Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Building Trust after Reprimand

A reprimand is one of the hardest situations that a leader ever has to deal with as it is always used as a last resort.  It is negative in nature, corrective in consequence and ever-lasting in effect.  It is difficult for the leader and for the one receiving the reprimand to move forward.  So what happens after the reprimand?  Do hard feelings persist?  Does awkwardness abound?  Is the organization affected? 

The answer to all of these questions is yes to some degree.  The ultimate purpose of a reprimand is to direct actions in the right direction.  It is designed to help the employee perform in a way that benefits himself and the organization.  But there is always this disconnect, a chasm of mistrust.

There are times when reprimands result in a change in behavior.  And when reprimands are effective, leaders can rebuild trust with the employee.  Other times, the behaviors don't change, so trust is difficult to reestablish.  So how can leaders cultivate a productive working relationship with employees that struggle with being written up?

Here are ways that leaders can build trust after a reprimand.

Wait Time

A reprimand is a painful experience and emotions run high afterwards.  Allow time for both you and the employee to return to normal and get back into a work routine.  Just getting back to work provides an eventual open door to reestablish communication.

Personal Conversation

Leaders move to talking about work and don't check in with the employee on their personal life.  Asking about their family, how their weekend was or their feelings on a current event conveys interest in the person.  It breaks down barriers and allows the employee to see the leader in a different light.


People need to hear that they are moving in the right direction.  Affirmation is the critical component of constructive criticism.  Acknowledging the current reality coupled with gauging improvement towards the target is necessary if the employee is going to feel comfortable trusting in the leader.

Positive Feedback

We all grow with praise.  Leaders must realize that celebration through positive feedback is critical if the employee is every going to reach your expectations.  The praise may not be directly related to the target of your expectation, but everyone does something well.  Let them hear about it.


Nothing breaks the ice better than a good sense of humor.  Showing your humor regularly communicates your humanity and your heart.  The best leaders use their humor wisely and purposefully to make sure all employees see them as approachable and ultimately trustworthy.

When we were corrected as children and as students, we felt attacked, guilty or less than worthy.  We all are hard-wired from childhood to react this way as adults, even if we acknowledge that the reprimand is correct.  Leaders can bridge the divide so that employees can overcome a reprimand and get to the real purpose of  reprimand and that is growth...

Why We must Listen to Excuses

This morning, I read a great post by @leadershipfreak called Getting Past Excuses, and it was very powerful for me to understand the importance of building systems to help teams and individuals get past making excuses so they can move to action.

But what about the excuse?

There was a reason that it was made in the first place. Leaders move too quick to the "get over it" mentality when dealing with the person who is making excuses. Moving past the excuse without analyzing the source of its existence can lead to the excuse rearing its ugly head in the future. In essence, getting over it without identifying the source can lead to resentment and ultimately lack of productivity.

What causes a person to make an excuse?

1. Fear
People make excuses if they fear for their job, status or safety. Leaders must probe excuse-makers with questions that help the person resolve their fear, but more importantly help the leader identify if systems or statements made by the leader have generated fears within the individuals or better yet, the organization as a whole.

2. Misconceptions
Excuses can be the result of preconceived ideas about expectations that are not what the leader intended to communicate. When leaders make a statement, followers can internalize it to mean many things. Listening for misconceptions, asking follow up questions and clarifying misunderstandings can definitely build trust between the leader and members of the organization; thus reducing the frequency of excuses being made.

3. Old Expectations
Expectations that were made 5 years ago or two leaders ago still exist in every organization. Whether you like it or not, leaders must listen to excuses to see if an antiquated expectation is preventing individuals or teams from being able to produce results. If so, the leader must clarify and rectify the discrepancy so teams can move forward.

There are quotes as far as the eye can see that speak to the weakness within excuses and excuse-makers. I contend that excuses communicate something deeper, a weakness of trust within the organization. Leaders must listen to organization to identify gaps in trust and understanding in order for teams and individuals to move to a place where flexibility and empowerment transform excuses into action.

We have a choice. We can listen to excuses and use them as building blocks of systemic progress, or we can dismiss them all together and watch our organization fail to achieve.

What's your excuse for not listening to excuses?

Humble Pie for Thanksgiving

My taste buds are ready for Thanksgiving, and there's one reason why. There are so many pies to choose from. Chocolate, pumpkin, sweet potato, and apple are just a few pies that instantly come to mind.

