is experiencing this summer.
So keep in mind that when I criticize, it’s not the teachers who are my targets. I am fully aware and supportive of what they bring to the table.
Some might also argue that I have a negative bent. I would counter that argument by saying I am positive that we have some of the most gifted educators in the country, and with the proper supports, we wouldn’t be just winning games… we’d be winning rings.
Last week, it was announced that there were two new appointees for the positions of district Executive Directors of School Support and Improvement (EDSSI), Steve Ball and Carl Carter. Ball was previously at East High Magnet and Carter was at the Academy at Opry Mills. Both are highly respected educators. While some question the depth of Carter’s experience, everyone praises both him and his family’s decency. It is safe to say that both of these gentleman fall into the category of good people. And we wish to congratulate them and wish them success.
It is the process I find myself once again questioning. I refer to these as appointments because near as I can tell, neither EDSSI job was ever posted. “Wait a minute!” you say, “I thought it was MNPS board policy that all job openings had to be posted.”
Well, technically that is correct. Section 5.105 states:
The board is committed to efficient and cost effective recruitment practices. Vacancies shall be advertised using appropriate internal and external recruitment sources in accordance with established procedure. A deadline for receiving applications shall be established and disseminated with the vacancy notice.
But you have to have somebody willing to enforce board policy. And well… that hasn’t exactly been a strong suit of late. Keep in mind that board policies are also in the process of being updated, so there may be some confusion.
That doesn’t soothe the irritation of long-term MNPS educators who have been diligently working for years and feel that they are ready to take the next step in their careers, only to be denied the opportunity. It also doesn’t quell the assumption that MNPS has a hidden agenda in their appointments. While I personally don’t know Carter, Ball’s reputation is certainly not that of a “yes” man. Still, due to the lack of transparency, the two men will begin their tenure amid a clamor of whispers that can potentially make a hard job even harder. Are you seeing a pattern yet?
A MATTER OF TRUST
Friday I mentioned a comment that Dr. Joseph made at the Music City SEL Conference. He stated that next year the district will take greater care of the adults because they’ve learned “if you don’t feed the teachers, they’ll eat the students.”
Some folks understood the reference and shrugged it off. Some wrote it off as a joke in poor taste. Many teachers were offended. Facing a year where teachers would be assuming more responsibilities and taking home less money, it showed a lack of empathy. A bigger problem that is illuminated here is the wide scale lack of trust that Joseph and his team have earned.
Many people I talk to have used the defense that when Joseph is criticized for inappropriate remarks, those remarks were made under the guise of humor. That may very well be true, but you cannot use humor without trust. Your audience has to trust you enough to be attuned to your intent. They have to believe that you are speaking as one of them and making an observation akin to their own, not an outsider pointing out their foibles.
Looking at the reaction to several purported attempts at humor clearly indicates that Dr. Joseph has not earned that wide scale trust. Whether it’s these recent comments, or the playing of a rap song, or repeated references to “ain’t no crazy like Nashville crazy,” all are indicators of work that needs to be done in the realm of trust for Joseph.
This assertion is further backed up by his own survey results that show only 2 people in central office believe that they work in a trusting environment that allows for a free exchange of ideas. That’s the beginning and the end of the story right there. It doesn’t matter how many people think you are making progress, if after two years you can’t get more than two people to say they work in a trusting environment. You have problems, critical ones. And you can’t be successful without earning that trust.
Joseph arrived in Nashville pitching organizational change. Change that will prove an impossible feat without trust. CEO of Emergent Performance Solutions Jennifer Stanford highlights the importance of trust in change by pointing out in a recent blog post entitled The Role of Trust in Change how creating trust ultimately results in four conditions that truly define an organization changing at maximum potential:
- Condition 1. Trust is evident everywhere. Employees demonstrate a belief in leadership and have high-trust relationships that reduce the perception of risk in daily activities. There’s significant delegation and clear accountability, as well as the practice of servant leadership.
- Condition 2. Alignment is actualized. Employees are aligned with the organization’s vision and strategy, with the organization using a cascading goals process to ensure alignment at every level. Individuals and teams understand each person’s part in vision attainment.
- Condition 3. Processes support people. The organization operates like a well-oiled machine; processes and systems are smart, effective, and nonbureaucratic. There are many opportunities to learn and grow, and the organization has defined career tracks. Finally, the organization has a conscious and careful onboarding process and invests in the development of leaders.
- Condition 4. Clarity creates cohesion. The organization knows what success looks like, and performance objectives are clear. The rewards and recognition are meted out fairly, and there is a transparent understanding of what it takes for both the individual and the team to get to the next level. Leaders coach and uplift.
Ask yourself, which of these conditions exist in MNPS?
