• Common Core State Standards, Factors Influencing Student Achievement, Responsive Coaching, Teacher Evaluation, Autism

  • JP partners with schools and districts across the country to provide intensive professional development for scientifically-based programs.

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  • JP Associates offers our sites grant writing assistance. Take advantage of our experience writing successful grant requests.

  • JP works with schools providing training on how to ameliorate teacher weaknesses brought to light through the process of teacher evaluation.
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The School Improvement Specialists
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Giving Solutions vs Letting Your Team Figure it Out—What do you do?

The more leaders micromanage, the less ownership opportunities they provide for their team members. Maybe more importantly, the less team members take ownership. Their thinking is, “Why bother? My supervisor is just going to change my idea and send it back to with suggestions.” Imagine yourself a reporter given an assignment by your editor. You complete the article and submit it.  The feedback from the editor and your peers is that you did a great job! Then in the excitement of the good job, you are flooded with suggestions on how to make it better.  The suggestions are good, it just that the article is not yours anymore. It is the editor’s. 

Effective leaders don’t micromanage for a whole host of reasons.  It doesn’t develop new leaders—an important function of leadership in my opinion.  It undermines the power and confidence of your teams and potential new leaders.  It doesn’t allow space for your team members to become problem solvers, just to implement what you offer as solutions.  Now, to be clear, of course, there is a time and a place for experienced leaders to offer advice and direction. The question is when to remove the “training wheels” and teach people how to go it on their own (in another post we can talk about the importance of moving from managing to monitoring)

Most leaders have gotten to where they are because they were good at their jobs and they kept getting promoted.  So to many people it makes sense to keep doing what is working for them.  That is how they got to where they are, right?  Here is the an essential point—as workers or team members become leaders they need to make the jump from an individual worker making an individual contribution to being a developer and nurturer of others—a leader. They need to allow others opportunities for ownership.

In the book The Awareness Paradigm, author Nancy Hardaway teaches leadership lessons by telling us a story. One of these stories is about a young owner of a brewery.  She gives a leadership consultant a tour of her facility and during the tour they are constantly interrupted by staff asking for guidance.  At the end of the tour, the consultant shares some insights with the owner:

“When you’re good at something, it’s easy to get caught in it, to have it become your default and not a choice. You’ve been doing it so long, it’s easy to think no one can do it without you.  Then it becomes self-fulfilling. Your staff ends up coming to you for everything. You have all the answers so they keep coming…You’re a great at solving problems. So you keep solving the problem for them. You’re giving them the solution rather than making them figure it out a solution which help build the skills you want them to have. Plus, your reluctance to have them fail means they get reluctant to make a mistake. So they don’t want to try anything with checking with you.” 

These kind of leaders often mean well (there is the leader that is power freak and just doesn’t want to give up the power, but we are not talking about them right now), but in the end hurt their team more than help them. The more people feel ownership of their work and their role, the more they feel a responsibility to get it right and do it right. This in turns builds pride and self-confidence. One view of leadership presented by Heifetz in his book Leadership without Easy Answers is, one of mobilizing people to tackle tough problems, problems that have not yet been solved.  This means the effective leaders trusts his team to work on the problem and come to their own conclusions, their own answers. 

Differentiation—Good for Students, Good for Staff

It is widely accepted that differentiation plays a significant role in making sure ALL children learn. Those most naïve students, those students who are new to the English language, those students who have identified special needs all deserve a quality education. Equally important is differentiation for those students who excel in their academic achievements. They deserve lessons that match their advanced needs. There is no one size fits all if we are going to reach each student at their specific academic level. The effectiveness of having a teacher well versed in effective strategies for differentiation is not disputed in the research.

In like manner, JP is of the firm belief that learners are learners are learners. Whether a learner is 3 or 33, IF a teaching/learning strategy has been proven to be best practices, then that strategy should be used no matter the age of the learner- especially if those learners are learning something entirely new. In point of fact, it is probably more important to use these evidence based procedures as we mature as learners. Memories are not as acute and learning becomes a bit more laborious as we mature. Evidence based practices would enhance accelerated learning on the part of ALL learners.

Teachers are all not the same- they learn differently and, perhaps in many cases, at different rates as well. Each teacher comes with their own unique background knowledge that anyone providing PD for a staff must accommodate. Professional development is the way our adult teachers learn something new.

Evidence based strategies are an integral part of all of our PD. JP uses explicit instruction techniques as well as  the Gradual Release of Responsibility in working with our teacher partners. We also differentiate every piece of our PD- from stand up training to our individual classroom coaching. Once JP School Improvement Specialists (SISes) begin the coaching process, we create 3 tiers of teachers; much as we do in a school setting for students. Those teachers who exhibit a high level of mastery during a coaching session would be assigned to Tier 1. Those teachers who seem to need more repetitions and a bit more structure to learn would be in Tier 2 or 3. From that vantage point, we now differentiate WHAT we coach, HOW we coach it and HOW OFTEN we coach a particular teacher.

