In our previous two posts (here and here), Sarah and Grant shared reflections on the past year and projects they are looking forward to in the coming months. To bring us home, Jessica shares lessons learned on working through complexity and opportunities to lead with appreciation.
What I learned: I have spent most of my career in education supporting and working in large bureaucracies, namely large urban districts and state education agencies. Just prior to joining Hendy Avenue I was in senior leadership in one of the largest school districts in Ohio. Each of the organizations I’ve worked with in the past have faced challenges, and I tended to chalk those up to organizational complexity, and the difficulty that comes with arriving at solutions when you must invest a large number of people and perspectives in the strategies. After spending my first year with Hendy working with diverse organizations and districts, I came to appreciate that the challenges I faced in past contexts are not so different from those faced by clients of all sizes. I’ve learned that it’s often not only the scale and bureaucracy that causes the challenges we face in K-12 education, and that we can learn a lot from organizations of different sizes and types in finding solutions. As we partner with our clients this year, we are excited to continue to bring lessons learned from all shapes and sizes of districts, states, schools and networks to arrive at solutions to problems.
What I’m excited about: I am so happy to get to continue to partner with Independence Mission Schools in Philadelphia. Having attended Catholic schools as a child, I have a great appreciation and admiration for the work IMS is doing for some of Philadelphia’s most deserving students. We learned a lot from IMS’ leaders and teachers as we supported them last fall to implement their new instructional framework, and to modify that framework to fit their Catholic culture. Now, I’m excited to continue to support IMS leaders as they deeply invest in teachers through teacher leadership. This project has been a welcome opportunity to explore how others are solving a problem, learn more about the context, strengths and opportunities in IMS schools, and devise a program that makes a difference for teachers, and students, across the network.
In our last post, Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Lessons Learned and What’s to Come in 2018-19, our founder Sarah shared insights on the difficulty of leading change and the excitement around re-engaging with one of our first partners.
This week, we hear from Grant:
What I learned: Historian and philosopher Will Durant said, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Durant’s much-quoted line rings true in most endeavors, especially in efforts to drive change. Over the past year, we’ve seen the power of habitual communication–to teachers, school leaders, regional administrators–in sharing consistent messages, building shared understanding and demonstrating competence. Nothing derails stakeholder buy-in more than mixed messages or a lack of information! Habitual communication requires consistent content, format, and tone through a single channel at a regular, expected frequency. In Houston, we’ve supported KIPP in the development of a weekly message to School Leaders around implementation of Teacher Pathways. Each Friday, leaders know they will receive updates, shout outs, resources, and reminders to guide the week ahead. In Delaware, we’ve launched a monthly newsletter for district leaders on DPAS_II, the state’s teacher evaluation system, with a consistent agenda including deadlines and professional development opportunities. These habitual communications do more than provide information, they demonstrate competence and care for colleagues and trust between stakeholders. As you think about the programs you’re leading, consider how you can habitualize communication as a repeatedly do.
What I’m excited about: In 2014, KIPP Texas – Austin began a comprehensive effort to reshape teacher effectiveness and retention through the development of a Teacher Career Pathway. Knowing that great teachers drive student achievement, Austin’s Teacher Career Pathway develops, recognizes and rewards excellent educators so they will get better and stay longer. This fall, the first cohort of Distinguished Teachers will be announced; a group of accomplished educators who have demonstrated consistent gap-closing results for kids, impeccable teaching practice and exemplary professional contributions to the school community. We cannot wait to celebrate these remarkable educators!
As consultants, our role is to guide our partners to make informed decisions and to successfully meet their goals. We also prioritize building the knowledge and skills of our partners and they tell us that they learn a lot from working alongside us. In turn, we learn so much every day from the incredibly smart and diverse partners we have the good fortune to work with!
As we reflect on the past and look ahead to the new school year, we are grateful for all that we have learned from our clients. In our next couple of blog posts, each Hendy team member will share something he or she has learned and something we’re excited about it. It’s going to be a great year!
