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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Checklist for Leadership

Five Point Leadership Inspection

School leaders who accurately “inspect themselves” will be better prepared to lead the school community in bullying prevention efforts. Here are five key areas to check as part of reflecting on their use of power:

1. Check Under the Hood

Many of the decisions that school leaders make are guided by the implicit or hidden assumptions that they make about those they lead.

McGregor (1960) has described and categorized two sets of assumptions as Theory X and Y:

Theory X
The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he or she can. If a job is satisfying, then the result will be commitment to the organization.
Because of their dislike for work, most people must be controlled and threatened before they will work hard enough.
Theory Y
The average person learns under proper conditions not only to accept but also seek responsibility.
The average human prefers to be directed, dislikes responsibility, is unambiguous, and desires security above all else. Imagination, creativity, and ingenuity can be used to solve work problems by a large number of employees.

For a school leader “checking under the hood” means being aware of these assumptions and how they influence all their interactions with staff and students.

Question to ask: Do my decisions reflect Theory X or Theory Y assumptions?

2. Check Your Power Source

Leadership is changing people’s hearts and minds by not “throwing one’s weight around”, but by getting people to pay attention to the right things. It is important for leaders to ask themselves why people should follow them.

People listen to leaders whom they trust and think are acting to support them rather than trying control or manipulate them. People listen to leaders who listen to them and respect leaders who respect them.

Change might take longer when leaders give people the freedom not to follow. Effective bullying prevention requires staff commitment not just compliance. When the school community has the will to change, they will find the right way to do it.

Question to ask: What is the main source of my authority: the power of my position or respect for my ideas, values, skills and knowledge?

3. Monitor Your Comfort Index
Bullying is complex and challenging problem that manifests itself differently in each school. School leaders are most effective when they promote a sense of shared leadership with the entire school community. Bully prevention is a process rather than a final product, therefore, there will always be problems and challenges. The input and feedback from all members of the school community are essential to making the right adjustments and modifications in the school’s ongoing efforts.

Question to ask: How comfortable am I with:
• Asking for help
• Being uncertain at times
• Admitting mistakes
• Accepting ideas that might differ from your own?

4. Check Your Alignment and Balance
School leaders are in the spotlight and under the microscope at the same time. Their words and actions need to be in alignment with their own values and the mission and values of the school. They should be wary of any justification for words and actions that do not reflect a high standard of respect for all.
There should be an urgency to all bullying prevention efforts, yet using fear or panic to motivate others is counterproductive. Effective school leaders convey urgency not out of fear or panic, but from a desire to do what is right and necessary for the school community. They should project a calm confidence that the school community will work together and do what is necessary to make school a safe place for all students to learn.

Questions to ask: Do I consistently “treat others the way I want to be treated” regardless of what others have done? Do I convey the importance and urgency of keeping students safe, while also expressing confidence in the school’s ability to respond to that challenge?

5. Decide on how to use your GPS
A Wallace Foundation report summarizing the research on educational leadership stated that the two essential roles of a school leader: to set direction and to influence others to move in that direction. Effective school leaders help others understand the goal and purpose of bullying prevention. They involve all members of the school community in planning, implementing and evaluating all bullying prevention efforts.
Question to ask: Do my words and actions point others in the right direction and influence how they think and act or do I decide what needs to be done and then manage others to follow my plan?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blending In or Standing Out

A teacher, who just switched jobs going from a large school district to a small private school, approached me after a presentation, where I stressed the need to improve a school’s overall climate as the key element to effective bullying prevention. I guess he had a need to talk and process what he had just heard. Shaking his head, he said, “Looking back on my former school and comparing to my current school, I realize only now that “bullying” was part of the atmosphere of my old school but at the time I didn’t know it.” It is easy to become adjusted and conditioned to even the worst situations especially when we don’t have a frame of reference. This teacher had a new experience where people treated each other with more respect and that reflection combined with what I presented, finally gave him an insight into how bullying can hide in plain sight.

In the recent movie, Contagion, there is a scene that reflects how easy it is for bullying to hide in a school. In this scene, two scientists are looking at computer animation the virus that was infecting the population and spreading exponentially throughout the population. The animation showed the how similar in shape and structure the virus was from the host cells. The virus fit into the cellular structure of the host like a “key slipping into a lock”. One scientist added the comment referring to the virus, “It is figuring us out faster than we can figure it out.” The virus fooled the immune system because it wasn’t a “foreign” cell - it blended into and appeared to be at home in the system.

Bullying unfortunately has found a compatible host in many of our schools. It doesn’t stand out but blends in and over time it becomes just a part of the school. This is why many schools can be perplexed when they find out that bullying is problem. When the research points to the need to change the school’s culture or climate, it is not surprising that many people in the school have no idea of how to do that or why to do it. It is hard for them to see any alternative for how to treat students.

Bullying is very much about control and power and schools are also about control and power. How adults use their power and how they attempt to control students determines to very large extent, whether bullying will stand out in a school or blend in. The more a school’s philosophy is to “do to” instead of “work with” students, the more likely bullying will be able to hide and blend in. In a school, where adults involve students in problem solving and decision making and where responsible behavior is not limited to just following the rules in order to get something or avoid something, bullying will stand out and call attention to itself. When it stands out, I believe our natural immune system (empathy and a basic human inclination toward moral behavior) can take action to restore the system to health and harmony. In my new book, No Place for Bullying, I explore this issue in detail. In my next blog post I will review an inspection checklist that I developed for adults to reflect upon how they use power in a school environment.