Sunday, May 31, 2015

Leading Teams- Motivation

James Dyke's short book on leadership, Leading Teams: How to Inspire, Motivate, Lead, and Succeed! contains many short chapters that cover discrete elements of his ideas. Chapter 9 is titled "Connecting Individual Motivation with Team Vision." In it he lists ten major motivators of people in the workplace:
  • Recognition
  • Meaningful or significant work
  • a role that really matters
  • freedom and independence in working conditions
  • challenging work assignments
  • Personal growth and development/ professional growth and development
  • career advancement
  • job security
  • friendships in the workplace
  • having a "say" in decisions, policies, plans and goals

He recommends that one way to identify the important motivators for each member is simply to give them a list and ask them to rate each one on a 1-10 basis demonstrating their individual preferences for motivation. Personally, my list would look like this:

6  Recognition
8  Meaningful or significant work
8  a role that really matters
9  freedom and independence in working conditions
9  challenging work assignments
8  Personal growth and development/ professional growth and development
5  career advancement
job security
5  friendships in the workplace
8  having a "say" in decisions, policies, plans and goals

Based on my list, it is easy to understand why I am not motivated to attend the parties and happy hours of my group. It is not that I do not value friendships- I do. I just will not develop them in a large group setting. I need one-on-one time. My need to go to a bar after work tends to not be nearly as desirable as going out after I have gotten dinner on the table for the family. Family events are always tricky- especially when you throw my teenage Aspie into the mix. We socialize as a family in a very limited way.

As a teacher, job security is one of those taken for granted aspects. It is one of the major things teachers think about when they are trying to achieve tenure. As a part time teacher for the past 20 odd years, that is not a major goal for me. Recently however, my boss has made it painfully clear that as a part time person, I have an end date. While I am not terribly concerned with being back next year, I am tired of having it thrown in my face for the last few years that I have as much standing in the department as pond scum.

Career advancement and teaching are not necessarily synonymous. There is a very limited path of advancement. While there are currently several movements to create advancement paths for teachers, these are limited and the concept of everyone not being treated the same is difficult if not impossible for some teachers to accept.

In my years in PTA, one of the things that I have learned is that everyone wants recognition, but some people want it publically while others want it privately. Some want multiple big announcements while others want it understated. Some need it frequently, and others only after something significant. Everyone wants to be appreciated, it is how that comes off that is different. I want to be recognized meaningfully and subtly. Big displays will only embarrass me.

In general, teachers go in to teaching because they find their work meaningful. They see the role of helping develop young minds and souls as incomparable. Teaching kids is a calling. I have, however, found great joy in helping other teachers work out particularly tough problems. I have a lot of stuff crowded into my brain and I love the opportunity to try and apply it to new problems, even if they are not mine. Having the opportunity to work with other professionals- formally or informally- has become increasingly motivating to me.

I have frequently said that one of the best parts of being itinerant is the freedom it entails. Don't get me wrong. I love having knowledgeable people observe me in action and help me get better. Just be sure you can offer meaningful feedback. I detest being micromanaged. I have been at this a long time. I do not need you to remind me to get my paperwork in. I will do so. Let me choose to do my planning and paperwork in the location that I work best in and I will love you.

While I am as much of a creature of habit as the next person, I love a new challenge. When I was asked to take on Wilson Reading, my response was what resources do you have for me to learn the program over the weekend? When I was asked about taking on a selectively mute, math-phobic young woman in math, I said sure. Then I went on line, bought resources, read a bunch and dove in. When I was asked to do a preschool class though, I said no. I do not have the innate skills and my children's birthday parties at that age had me watching the clock for them to be over and taking Advil and wine when they were. I want academically challenging rather than behavioral. I prefer high school students and curriculum. Let me be in my zone and I will be successful at what you send me into.

As you might have guessed from my blog, I love PD. I do not need my boss to arrange it. I am perfectly capable and comfortable pursuing the trails of knowledge that intrigue me. Give me the time off I need to attend the workshops that I want to attend. Do not ask me to attend basic level programs when I have pursued it already.

I enjoy having a say in policies. I have an opinion on just about everything and am willing to share it. I try to have reasoned arguments for or against an item. I am good at playing devil's advocate in order to explore possibilities. I feel that I have been around enough to be able to offer some insights. I, like most people, am happiest with decisions when I can at least say I was heard.

Having thought about this exercise there is more to it than a number can tell. My feelings about these issues are complicated, as are, I suspect, most people. I guess I am surprised that the author neglected respect. Perhaps the fact that it is an overriding issue that all people need to have is why it is not part of this chapter. This exercise is a great conversation starter. It also helps to clarify things for the individual herself.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The five dysfunctions of a team

Patrick Lencioni's' book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, is an artfully crafted book designed to showcase his theory of what makes a team work well. The book has two main parts: the first part is a fictional story of a dysfunctional team who learns to work better together and the second part explicitly details the steps and strategies used to achieve that goal.