To kick us off, read below from our founder, Sarah Rosskamm:
What I learned: Change is hard. Often times the solution is to prepare for change, engage stakeholders, continuously communicate the “why”, work with influencers, plan for challenges and ultimately to just keep going even when it gets tough. There are times, however, when the solution is to pause, reflect and change course. In working with one of our partner charter networks this year, we learned that sometimes the most courageous and best answer is to stop doing something. In this case, our partner was eager to build a teacher career pathway. They took many important steps to get there, had buy-in from leaders and momentum from teachers believing it was valuable. However, they also had budget changes, shifts in capacity and new demands of their attention. As a result, they smartly decided to pause. They stopped putting their attention into the pathway and instead narrowed the scope of their focus to implementing a highly effective evaluation and development structure that would help their teachers to grow and enable them to target their professional learning activities. They focused on laying a foundation that would immediately benefit teachers through continued growth, and will ultimately allow them to move more quickly toward a pathway if and when they choose to pick it up again. It wasn’t easy (for the network or for the Hendy team) to not complete our original shared goal, but it was the right thing to do for their teachers and students.
What I’m excited about: Hendy Avenue’s very first consulting project was supporting the Delaware Department of Education as they considered revisions to their teacher evaluation rubric. After considering several rubric options based on the best of the available rubrics at the time, the Delaware team, similar to the team described above, decided to pause and learn more before making changes to a statewide tool. So, we shifted course and supported four charter schools in Wilmington to design and implement an alternative evaluation system for their teachers that would utilize this new rubric. I worked closely with the leaders in those schools for several years and together we instituted an alternative system that is now used in a growing number of Delaware schools through their Alternative Evaluation system. I am so excited that five years later, after learning a great deal about the use of the current rubric and about the alternative system, Delaware leadership is eagerly partnering with teachers, leaders and other stakeholders to revise the rubric to ensure the tool is well-aligned to new standards and meets the needs of teachers across the state. I’m also thrilled the state has very wisely decided to prioritize involvement of teachers and leaders in the process and to take the time necessary to ensure it’s a positive and welcomed change for their well deserving teachers. And I’m even more excited that Hendy Avenue will be partners in engaging stakeholders, designing, piloting, revising and ultimately building a rubric that helps teachers and leaders be the very best they can be for their students.
Making decisions is hard (just ask my husband how many rugs I’ve looked at for our living room). It’s even harder when those decisions will have a real impact on students, teachers and school leaders. Yet working with school system leaders across the country, it’s become very clear to us that how organizations make decisions has a huge impact on the success of their initiatives and of their organization overall. A few things we’ve learned:
1. Choose one final decision-maker. We all like the idea of consensus. We want to believe if we discuss ideas thoroughly, eventually we will come to a clear answer everyone believes in. Unfortunately, that lofty goal can instead lead to delays, frustration and in the end, no clear decision. Before diving into a project, leaders need to very clearly identify who is the final decision-maker for each key decision. The decision-maker should have input from as many stakeholders as possible in order to make the best possible decision, but at the end of the day, he or she has to make a final call.
2. It doesn’t have to be the head honcho. The most effective organizations we’ve seen delegate not only work, but also decision-making. For example, we work with a great organization where the CEO trusts the Chief Talent Officer to make smart decisions. He also trusts her judgment to bring particularly difficult decisions to him to discuss and decide together. As a result, the Chief Talent Officer is invested, feels ownership over her work, and makes things happen quickly. She’s not bottlenecked by a lengthy decision-making process when it isn’t necessary and because she’s closer to the work, is able to make great decisions. As leaders, consider who is best positioned to make the right call and institute a path for escalation when necessary.
3. There isn’t a right answer. Sorry to break it to you, but unfortunately there is not always a right answer. There is only the best possible decision given the available information. We’ve seen leaders in decision paralysis because they are afraid to make the wrong decision; instead, they repeatedly to ask for more and more information to delay their decision. As a result, there is less time for planning, communications, change management and implementation (all of which are often equally if not more important than the decision being made). The overall success of the work is damaged when decisions are delayed unnecessarily.
4. Once a decision is made, all leaders must rally behind it. Behind closed doors, share concerns candidly and fight it out. But once a decision is made, all leaders must present a united front to support the decision. Nothing hurts credibility of a decision more than a leader questioning a decision publicly.
5. Decisions must be tested and can be changed. The good news is that most decisions are not forever. With changing environments, new information or different players, things will always need to evolve. We encourage our partners to thoroughly pilot their initiatives and to use that new information to improve their decisions in the best interest of teachers, leaders and students.
Making decisions is hard, but there are ways to make smarter, better decisions. What lessons have you learned about making decisions? Sound off in the comments.