Monday, August 5, 2013

Scenario #3 - Peer Accountability #principals

"At my school," shared Jennifer, "teachers are expected to administer the benchmark assessment, run the paper through the scanner, then organize the results. Every time it's Melissa's turn, we throw up our hands because she seldom has her materials ready. When the principal calls her on it, Melissa begs another teacher to do it for her. This delays everyone."

One of the fascinating aspects of this scenario is that Jennifer perceives that the problem is squarely in the hands of the principal to solve. But the person who has first crack at the issue is Jennifer, not the principal. Sure, the principal could take action but the teachers on grade level who are aware of the issue can proactively get involved to change the issue.

The challenge for a peer confrontation is any one of the following:

First, Jennifer may fear her relationship with Melissa might be damaged. She may see this as an either-or proposition:
If I say something to Melissa, she'll hate my guts and my work environment will turn into a hostile one. We have lunch together every day. I know she's got problems, but don't we all? Isn't it the principal's responsibility to deal with personnel issues, anyways?
Of course, this is a sucker's choice. The question we should be asking isn't who is responsible for handling this issue besides me, but rather, How can I help Melissa understand that when she's late with her work, it impacts the rest of us AND make our relationship stronger?

Some folks try to do it by using the principal as the "bad guy/gal" by saying, "You need to change your ways, sister, because she is going to get you if you keep this up!" Or, you may say nothing...and then EXPLODE when you finally can't take it anymore. Neither option--silence or screaming--will work well.

Rather than focus on a sucker's choice, an either-or proposition that is a choice between two bad options, it's better to ask the tough AND question that gets our brains working. When I see this commercial from Coke Zero, I just laugh, because we have to work to not just settle:

Second, now that our brains are working on the AND question, we have to clarify what we really want for ourselves and others, especially Melissa. Here are some "wants" in no particular order:

  • We want to avoid the headache associated with not getting our grade level benchmark data turned into the principal, avoiding the inevitable after-school meeting that is prolonged by the absence of Melissa's data.
  • We want the principal to be happy and have a positive outlook of what's happening in our grade level, and let's be honest, she's our supervisor.
  • We want to have up to data on our students so we can make the appropriate interventions, RTI, etc.

Third, have a confrontation that is a win-win.
"Melissa," Jennifer begins, "I've noticed that you get defensive and anxious when the principal gets mad about not having your benchmarks in on time. May I share some ideas that could be helpful with you?"
"Ok, sure, but if you're going to tell me to just blow her off, I'm not ready to do that!"
"As you know, Ms. Gordon (principal) holds the entire team accountable when you let her down. She also gets grumpy about our grade level paraprofessional being pulled off lunch duty to grade your class' benchmarks. We end up having to stay after-hours to review the data once it's done."
"Not you, too?"
"I want you to know that I want to help you and all of us in this situation. I don't want to come across as a mean person out to get you. We both get in trouble when work isn't done and we can't always count on someone else to help finish the work you have to do. So what's the reason you're not getting the assessment work done on time?"
If you find out the issue is that Melissa doesn't know how to work the scanner, then you can take a definitive step forward together. You help her learn the scanner. If the issue that Melissa knows how to do everything, but does NOT WANT to, then that's a different issue that will have to be resolved.

Make sure that as you go forward to your next "event" that you meet with Melissa and set a joint deadline for who will do what by when. That way, if Melissa lets you down, you have a reference point in the conversation that you can work through.
"Melissa, perhaps you forgot, but you may recall that last 9weeks period, we agreed that we would work through the assessments together so as to avoid being late as a grade level. Earlier this week, we also agreed to meet at 9:00am during our conference period to work through this. You didn't show up and I can't help but notice you're carrying a Taco Cabana cup. Since you didn't show, I went ahead and did my assessments. Did you do your's? I'm beginning to wonder if you really are respecting me and your job the way others respect you."

If the answer is YES, well, it's just a communication issue (and how come she didn't bring a taco back?). If the response is a NO, then you will need to find a motivator that works for Melissa. For example, if team cooperation isn't enough, then what will motivate Melissa? You may want to ask her WHY she doesn't want to do what she is supposed to, and encourage her to reflect on whether that why really works.

The easy answer is to go for the principal, share what you've done, and get the principal to step in. But the principal has already failed if she is not sure how to get Melissa to hold herself accountable.

Of course, this may involve the principal stepping in with oral warning, written warnings, reprimand and HR processes that lead to termination. Chances are, though, you're dealing with a professional that won't persist in the face of your repeated confrontations. If you are, you will need to hang in there, not throw up your hands.

Note: This is a continuation of scenarios that apply the Confrontation Protocol for Principals to a variety of situations on campuses. You can read Scenario #1 and Scenario #2 for more background info! This is an adaptation--without permission--of my understanding of Crucial Confrontations principles by

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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