Leadership is dead.
Or at least it is no longer enough to help address the pressing challenges in education today.
We need something more.
I call that something more Buildership and over the last few posts, I’ve talked about what it is and why it is so important.
Now, I want to talk about what it actually takes to become a Builder. There are four disciplines Builders focus on – Feedback, Support, Accountability, and Culture.
Discipline One: Feedback
For most instructional leaders, giving teachers feedback is a part of your job. What separates normal feedback from the kind that Builders provide?
Well, the typical feedback we give is all over the place because it is tied to our feedback instrument. It covers all the domains, sub-domains, sub-sub-domains, sub-sub-sub-domains…
That kind of feedback is overwhelming. And, because it’s tied to the observation instrument, many teachers feel it’s formulaic. Not only that, but typical feedback often puts you in the position of defending your feedback to teachers who want to argue why they deserve a higher ranking.
In the end, typical feedback conversations end up being little more than highly scripted, stilted performances (I call them the Feedback Dance) where everyone goes through the motions, but rarely if ever changes practice.
For Builders, feedback is different. Builders recognize that they are bound by the rules of their evaluation system but still find ways to make every feedback conversation authentic, meaningful, and useful for their teachers and for themselves.
Instead of checking off teaching behaviors, Builders look for patterns and get to the root of a teacher’s practice. Then, instead of overwhelming teachers with a laundry list of “to do’s,” Builders use ONE thing feedback to get teachers focused on what is most important.
Instead of giving every teacher the same type of feedback, Builders offer teachers differentiated feedback designed to meet each teacher’s professional development needs. It makes sense right? We expect teachers to differentiate their instruction, so why don’t we differentiate our instructional
leadership Buildership? Builders know that differentiating their feedback means that they can give teachers the exact feedback they need to help them make the biggest gains each year.
As a result, instead of going through the Feedback Dance and pretending to listen to your feedback, teachers look forward to these feedback conversations because ONE thing feedback offers them real value that they can implement right away.
Discipline Two: Support
Once teachers receive feedback, they often need support to help them address the feedback and use it to improve their instruction. Typical leadership attempts to support teachers but that support is often not very effective.
There are two reasons for that. First, because the feedback teachers typically get includes a list of areas to work on, the follow up and support must cover several needs at once. That means that the supports can tend to feel random, without much focus or direction.
Second, we often aren’t sure what support we can give to teachers that will really help them. So, we offer what we think will work – books, articles, professional development, coaching, modeling, etc. – and hope that it makes a difference. But we have no real way of knowing.
Builders go about support differently. Our support is never random. Instead, Builders tie their support to their ONE thing feedback. That way, they can tell whether or not the supports they provide are actually making a difference for the teacher.
Second, Builders offer differentiated support. Not all support will work with all teachers. Builders know that, so they make sure to differentiate the kinds of supports they provide so that their supports meet teachers where they are and help them move to the next level.
That last part is really important. There is no use in providing support if it isn’t going to impact a teacher’s practice. Builders are interested in Building Master Teachers. So, they carefully select supports that help teachers move at least one step closer to mastery every year. That means that if they have a teacher who is a novice (which might be Ineffective, or Unsatisfactory, etc. on your evaluation instrument), then they provide supports that will move the teacher UP one level to apprentice (which might be Developing or Needs Improvement etc. on your instrument) on the evaluation instrument by the end of the year.
So, there are no ambiguous results with Builders. Every support they provide moves teachers at least one level each year until they get to mastery.
Discipline Three: Accountability
Ultimately it is the teacher’s responsibility to move. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
Leaders typically hold teachers accountable by starting a paper trail until either the teacher improves, or they have enough evidence to move for dismissal.
Here’s the problem with that kind of accountability.
First, it only works half the time. The other half the time, the teacher wins the battle and is sent right back to your school where he or she is even LESS motivated to change.
Second, that kind of accountability takes an awful lot of time. Don’t you have better things to do than create a paper trail on a teacher? Is that really why you became an administrator? Aren’t there more important things you could (and should) be spending your time on?
Third, it wrecks your culture. Going after teachers creates tension for you and for other teachers. Even if the other teachers agree that the teacher you are targeting should be gone, once that teacher is gone, they wonder, “Am I next?” Whenever you go after a teacher, you put a crack in the trust and rapport you’re trying to build with all your teachers.
Builders see accountability differently.
They don’t go after teachers. Instead, they spend their time and energy building a culture where only mastery teaching can thrive.
It doesn’t mean that Builders don’t set boundaries and expectations. But instead of running around enforcing expectations and trying to hold everyone accountable, Builders put systems in place to help everyone be accountable.
See the difference?
Oh and by the way, Builders know that the accountability starts with them. They engage in behaviors that make them accountable to the teachers, students, and families they serve. No wasted meetings. No going back on their word.
Builders set the standard for what accountable behavior looks like and then get to work helping everyone else in their organization – from the teachers to the students to the parents – be accountable too.
In fact, it gets to the point where not only is everyone being accountable, everyone is holding each other accountable too. So the work is not just on the Builder; the work of accountability belongs to everyone.
And those who choose not to be accountable? Well Builders have a way of working with them to get them on board. But their focus is never on getting rid of others. Builders put supports and accountability measures in place that result in one of two outcomes – either the teacher becomes accountable or the teacher leaves on his or her own.
Either way, the culture stays in tact. In fact it grows even more positive as a result. And speaking of culture…
Discipline Four: Culture
The last discipline of Buildership is Culture. Builders are ultimately building a culture where masterful teaching is the norm and students and families thrive as a result.
But building that kind of culture isn’t easy. Most of the time, leadership leaves culture alone. It’s too hard to address, they say.
Or they try to build a positive culture by creating staff socials, putting Starbucks gift cards in teachers’ boxes, throwing parties and pep rallies when students hit benchmarks, and creating team t-shirts.
Now I love a Starbucks gift card as much as the next person (and if you want to send me one, I guarantee it would make me feel very positive), but putting doughnuts in the staff lounge is not the same thing as building a positive school culture.
What’s more, if you aren’t deliberate about Building culture, you are always vulnerable to those toxic voices who want to destroy your culture.
It’s not that Builders don’t buy an occasional box of doughnuts or throw an occasional pep rally; it’s that Builders know that those are the symptoms of a good culture, not the root.
Building a positive school culture -- one where teachers enthusiastically collaborate for the good of students, treat students with love and kindness, and yet hold themselves and students to high standards -- takes a specific set of tools sequenced a specific way. You have to understand how cultures are built in order to deliberately build one.
So Builders use specific tools to overcome toxic cultures and build the right culture in their schools. They have a process and they are relentless about deploying that process.
Over time, teachers and students become invested and take ownership over protecting that culture. So the work doesn’t just sit with the Builder. Everyone gets involved.
It takes time (as most important things do), but Builders build cultures that last long after they leave. In fact, the Builder’s culture become so engrained that it become just the way that we do things around here.
As you can see, being a Builder takes more than just the desire to be a Builder. It takes commitment to these four disciplines. It’s not any more work (in fact, over time it actually takes LESS work) but it does require DIFFERENT work.
But the rewards are well worth it. When you focus on Buildership:
- Instead of maintaining the status quo, you end up setting the status quo.
- Instead of working hard for tiny little gains, you reap massive rewards.
- Instead of feeling that you had some impact, you feel you actually made a difference.
Still want to be a builder?
Good. Then over the next few posts, I am going to break down each of these disciplines in more detail. I’m also going to give you the tools and strategies you need to implement them in your practice.
In the meantime, I want to know from you. Which discipline do you need the most help with? Let me know in the comments and I will try to address your concerns in upcoming posts.