Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Cornfield Races and Other Things That Need Improvement

Imagine running a race down across a recently-harvested corn field.  Bumpy, lumpy rows of dirt and rocks, scattered with cornstalk pieces and random ears of corn.  This would definitely not be a place to hold a race.  No record times would be recorded and a few twisted ankles would most likely occur.   Unfortunately, your supervisor and your company require weekly measures of your performance in the plowed corn field dash.  They say this metric helps the overall measure of the organization.

Even though you realize that there is no meaningful purpose to run a race across a plowed-up corn field, you continue to run this race because it is mandatory.  You may complain to your coworkers, hopeless that things will get better.  Some folks might even mention the issues regarding the mandatory race to their supervisor, hoping to be heard.  A few brave souls make recommendations.

After enough of these seemingly meaningless runs, quite a few folks would stop trying.  Others would simply grit their teeth, go through the motions to finish, then go on with their lives as if nothing happened.  Many would find a reason to exempt themselves.  Pretty much everyone would continue to wonder why nothing is ever done to improve the race or end it altogether.

Every school has hundreds of little processes, procedures and protocols.  Very few of them are perfect.  Most of them work just fine.  They accomplish the purpose.  Many of them are like the cornfield race.

Potential improvements to the current processes, procedures, and protocols are plentiful on every campus.  Does your campus make tweaks or full-scale changes that improve processes on a regular basis?  Or, does your campus keep the status quo and only make changes during the summer?

In order to lead a teacher-centered campus, school leaders must address many of these on a regular basis.  Teachers want processes to improve and are usually willing to help with the improvement process.  As a former principal, There were very few days that I  did not hear a desired improvement from someone.

Sometimes, the reply was simple, "Great idea!  Would you like to take care of that or would you like me to take care of it?"  Sometimes the reply was, "Tell me more," or, "How will this be beneficial?" or, "Who else can sit down with us and talk about this more deeply?"  The easiest answer I gave was, "Yes!  I'll take care of it!"

There are tons of experts that will tell a leader to keep your head down and focus on your hedgehog concept.  Maintain a keen focus on the big rocks.  While I agree in so many ways, a school leader must address the cornfield races.  Minimize the bothersome practices that teachers must endure.  When teachers are clearly just jumping through hoops, make the situation better or make the hoop easier to jump through.  Don't ignore teacher's requests for improvement.

Whether the problem is like a grain of sand between the toes or it is a cornfield race, don't wait to make it better.