Our coaching sessions then become the basis for how we also differentiate our face to face training/ professional development with teachers. At the end of each classroom coaching session, each teacher receives a Teacher Support Form (TSF). This form details the effective things a teacher is doing that he/she should maintain and specifically outlines suggestions on how to improve teacher effectiveness. We call this piece, ‘Next Steps.’ JP SISes analyze the TSF for what is going well and what needs to be improved. Based on this analysis, customized workshops are designed for teachers based on their specific needs. If, based on the particular coaching session, there is a group of teachers,  no matter the grade level, who need to improvement in a certain area-those teachers are grouped together in order to effectively teach them the specific skills they have already demonstrated they need. For the same token, if there is a group of teachers who show advanced skills in a certain area, they would receive professional development on more sophisticated strategies.

Research is definitive- the single most important factor in achieving high student success is the quality of the teacher. It has been shown there can be as much as a 50% difference in student scores on summative assessments based solely on the quality of the teacher these students had. Creating and delivering effective professional development is the most critical path to improving teacher performance in the classroom-the process must be of the highest quality. Embedding differentiation in professional development ensures that we meet each teacher’s individual needs.

Control vs. Influence

A consistent question heard from new leaders (and some experienced) is, “How can I manage/control my team to get the results I want?”  Our answer is to begin with the concept of a Sphere of Influence. Visualize three concentric circles with the smallest, center circle being things we can control; the next larger circle, things we can influence; and finally the largest, outside circle, things we have limited influence over.

The first question is, “Where are most of your energies expended?”  A good percentage of leaders talk about trying to exert control.  The bottom line is that the only things we can really control are ourselves and our decisions. This brings us to the center circle of influence. 

Here is where most effective leaders concentrate.  Controlling people can be an endless and tiring task. Influencing them so they buy into your vision, and begin to make decision that you would make, without telling them to—that is where you get the biggest bang for your buck. Think back. Who affected your actions the most? People who tried manage and control you, or people that influenced you with their ideas, clear description of goals and expectations, and their fairness?

Take a moment and reflect. Are you a controller or an influencer? Who would you rather be guided by? Remember reflection is an integral aspect of good leadership.  

If you want to change, you need to plan for it

Many people use this time of the year to make resolutions and more often than not, those resolutions are abandoned for any number of reasons (we will look at these in a bit).  Instead of making resolutions, I suggest to people to create a mission statement for the year (or longer) and a plan to implement that mission statement. 

Often resolutions are not kept because we fail to identify a way to insert them in our daily routine. Too often we seen them as something separate from our day to day life—something in addition to rather than part of.   We want to make the change, but just like in an organization, change doesn’t just happen. It needs to be planned, supported and celebrated.  Set a goal and identify benchmarks or milestones and celebrate them when they are reached. Share your accomplishments and maybe most importantly incorporate them into your daily life so they become part of your routine or maybe replace your current routine.

It is important to focus on something that is relevant in your life, personal or business—something that is realistically obtainable.  For example, this year my goal is to take an inventory of my knowledge base and identify books that will fill existing gaps or that will enhance current information.  Then set my benchmarks:

  • Set time aside each day (30 minutes) to read (before work, after work, etc.)
  • Finish a book a month
  • Choose a strategy/information from the readings and create a plan to use it and then USE it.
  • Identify a group of people that I can share, discuss and receive feedback

A key aspect is that if one of these benchmarks is missed, then a serious examination of why it is missed needs to happen and adjustments made to get back on track.  As with any other change or plan, constant monitoring and adjustments will keep you on track. 

Then implement, share, monitor, reassess and celebrate!

Here are some of the books I have chosen and would recommend:

  • Visible Learning-John Hattie
  • Teach Like a Champion –Doug Lemov
  • Leading in a Culture of Change-Michael Fullan
  • The Principal-Three Keys to Maximizing Impact-Michael Fullan
  • The Checklist Manifesto-Atul Gawande
  • The Awareness Paradigm – Nancy Hardaway

Would love to hear some ideas from you about other books and resources!  

Do you think you are good at doing several things at once? You are not!

Have you ever been in a meeting or on a phone call and the other person is working on something else, while they are talking to you? They usually say to you. “I am a bit busy, so I am multitasking. Don’t worry I am listening.”  Well, they may be listening, but they are not focusing. They are not concentrating.

In a 2014 article, we learn from Dr. Napier:

“Much recent neuroscience research tells us that the brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously, as we thought (hoped) it might. In fact, we just switch tasks quickly. Each time we move from hearing music to writing a text or talking to someone, there is a stop/start process that goes on in the brain. 

That start/stop/start process is rough on us: rather than saving time, it costs time (even very small micro seconds), it’s less efficient, we make more mistakes, and over time it can be energy sapping.”

In addition, if you are multi-tasking when someone is talking to you about something of importance to them, how does that make them feel or what does that say about what you think about their issue.

As educators, how do we like to be treated? We expect our students (and our staff during meeting and presentations) to have eyes on us, take notes and ask questions—in other words to focus on the matter at hand. 

Of course, for years we have been presented with the “successful” person who is whipping through an office dealing with a plethora of details and decisions.  We are lead to believe that is what successful leaders do. Wrong.  This MAY be the result of good leadership, and if it is, it is preceded by thoughtful, deep consideration and reflection.

Still think you can multi-task? In her article, Dr. Napier provides a simple test. Click here for the test

If you want to efficiently and effectively address an issue, then focus.  Use all of your faculties to deeply explore the question and reflect on the potential answers.  You will save time, your decisions will be better and you will build stronger relationships with the people you lead. 

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