No successful NFL coach would start the season without making sure that the entire team had a comprehensive understanding of the “game plan”. Equally important, he would make sure that the players had the necessary skills to succeed.
Question: Do district leaders have a similar responsibility for assuring that the staff is in a position to successfully deal with their challenges?–That they know and have a “game plan” for solving problems and making difficult decisions. We know that the leadership team stands at the intersection of the change process. But, there are some key questions:
- Do team members possess the essential skills to support the successful implementation of the improvement agenda?
- Can team members resolve the “people problems” that will come with the expectations for change?
- Do team members have the skills to simultaneously manage the new initiatives and to also resolve the daily crises that will inevitably occur?
Effective action comes from having the right people, applying the right information, to the right issues, at the right time. The case can be made that “Job 1” for district leaders is to ensure that the leadership team has the capabilities to be effective leaders. Some “sure-fire” ways to make this a reality include:
- Give team members the necessary skills, tools and strategies and expect them to use them. Decision making is a learned skill. People must not only be taught strategies for making excellent decisions, they must be supported in using them.
- Commit to a set of common processes and language for collaborative problem-solving and decision making. The entire organization should be working with the same goals, tools, and strategies. Collaboration increases the quality of the end result. If you think involvement takes too much time, quantify the time and resources spent “selling” or fighting opposition to an unpopular decision.
- Remove barriers to excellent decision-making. Part of creating an organization of decision-making excellence involves knowing what gets in the way. Where are the breakdowns in systems and practices that prevent decision-making excellence? Find these and address them.
- Create a culture of decision-making excellence. District climate and culture is a powerful and vastly underestimated influencer of behavior. Practices, systems and structures that emphasize collaboration and shared problem solving help develop inter-departmental relationships that foster trust, cooperation, and effective use of resources.
It can be argued that school improvement efforts do not generally fail because the staff lacks technical knowledge and know how. It is more often the inability of leadership to resolve the “people issues”. One key element in successfully dealing with dynamic change in the education environment is overcoming resistance. Equipping school leaders with systematic problem-solving and decision-making strategies which involve the stakeholders in the change process will provide a sense of ownership that lessens resistance. This in turn will give the stakeholders more confidence in the value of the changes, a greater commitment for implementation and helps them to become excited about the future instead of feeling like victims of the past.