Control or Cooperation: Tripping Up Teaching
In Tripping Up the Educational Process, The Teacher Leader provides a great example of why it is so much better for school leaders and classroom teachers to seek cooperation than to continually pursue the illusion of control. Although the issue of field trips and lost class time may seem trivial to some, believe me, it is an important issue for the classroom teacher.
Along with copier breakdowns and chronically tardy students, students constantly being away from their classrooms continues to be a major source of teacher dissatisfaction. Just as important is the mixed message that is sent went classrooms are continuously disrupted. Teachers ask, “what is important, teaching and learning or something else, anything else?”
When thinking about the importance of collaboration relating to field trips and other cases of the interruption of classroom instruction, school leaders—administrators and teachers as well—would do well to consider the following:
The 80-15-5 Rule
80% of all field trips are legitimate. 5% should never be taken. 15% could go one way or another. When we, as school leaders, fail to differentiate between must go, need to go, and nice to go interruptions/field trips, we are unintentionally creating a situation in which the 15% “bubble trips” become more like the 5% “don’t go” trips and we have a critical mass of marginal field trips, most of which come at the worst possible times, like the end of a semester.
It is our responsibility as leaders to deal with the 5%. The question is how? Contrary to popular opinion, most school leaders don’t like to say no to teachers, particularly when teachers are making a legitimate request that means that they are taking on more work for themselves.
Collaboration Leads to Cooperation
In reality, The Teacher Leader is talking about true collaboration and shared responsibility more than about field trips. For our school, field trip procedures turned out to be a classic case of “those who are most affected should be involved in the decisions.” After much thought, I realized that, in most cases, I wasn’t personally impacted by field trips. However, as the pressures from ever-increasing accountability grew, I became aware that, as teachers were holding themselves more and more accountable for student performance, they wanted more input into decisions that affected their classrooms.
I am not a good guesser! Are you?
I learned the hard way that, although I spent a lot of time trying to support and please teachers, it was much better if I simply asked them and involved them in decisions that directly impacted their lives as teachers—bell schedules, field trips, exam schedules, master schedules, room assignments, tardy policies, attendance procedures, literacy initiatives, and math curriculum.
Silos of Expertise
Over time, I learned that it took a number of highly skilled people to complete the complex task of raising the achievement of each and every student. To reach every student, we needed to tap into the collective intelligence of our entire staff. Everyone needed to work together. To get everyone working together they had to be involved in key decisions. Without that involvement, there would be no commitment or ownership.
Looking back, involving people in collaborative decisions takes more time on the front end, but we spent much less time on the back end cleaning up messes from poorly thought-out decisions. Collaboration actually saved us time and meant that the up front time was spent focusing on the decision and not on the personalities and hurt feelings that we encountered on the back end of poor, hastily-made decisions.
High fences make good neighbors
The irony is that those leaders, who most want to please, often create the most conflict. Weak leaders, through their need to be liked and lack of will to act, set up conflicts between and among staff members. Some schools operate like Deadwood—anything goes. Lawlessness in itself creates more lawlessness. If we want everyone to work together, we are going to have to work with everyone to set clear, agreed upon procedures, and we are going to have to have the will to follow through with those who refuse to work together.
Peer Pressure is a Great Thing
Used positively, peer pressure is a great thing. As soon as their colleagues began making the decisions on field trips, two things happened. First, the number of field trip requests dropped. Second, the quality of the trips improved—they were better thought out and more efficiently run.
One last thought
You can’t have something unless you are willing to give it away. In this case, you won’t get cooperation unless you are willing to give up the illusion of authority and control and to give cooperation through collaboration.