While it would be easy to be thankful for pie, I'd like to direct you to the worst tasting but most helpful pie of all, Humble Pie. While it doesn't taste very good going down, it definitely improves our quality of life, albeit not instantly.

Humble pie has a distinct taste. With the bold flavor of crow, it leaves the bitter aftertaste of foot-in-mouth.  There's no doubt. When you've bitten into this tart delicacy, your face cannot hide your immediate displeasure. 

So What is Humble Pie?

Conflict & Confrontation
With every person that we have battled with, we have grown. Conflict doesn't help us grow until we come out on the other side which is called understanding.

Opposition & Obstacles
We will always have people and things in our path that attempt to prevent us from moving forward. Persistence and commitment are our blades that are sharpened as a result of these two ingredients. 

Rejection & Reprimand
We have all been told we're not good enough. Whether it be a job interview or being corrected for our mistakes, we have been humbled greatly by rejection and reprimand. By learning from each of these ingredients, our resolve and confidence grows. 

This ingredient needs no introduction. If I asked you to think of all the bone-headed things you have ever done, these embarrassing memories emerge as quick as the smell of your favorite Thanksgiving dish. Surviving from and laughing with our embarrassment builds character  and acceptance of the fact that we are human.  

Humble Pie, the CORE of Growth
If you want to strengthen your core, you need to eat a lot of humble pie. The ingredients are easy to find. They're  anywhere in your life. You just have to be willing to swallow the fact that they are a purposeful part of your life for a very good reason. 

Here's a bonus to today's post, great apple pie recipes from www.drosengarten.com

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Simplifying The Complexity of Question 3

In my earlier post, Vertically Align Your Interventions Simulataneously, I outlined how principals can carve out time to replace faculty meetings with collaborative discussions on interventions.  In these meetings, grade level teams come to the meetings with intervention strategies for the high leverage skills that they plan to teach in the upcoming grading period.  Teachers meet with teachers from the grade level above and below  about the interventions and offer suggestions to make interventions even more targeted and specific.  At the end of the meeting, every grade level walks away with a deeper understanding of why kids fail to learn and more importantly a more detailed plan of action to address kids when they fail to learn.  Attached are an agenda and graphic organizer to guide teams through the process of designing interventions that align with the grade level below's instruction and lead to the grade level above's standard.

Below are dropbox links to an agenda and worksheet to help teams prescribe Tier 1 interventions collaborative and vertically.
Vertical Alignment Meeting Agenda
Vertical Alignment Intervention Worksheet

So now that we've met and created our specific intervention, what do we do with all this information?

Question 1 & 2 Must be Answered

Once teams have agreed what the standard looks and sounds like at the expected level of proficiency, they must agree on what instructional activities and strategies they will use to guide learners to the standard. Teams must also design common formative assessments that are aligned to the standard and the rigor of instruction that was provided.  Without a common formative assessment developed collaboratively by the team, teachers will have no baseline to identify who really learned the content and who is still not proficient.  Thus, there is no reason to begin answering our next question, #3. 

Special Note - This topic is extremely complex and my basic explanation hardly does any justice to the importance of developing common instructional and assessment practices.

Before Question 3 - Use your Student Work

Assuming that your PLTs have developed a common understanding and agreements for instruction and assessment, teachers are ready to evaluate formative assessment data.  Teachers must come to the table with student work in 3 forms.
  1. Struggling Student Work - Bring student work of a student or students that you cannot find an intervention that help them learn the concept.
  2. Average Student Work - Bring student work of an average student to gauge if your instruction is pushing all students at the same level of rigor as your teammates' instruction.  This is a great way to evaluate if Question 1 is challenging all students at the appropriate level.  This conversation should also allow teachers to gather new instructional ideas.
  3. Exceptional Student Work - Bring work of a high student that you need ideas to push them to deeper level of complexity.  This is a great way to collectively answer question 4.

Question 3 - Struggling Student Work

Why bring the lowest student to the table?  If you can design interventions that will help the student that struggles the most, you are designing interventions for most of the students that fail to learn.  It is easy to discuss a student that is mildly behind, but your collaborative time is precious.  You must spend it with your team discussing the hardest to accelerate and hardest to reach.  Use student work to show what specifically is the problem with the child's learning. Analyzing the student's work will help team members see problems and habits that the teacher may not be able to see yet. It is also very important to have intervention personnel in the meeting to share their strategies and to make them aware of the child's struggles. This conversation must turn into a plan of action that is specific to the largest skill that is preventing the child from learning. The plan must also specify the detailed actions that will be taken and identify the personnel, time and frequency of the intervention.