The storytelling beginning is remarkably effective. It is easy to read and connect with- a storytelling must. Kathryn, our new CEO heroine, pulls her team together, shows them how their lack of teamwork interferes with their lack of business productivity and the business moves on to success.

The centerpiece of the story is that there are five things teams do that prevent their success. Mr. Lencioni imagines these as stacks in a pyramid. When any lower level is impaired, the rest of the pyramid is on shaky ground. At the base of the stack is absence of trust which as seen as a need for invulnerability. Next comes fear of conflict as seen as artificial harmony- agreeing on the surface and not being able to support the decision in private, undermining it outside of the boardroom. Third is a lack of commitment as seen in ambiguity. Fourth is avoidance of accountability as seen in low standards. At the pinnacle is inattention to results as seen in individual focus on status and ego as opposed to team goal achievement.

This series makes intuitive sense, most teams would say they do not fall prey to any of them and most teams are wrong. When think of my particular team, I will show you. Our current departmental leader came in and put together a minute to win it contest to try and build teamwork. Some people enjoyed it. Others tolerated it. I, often not a good team player (an area of needed improvement), demonstrated my dismay at being asked to play at nonsense while I had all kinds of work to do. Teambuilding during the event seemed to consist of dreading the next activity collectively. I did not trust or care about the results. I do not trust my team, I never see them work. When I get to know individual members, I begin to see them and their skills; this builds trust. For me, this is not a group process, but a one-on-one activity. The author recommends avoiding these physical activities as ways to build teams because they do not work.

In education and among women there is often a fear of conflict. As someone who grew up with seven siblings in a loud house, I am very comfortable with conflict. Loud conflict. I know that there a rules about conflict- focus on the single issue at hand, no name calling or personal attacks, etc. I am willing to play devil's advocate for the sake of disagreement. I was at a workshop once where the presenter focused on the idea that consensus in all things is essential. I beg to differ. There are many things we will never agree on. Management must sometimes ignore the ideas of the staff. Parents must ignore the desires of their children. Seatbelts must always be worn. State gatepost tests must be given. I do not care about your personal opinion. When we discuss the issue in an open and frank manner, a decision can be reached. Everyone may not agree with the decision but ultimately they have two team centered choices- support it anyway or leave the organization. Anything else degrades the team.

My husband frequently talks about spirited discussions between him and the CTO of his company that other team members would step back and watch. This was a senior engineer and his boss, discussing deeply technical issues and not agreeing. These discussions, however, helped both of the men grow and understand the issues. The CTO won more often than not, but my husband also was able to win. Sometimes, they walked away agreeing to disagree. Many times decisions were modified to reflect a more thorough understanding of the issues.

If we cannot commit to support the goal, we need to get out. In education that means get out of the district or teaching altogether. That is scary. Unlike many other jobs, teaching is not a portable skill. Once you have too many years in, you are an unlikely hire. Pay is often slashed by switching districts. We can work within the field to disagree- lobby our representatives, attend and speak out at school board meetings, participate in school level decision-making teams. We can do these things while supporting the policy at the classroom level. Undermining the policy, however, erodes the team effort. We cannot avoid speaking up and then fail to support a decision. That is unfair to everyone. We cannot avoid making a decision because someone's feelings may be hurt.

Avoidance of accountability is one that I find particularly interesting. About twenty years ago I was at a staff meeting as a very junior member. We were being asked to look at data for our students and manually desegregate it. I piped up with a question, "If we had printouts of the data, why were being asked to desegregate the data manually, wouldn't it make more sense to do it with a computer?" I got a "computers can't do it" response and that was it. I knew that I could write a simple program that could do this, so I was not satisfied. Later, someone in a mentoring role to me took me aside and said we should not question the people on this particular committee because they were the school powerbrokers. This incident has always stuck in my craw. Here was a team that absolutely refused to be held accountable for how they used people's time or anything else. I was blackballed as a result of this incident. We need to have high standards and be willing to accept people calling us to account for violating them. Even junior people have good insights. What they lack in experience, they make up for with not being tied to tradition and having fresh insights.

Ultimately what drives a lot of the previous issues is inattention to results. Ego. I cannot be wrong, so you had better shut up. This attitude is pervasive in schools and other businesses as well. If it is all about me, it cannot be about doing a good job. We need to individually address this idea, not just take but encourage constructive feedback, and learn that it is never to late to learn something new.

