Evidently the scariest, most terrifying threat to education is the bitter, cynical, entrenched classroom teacher. They impede progress, sow dissent and are bad for students. Oh by the way... these are the same teachers that for past twenty years have had no meaningful training, tools or support, have had their jobs threatened, their salaries eroded and have worked for a revolving door of supervisors and managers. As I tell principals, if your veteran teachers don’t possess a healthy level of cynicism, they haven’t been paying attention.
But the question does remain. How do you get these teachers moving forward in a concerted fashion? It will be more difficult than leading a team of rookies, put the payoff is greater because a group of veterans know more than a group of rookies. Here is what I have always done.
1. Have a concrete, visceral mission. Mine was, “Get them to school. Get them in class. Get them in college.” Then repeat this mission like you are a broken record. Keep the mission in the forefront and make sure it frames discussions, problem solving and decision-making.
2. Create visual change. Deep clean the building, spot paint, make repairs, and rearrange the geography of the building. And explain why you are doing it.
A. Our eyes are our biggest source of sensory input. If you see change, you start to believe change.
B. Environmental cues lock us into habits and routines. It is much easier to break those habits and routines in a new environment.
3. Simplify. Don’t rollout a 75-point plan for campus improvement. No one can do 75 things. Work on getting better at the few things that really matter.
4. Train, train, train. Small modules over extended time.
5. Cue. Cue the practices the staff is training on. How? PowerWalks.
6. Reinforce. Reinforce the attempt. Reinforce the effort. Reinforce the progress. Reinforce the success.
7. Measure. If you are doing something, measure it, track it, and discuss it. Celebrate the successes, huddle up to plan for overcoming adversity.
And finally, with your entrenched, cynical, veteran staff, “Gritching” is good. It means that they are getting out of their comfort zones and trying. No gritching means they aren’t doing it. To misquote Robert Duval, “I love the sound of gritching in the morning... It's the sound of victory.”
Think. Work. Achieve.
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