SPLITTING THE EARS OF THE GROUNDLINGS

“Are people so unhappy when they love?”
“Yes, Christine, when they love and are not sure of being loved.”
Gaston Leroux,

 

Over the last several weeks I’ve been reading accounts of a wave of “quiet quitting” sweeping the nation. Of course, like all great ideas, this one originated on TikTok. Per NPR, “quiet quitting doesn’t actually involve quitting. Instead, it has been deemed a response to hustle culture and burnout; employees are “quitting” going above and beyond and declining to do tasks they are not being paid for.”

As professional educator Peter Greene points out in the education world, “it’s called “working to the contract” and it is an alternative to striking that can still bring a school district to a grinding halt.” Sure, in its most extreme cases.

But here’s the reality, “quiet quitting” ain’t nothing new, been happening since Alleyoop led the first caveman on a woolly mammoth hunt and got three people killed through poor planning. Fred and Barney decided that their families needed to eat, so they would be on the next hunt but would hang back and let others seek the glory. They needed the gig, not the risk, so they’d do just what they needed to be included.

“Quiet Quitting” is often a hallmark of bad management, and I’ve been warning young managers about the risks for years. As anybody who has led a workplace revolt, where everybody swore they would walk out with you, only to find yourself alone in a parking lot sans job knows, a lot of people talk about quitting, but few actually do it.

What typically happens is everybody becomes a little less engaged and the parking lot at the end of the day empties a little faster, but few actually leave. Why do you think so many toxic workplaces can deny their underlying issues by pointing to retention numbers. It’s about collecting the check and doing just as much as that takes.

Here is a news flash, most of us are going to spend most of our lives doing something that we might possibly not love. Shocker, but we do so because we love our families and they love to eat and sleep in a place with a roof. A good manager recognizes that and works hard to keep his people engaged and as fulfilled as possible, even if it’s not their dream job. Really good managers, get really creative and thus create environments where people can thrive and not just survive. (Like how I worked that old meme in?)

This is another warning I often give young managers who fall into the trap of thinking that just because somebody higher up on the food chain appointed you manager, that translates to you being in charge. That would be a falsehood. The only way that you get to be the “boss”, is if you convince others that you are worthy of following. If you fail to do that, you may still get to boss people around, park in the executive parking spot, and fire people – none of which will translate into you leading an effective workspace.

Need evidence, look no further than Tennessee’s Department of Education. Commissioner Schwinn is on her third, or maybe a fourth, round of trying to find people that feel she’s worthy of following, and as a result, the department continues to suffer. Some might go as far as calling it a continual dumpster fire, always one step away from an all-consuming conflagration.

Ask around, does anybody actually believe that they have been effective at doing anything other than padding the commissioner’s resume and creating chaos? Go ahead let me see the hands of those who think so?

I’m not counting the usual sycophants who routinely show up at the bottom of TNDOE press releases, so Dale Lynch, Mark White, and Danny Weeks, you can all drop your hands. David Mansouri, you as well,.

A manager who fails to capture the hearts and minds of the troops may get to keep his cushy office, but he ain’t leading a high-performing team. The likely scenario is that the troops decide that they can wait this one out, eventually, a new guy will be hired and maybe they’ll be better. After all, Johnny has braces and Susie has ballet tuition due. Sometimes, in real toxic environments, they have to wait 3 or 4 new leaders out, continually collecting a paycheck and doing just enough not to get fired – maybe all the way to retirement. Not a great way to spend a life, but hey, everybody got fed and clothed.

If I was in a particularly ornery mood, I could walk through the halls at MNPS’s support hub, and point out examples but it’s been a pretty good Labor Day weekend, so I’m feeling gracious. Suffice it to say, it wouldn’t prove to be a difficult task.

Much like students who can’t live up to their potential unless their needs are recognized and met, teachers who work in toxic environments can’t soar either. If teachers ain’t soaring, nobody’s soaring, and that includes those thousands of tutors that we are all out pursuing. That’s a lot of untapped potential, all because leadership failed to grasp a simple principle.

Of late, my least favorite saying that has risen to prevalence over the last decade has been, “Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

God, I hate that saying, because in most instances, it translates to…meh, perfect takes a lot of work and investment…so good is fine. Once again, the untapped potential is left on the table to whither.

Perhaps a poor leader can still produce some good out of a workplace, even with people not going the extra mile, depending on how you define good. But once you define good, well then you stop pursuing the great. And then things start rolling downhill.

None of us are going to be perfect, and few of us will actually be great, but it is the pursuit that produces the greatest results and elevates the definition of good. That takes a skilled leader and one who has earned the respect of their charges. Remember respect is not to be confused with likability either, but that’s an exploration for another day.

Before I slide my soap box back under the couch, I need to point out the value of a leader having a set of easily recognizable and shared values. Before anyone can buy into a leader, they need to know exactly what is valued by that leader.

Is it hard work?

Punctuality?

Openness?

Communication?

A commitment to excellence?

Once values are established, they have to be lived not just espoused. Nobody is fooled by someone saying all the right things, but doing all the wrong things.

Let’s put the litmus test to Dr.Battle and Nashville’s School District – what are her core values as a leader?

I don’t know the answer.

Some may point me to the list printed on the district website, one populated with postulates like equity, talent, relevance, whole learner…all things that sound great when you say them fast, and probably look good on a t-shirt, but how are they practiced daily.

We talk a lot about equity but how do our policies – like the no uniform test retake policy – reflect that value? How does a  lack of Hispanic teachers, despite a rapidly growing population, address our expressed value?