 This book masterfully shows how to be a better team. It takes work, but it can be done. Further, becoming a better team results in achieving better results. It maximizes ideas and potential.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Common Core: Reading standards in grades 6-12

Maureen McLaughlin and Brenda J. Overturf's book, The Common Core: Teaching Students in Grades 6-12 to Meet the Reading Standards, was a text that I found tediously repetitive. Part two is about teaching the common core standards for reading. It includes a chapter for each anchor standard. Each of these chapters includes an explanation of each anchor standard. It looks at the literature, informational texts, history/social studies and science and technology. If you want to read the standards horizontally and vertically, this book includes them in both orientations. They then approach how to teach the standard, 21st century skill applications of the standard, integrating the stand with other ELA standards, a section on the common core in action ad references. Unfortunately there are sections that are repeated verbatim in each chapter. I would like to think that professionals do not need that level of reinforcement.

They offer some fantastic examples of graphic organizers that are completed. page 172, for example offers a "Determining an Author's Purpose Organizer." It has a space for central idea, facts and language choices that support those facts. Unfortunately you need to buy another book or recreate them to get blank copies. They have rough outlines of lesson sets to teach the information but this is often sketchy and general. More specific lesson details would be helpful in demonstrating what the "action" would look like. The way it is written lacks any specificity.

The book left me feeling incomplete. Perhaps it would be useful if someone read pieces as opposed to the entire book.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Common Core: Teaching Students in gr. 6-12 to meet the reading standards- close reading

Close reading is a term referred once in the CCSS but has received a huge amount of interest as a result of the roll out of the standards. The problem that authors Maureen McLaughlin and Brenda J. Overturf note in their book, The Common Core: Teaching Students in Grades 6-12 to Meet the Reading Standards, is that there is no agreed upon definition of what close reading is. They point out in numerous places this discrepancy.

  • Aspen Institute: it involves investigation of a short piece with multiple readings over a period of time where students are guided to "deeply analyze and appreciate various aspects of the text..." (p 78). It is an instructional strategy using direct instruction techniques to read increasingly "complex texts and apply newly acquired knowledge" (p. 78)

  • ACT: literary analysis (p. 55). Interpret text using literary devices and aspects such as theme and figurative language or identify claims and analyze support (p. 78)

  • Common Core- "read for deep comprehension;" to determine what the text explicitly reveals (p. 78)

  • Fisher and Frey- an aspect of reader response to the text (p. 56)

  • Pearson- utilize prior knowledge to support it, but gives respect to the text rather than the author, historical background, or personal disposition (p. 56-7)

  • Calfee- not the "keystone" of literacy, but a piece of it (p. 57)

  • Authors interpretation of the CCSS- both literary analysis and a way to read for enhanced comprehension (p. 57)

The fact that multiple interpretations exists presents challenges when trying to understand what we are talking about. Is close reading analysis or comprehension? seems to be the foundation of the debate, but it can be further complicated by the idea that it is a unified strategy to approach reading tasks.

In my children's schools they seem to approach close reading as a strategy involving rereading and annotating texts. My daughter has found this particularly infuriating since the annotation of a short work, well below her significantly above grade level reading, involving concepts that she readily understands is unnecessary. Afterall who annotates Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt? For her, rereading and making notes is a tedious process that does little to enhance comprehension or enable literary analysis. For other students, however, for whom a significant portion of the vocabulary is poorly or not understood, multiple readings and question marks are not helpful. If a student must pause multiple times in a sentence to look up a word, he is not likely to persevere at the task, even if the reading is in an electronic form and hyperlinks are available to assist in word comprehension.

The idea of a scaffold of skills to understand and interpret readings is appealing, but the often poorly undifferentiated curriculum demanding every child read the same passage is somewhat of a mockery of the idea of challenging texts. You cannot teach a scaffold of skills effectively if some students never advance beyond handholding and some never encounter a difficulty. Approaching the curriculum to effectively teach reading for deep comprehension seems to imply at some level that good strategy instruction occur- that requires instruction on material at an independent level and moving to progressively more challenging material. If we want to teach students to read beyond their grade level, something that appears to be a goal in NY (look at our modules and tests that utilize readings far outside of what good sense tells us is appropriate for children at a particular age), we need to establish a progression that takes them through reading from the easy to the challenging.

I have read some authors reflect that they do not want people to look too deeply into their work because they find things that were not there. Themes that the author did not intend to explore, hidden messages that "closely reading" can reveal. This is, in fact, how my tongue in cheek high school essay about Ethan Frome and the relationship between Zeena and the cat came up. There is some sense of preposterousness and hubris in thinking that we can uncover these ideas, many of which were unintended. We say that statistics can prove anything. Are we going to a place where deep and close enough reading can as well?

If we want to have a discussion about the standards, we need to first agree on what this term "close reading," referred to in the first reading standard, means. We need to agree that not all material should be read closely and that not all reading, even in English class, should be close. We need to understand that just because a student is at a particular grade level, a particular book or passage is challenging- it could be anywhere from impossible to child's play.