Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Observations and Being Nice

My evaluator now says that she didn't mean to schedule the meeting with me last Friday, she meant this Friday. (Even though she specifically said Friday, Feb 16 in her emails). And she says that she couldn't possibly have said she'd observe me on Tuesday because she's never at school on Tuesdays (she's always at a day-long meeting on Tuesdays). Again, check the email. Written (or electronic) record.

We had a meeting today about being nice. Specifically, about how administrators need to be nice. They have a habit of not being nice. Example: there was a memo about how the bulletin boards need to all be updated, showing current student work, no misspellings, blah blah blah. It was a little ridiculous, with a written rubric and everything (they're just bulletin boards) and near-perfection demanded of all student work that was to be posted. Whatever.

Teachers mostly updated their bulletin boards - some didn't, probably not from laziness but from overwhelmedness (if that's a word) - there just don't seem to be enough hours or minutes to finish all the junk we have to finish. The ones who didn't - and some who did, myself included - got the memo again, with "SECOND NOTICE" written across it. Come on, this is a bulletin board memo, not a collection agency! Enough people were upset with the harsh wording of the memo that it came up in a staff meeting.

My evaluator - for today, let's call her the Highly Defensive Administrator (HDA) stood by her decision to write a memo that wasn't nice. She repeated several times that she was sorry if she offended anyone or seemed curt, but she has never ever in her whole life (HDA's about 31) seen a school in which the teachers had to be TOLD to fix up the bulletin boards. I mean, she said it a LOT. She also said it in the same tone that I might say I had never, in my WHOLE LIFE seen a school in which the teachers had to be TOLD to not sell drugs to students.

  • First point: our school is a little different from the schools she has previously worked at, with much more going on - it's hard to concentrate on bulletin boards.
  • Second point: She didn't sound very sorry. And I'm sorry but... that's something I teach the kids not to say. Because it's not a real apology.
We went over this again and again with some people saying that they were hurt and didn't feel supported and HDA saying that she was sorry if she had offended people, but she had never, in her whole life seen a school in which... blah blah blah.

Then, another administrator - we'll call him Highly Enabling Administrator (HEA) jumped in. He said that we had spent way too much time on bulletin boards. I said (by the way, at faculty meetings, teachers actually raise their hands to talk. What do normal adults do?) that I didn't think the issue was bulletin boards, but rather how people were treated - that if bulletin boards are being neglected, it is likely because teachers are overwhelmed or frustrated or feel unsupported and one more thing is too much. That people might actually respond better if they were talked to in a nice way. That, however silly it may seem to apply to adults, we all know that children need positive reinforcement, and that this may actually work with colleagues - to say nice things once in a while.

This is when HEA started defending HDA. He said that she had apologized many many times in this meeting (hmmm... like I tell my students, "Sorry, but..." isn't really an apology) and that he's trying to defend our jobs, which are apparently at stake due to mediocre bulletin boards. (This is a favorite strategy of administrators - when they get backed into a corner, they like to remind us that our jobs are at stake or that they can fire us whenever they want - usually not true - or, as the more subtle ones say, "You may want to dust off your resume...")

I guess being nice isn't in the school plan.


jessamynit said...

I wrote to my gov't representatives about no child left behind and barbara boxer wrote back that she had voted for it but then bush didn't spend enough money on it like he said he would. not exactly the issue, here.
sorry, but...

Jessica said...

> at faculty meetings, teachers actually raise their hands to talk. What do normal adults do

Normal adults have a way more sophisticated sense of how to bring other people into a conversation.

Which is how I'd phrase this behavior. It's not even about being nice, it's that, as a leader, you don't walk into a role and then *tell* people anything, you ask them -- if you perceive a problem -- "talk to me about your classroom bulletin boards. are they how you like them?" [wait for response!] "they seem much simpler than other schools' i've worked with; is there some reason for that?" or "well, if you don't like them so well what's holding you back from changing them?"

My guess: if a 31 year old admin coming into your school is fixated on how it *appears*, they're already so deeply in over their head they probably know they're failing.

Another point, HEA seems to be a suckup to me, rather than an enabler. Third, threatening people with being fired is so utterly contemptible as a management practice that the only person I know who has ever used it was a diagnosed manic-depressive who was off his meds.

If I were them, I'd really be worried that you would publicly (i.e. in the newsmedia) say, "I was here and endured shootings and deaths and a class full of special needs kids when we didn't have resources... and now these administrators have so effectively burnt me out that I'm going on sabbatical."