Two more veteran MNPS administrators are starting new jobs this summer. Terry Schrader will join Davidson Academy as Upper School Head/Principal. Vanessa Garcia joins Lipscomb University as its Director of Instructional Practice Programs and Assistant Professor (DIPPAP in MNPS talk). Both previously worked on the principal pipeline which supplied principals to fill several recent openings. We thank both for their service and know they’ll do great things.
Congratulations go out to former AZ Kelley ES AP Jeffrey “Kirk” Gilmore. Gilmore has been named the interim principal at McGavock ES.
Those of you who have been long-term readers know that I’m not a fan of social media posts celebrating teachers for going into school and working uncompensated on their own time. I’ve often spoken of the unintended consequences of such praise. As teacher Pernille Ripp points out in a recent blog post, “It hard to sometimes believe you are of any kind of worth when you are constantly reminding me of all the things you should be doing if only you were a great teacher.” I encourage you to read her whole post and its observations on student engagement: “How about instead of pretending that everything is under the control of teachers, we actually realized that the very best classrooms are those where students share the control and thus have to invest to actually learn?”
The Tennessean has a cool look back at Overton High School through the years.
We good response to this week’s poll questions. Let’s review.
The first question asked for your impression of Dr. Joseph’s self evaluation (SJoseph Summative Self-Eval Evidence Companion – June 2018 to Board 06.1…). Your responses seem to mirror the central theme of this week’s blog post. Out of 122 responses, 91 of you called it “smoke and mirrors.” It should be noted that 3 of you did feel we are making progress. Here are the write-ins:
|Just another lie by a dishonest man||1|
|Let the man do his job!||1|
|how was I supposed to know about this?||1|
|It’s a load a crap, just like him.||1|
|Why does he get to control the narrative? This whole thing reeks.||1|
|self hype and out of touch||1|
|His score is reflective of student test score-teachers are made to use this|
Question 2 asked how confident you were in MNPS’s financial situation. Out of 119 responses, 102 of you expressed a level of concern. Apparently out of the 3 of you who felt the district was improving, only 1 of you felt secure about its financial status. This is not a good indicator. Here are the write-ins, and they express some real concerns:
|If I am to make less this year, then there’s a real problem.||1|
|This is a Nashville gov problem that happens to be impacting MNPS||1|
|Not as bad as you want to make it seem||1|
|On a scale of one to the changing climate, this is a suspicious looking mole…||1|
|Very concerned. Frivolous spending with ZERO accountability||1|
|Considering everyone’s paycheck is about to decrease? Catastrophic||1|
|I have lots of concerns – seems like our finances are a hot mess!||1|
|What stability? Nobody seems to know what anything will REALLY costs|
The last question had to do with Music City SEL Conference. Surprisingly, 50% of you responded that it was more touchy-feely stuff while discipline suffered.
Your responses reinforce a growing concern of mine. I get the feeling that the door for meaningful discussion on restorative practices is beginning to swing shut. I think most believe in the theory, but are wanting to see actual, scalable results. We all recognize the importance of restorative practices and SEL, but policies have been in place long enough now that people are looking for some meat. A lot of the skepticism has to fall at the feet of MNPS and the poor job they have done in scalable implementation. More than once I’ve heard it said that restorative practices should sue MNPS for misrepresentation. To be fair, there have been pockets of success, just not on the widespread level needed for wide scale conversion on non-believers.
I think overall there was a high degree of satisfaction with the conference, but my unsolicited advice would be to make next year’s conference focused more on results and telling the narrative of success. Once people become disbelievers, it is hard to turn them into converts. Especially when it’s an idea they agree with in theory but practice has disappointed.
Or, I could be wrong, and there were plenty of results for the taking at this year’s conference and most people are already converts. I’m just sharing my general sense in talking to people, both at the conference and outside.
Agree or disagree with the content, the quality of the organization of the conference is undebatable. This was one well put together conference. I know I’ve probably overstated that, but when the home team hits a grand slam, you gotta stand.
Here are the write-ins:
|Some of us have to work during the day to make end||1|
|sad to miss it!||1|
|Loved the Quaver addition!! Music is SEL!||1|
|Kyla wrote his speaking notes-not re: eating kids||1|
|It’s all a show, no real fuel behind it||1|
|I wish I could say – stuck on the waitlist||1|
|Why are people talking about MEASURING SEL? NO!||1|
|did not attend – but Kyla’s dept. does seem to be one of the few that functions||1|
|I did not attend. Their events are a waste of time.||1|
|I didn’t attend||1|
|Unable to attend as it was during the day when I was working my summer job|
And that’s a wrap. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.
I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge.Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can. Early voting starts in just a couple of weeks.