‘We believe in supporting, developing, respecting, compensating, and retaining our teachers, leaders, and staff.” That usually begins with paying them on a timely schedule what they are owed. That’s not something currently being done. How about that step-raise that went into effect back in July, are teachers seeing that yet? What about pay for mandatory summer training? Yea…

As a side note, if I hear one more defense of teachers not getting paid that includes citing human resources working nights and weekends, MNPS’s Communications Director, I may have to…

“Our human resources team has been working nights and weekends to process the new hire and transfer paperwork for teachers to ensure they are being paid for their work,” MNPS spokesperson Sean Braisted said. “We deeply regret any delays in payment for teachers or staff, but all employees will be paid for the work they performed.”

News Flash! They ain’t the only ones working night and day, so fix it and stop touting long hours worked by those responsible as some kind of currency those left unpaid can take to the mortgage company.

“We believe engaging parents, community members, students, and other stakeholders in the educational process leads to better outcomes for all our students and benefits the broader Nashville community.” Somebody needs to visit either Bellevue MS or Oliver MS to see how that one is being lived. Just don’t get hit by Executive Director Craig Hammond back peddling out of the parking lot as fast as he can in order to avoid taking any accountability for the current mess.

(Disclaimer here. Both my kids attend Oliver MS and over the past week, I’ve had some very productive conversations with school leaders and teachers. Both of whom delivered fidelity to a value that the district fails to live up to on a regular basis. So thank you to them.)

We could go through each one of the proffered values and offer similar evidence of questionable adherence, but in truth, the whole list reads like a thought exercise as opposed to a working document. You don’t have to vocalize your values at every opportunity, you just have to live them. Currently, that’s an area where MNPS is falling short.

MNPS may argue that they have 107 core initiatives, and those are an expression of its commitment to its core values. Ok, there are really only 14, but explain to me how Khoaching with Kahn represents a core value? It doesn’t, and they don’t.

That’s the homework that I would assign MNPS’s leadership cabinet, and the leaders of other districts as well, what are your core values – your non-negotiables – and how are you demonstrating them every day? How are leaders modeling those behaviors to their charges every day? If you can’t readily identify those values, and offer concrete examples, you are likely not living them and therefore at risk for a case of “quiet quitting”.

When you read about “quiet quitting”, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s always an organized strategy or even one that is recognized by its participants. But do realize, that it is always the product of bad leadership and we need to be ever-vigilant because once a workplace becomes infected, it is hard to recover.

PISA NONSENSE

Everywhere I turned this past week I was struck by someone wringing their hands over recently released NAEP data. Some went as far as arguing that this year’s results show that the pandemic has undone decades of progress in reading and math. Bullshit.

To quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet,

Oh, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipped for oerdoing Termagant. It out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it

I’m talking more periwig-pated fellows here than groundlings. The purpose of standardized testing is to standardize as much as possible in order to isolate what you want to measure – in the case of student outcomes, the pandemic has made that impossible.

Did kids do worse on tests these last two years? Of course, but was it because they didn’t learn, or was it because their focus was divided? My experience tells me that if you have a family member at home dying of COVID, its probably going to impact the importance you place on your studies. If you are a teacher, and you have students dealing with various elements of the pandemic outside the classroom, not only will your class attendance be affected, but your approach to teaching will likely be impacted.

Some things on the test that are usually covered in class might not have been covered last year due to unprecedented circumstances. Is that evidence of learning loss, or is it dealing with the reality of the situation?

John Werner, over at Education Endeavors, provides a good illustration,

This is perhaps the most frustrating part of the media’s framing. Consider a different metric disrupted by the pandemic, air travel. The number of domestic flights went from over 800,000 in 2019 to 335,000 in 2020. In 2021, as travel started to return to normal, that number increased to 605,000.

That 605,000 number is on par with the number of flights in 2003. How many stories about the collapse in air travel are you reading?

In fact, it’s the opposite, that airlines are having a hard time getting back up to speed after the disruption of the pandemic.

Why would the lives of 9-year-olds be any different?

Or thinking about it another way, this year’s 9-year-olds scored at the same level as adults who are now in their late 20s. They seem to have survived going to school when students were apparently much less proficient in reading and math.

Using NAEP results during a pandemic is like using a runner’s results from a race while he had a broken leg and comparing them to results before the race and after, while he is still in the healing process. in an attempt to draw an accurate portrait of the runner.

Noting results and proceeding is acceptable. Designing future policies based on these results, not so much. I pray you, avoid it.

QUICK HITS

Last week I talked about the amount of money received by the Education Trust from the Gates Foundation. Figures that were disputed by former MNPS school board member Gini Pupo-Walker – god, I like writing that. Walker heads up the local office of EDTrust and while she wouldn’t provide details about what she perceived as being rumor. I wonder how she feels about the “rumor” that EdTrust’s National Director John King stepped down from his position in order to run for Governor, but still collected his half-million dollar salary. Yikes! Now, what exactly are donors getting for that salary?

Here’s another question for the non-profit crowd. We all know about TNTP pulling in millions of dollars in contracts from the state of Tennessee for running teacher training, but why in 2020 did SCORE give them just shy of a million dollars, and where did that money come from? This state sure does have a lot of folks shuffling cash to this TF- lite organization.

So here’s a question for you. MNPS is committed to moving 5th graders back to elementary school. The state of Tennessee is committed to retaining third-graders who score at “below expectations” or “approaching expectations” on the state’s TNReady. Where are we going to put all these kids and is the average enrollment for MNPS’s elementary schools going to top 800? Asking for a friend.

Looking for some good news? Bradley County, Tennessee Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash was on the radio last week to explain the mission and vision of the PIE Center and its innovation in work-based schooling. Some good stuff.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

Fees associated with the blog are due the first week in September and any help with those is always appreciated. An old rival used to accuse me of begging on the internet, an accusation with a ring of truth. But we all do what we can.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. I am offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.

 



Categories: Education

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