If your team is able to spend 10 minutes per child designing targeted, specific and prescriptive interventions for the lowest child, they will have just designed intervention strategies that every teacher can employ with other students who are failing but not at the severity of the lowest student in the class.

So What about the Vertical Alignment Document?

Teams must be purposeful in using the document from the vertical alignment meeting.  If they put a lot of effort into making the document and then getting input from the grade level above and the grade level below, they have just answered question 3 for all of their upcoming planning meetings.  Teams will be able reference the input and suggestions from the grade levels above and below each week.  From there, they ensure that the child receives interventions that begin from their prior year's learning and lead to a solid foundation for the next year's instruction.

Now there is a caveat to the perceived simplicity in the above paragraph.  Just because your team wrote interventions and got vertical input does not necessarily make the intervention good.  Teams must review the interventions and be thoughtful and committed to determining if the interventions are prescriptive enough to meet the  unique and specific issues that are preventing students from learning.  In essence, the preplanned interventions need to be reviewed and discussed to ensure that they will meet the needs of kids where they are currently failing to learn. 

Hope this helps.  I would enjoy your thoughts, feedback and questions to this post.  Good luck.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Silencing the Silence

How often have we heard that the silence is deafening? Can you really hear a pin drop? Do the crickets actually commence to chirping as soon as the elephant enters the room?

Dictionary.com describes the noun of silence as:
1. absence of any sound or noise; stillness.
2. the state or fact of being silent; muteness.
3. absence or omission of mention, comment, or expressed concern: the conspicuous silence of our newspapers on local graft.
4. the state of being forgotten; oblivion: in the news again after years of silence.

As a leader I find it interesting that silence is defined as the omission of mention, comment or expressed concern. As I reflect on the noun of silence, I wonder what conditions are created that force teammates or employees to purposely fail to bring about issues of concern. Is the culture so toxic and threatening that members hold their tongue when they need to address really important issues?  In order to answer the questions about how silence is created, we must dig deeper to learn more about silence.

Dictionary.com goes further to describe the verb of silence:
1. to put or bring to silence; still.
2. to put (doubts, fears, etc.) to rest; quiet.
3. Mil. to still (enemy guns), as by more effective fire.

Here we find that the action of silence has 2 opposing responsibilities for leaders to consider.  Each action will take the culture of an organization to 2 completely different places.

1. Leaders can squelch the conversation and subdue voices that differ from theirs, or 
2. Leaders can put fears, doubts or uncertainty to rest.

To synthesize this even further, suppressing the conversation does not put fears to rest, and putting fears to rest requires anything but cutting off the conversation.

So what steps do leaders take to silence the silence?

1. Welcome the Elephant into the Room

The leader must model a positive approach to solving difficult problems. Keeping the team focused on what's best for the organization is key to effectively dealing with difficult situations.  Conversation must be open, authentic and focused on a resolution. People appreciate a leader when he has the courage to address the elephant.  They see that moving forward is not only attainable but essential.

2.  Listen to the Crickets

When the crickets are chirping, trust is uncertain.  Fear and uncertainty abound.  This is your cue to put fears and uncertainty to rest.  Frequent individual conversations with multiple people and continued dialogue with the group are essential to remove the perceived gag-order.  As long as the crickets are chirping, your progress is stalled.  If you want to quell the crickets, you have to make some noise.

3. Question Why the Pins are Dropping

If you want to help your team members, you have to allow them to address their own doubts.  Leaders are most successful at helping others when they use reflective questioning, rather than endless suggestions and directives, to guide others to untangle their own web of confusion.  To help teams discover the answer to why silence is present, the leader can't answer his own questions.  The answer is in the room and the team has to find it with your support and guidance.

Silencing the silence takes courage.  It takes vision, and it requires an unwavering commitment not to people, but to something bigger, the team.  It requires situational awareness which is only possible when the leader knows their staff deeply, knows the daily undercurrents of the organization and uses both pieces of information to guide the organization to resolve its problems and ultimately to become better for kids and each other. If the leader fails to confront the elephant, the crickets and the pin-dropping, they will lull their staff to a state of silent lucidity.