Hanging change agents out to dry

At the request of her principal, Pam delivered a presentation to her staff on technology tools. At a follow-up meeting, she faced a lot of criticism from members of the Faculty Council who claimed that she ‘wasted their time.’ Rather than supporting Pam, her principal simply sat there and nodded her head as Pam absorbed the blows.

Here is the comment I left at her post:

Your administrator cut you off at the knees. She essentially set you up. NOT cool. Does she do this to others or is it just you? Either way, it should be a huge warning sign that you’re not going to get the kind of support you need. I suggest you either call her on it (and judge her reply very critically) and/or start looking for another building. As an educational leadership professor, I say be very, very wary of a leader who breaks trust with you like this.

Do you think I was too harsh?

15 Responses to “Hanging change agents out to dry”

  1. No, I do not think you were too harsh. The principal should have informed the group that the presentation was a request from him/her and then sought input as to how information about technology could be better communicated to the staff, since it is critical learning for today’s educators. With Pam, however, it might have been helpful for you to suggest how she could go back to the prinicpal and talk about what she heard and seek some understanding for how the pincipal responded.

  2. Right on, Scott.

  3. I don’t think you were too harsh.

    Although I use technology in my classroom to great success, I don’t think I’d ever do a staff presentation for that very reason.

    Instead, I try to work from the ground up, helping individual teachers do what they want with technology and letting word spread.

    There are interested people out there who are ready to transform their curriculum, but sometimes casting a wide net can do more harm than good. The teachers who are most resistant to change are also the loudest complainers, and, even if they’re dehydrated they’ll spit out a gallon of water if there is one grain of salt in it. Often, it’s spit right back at the person who offered it.

    That’s why I feel that technology changes have to come up from the bottom, never down from the top.

    What Pam did was respectable and difficult, and her principal sold her out. I agree with what you told her.

  4. Scott,

    You weren’t harsh enough. I get weary of hearing that educators are to be professional…truth is I’m not sure what that really means anymore. What I do know is that the administrator in question conveyed the least amount of professionalism one can demonstrate…setting someone up for failure.

    Pam, get away quickly, offer little explanation, and learn from the experience. It’s one thing to work for someone who is ignorant of the use of something, it is quite another to work for someone who lacks character. You can’t change character flaws like this one.

  5. Scott,

    This sounds like a principal who feared Pam and used her “power” to set her up and allow her to crash and burn. I would definately ask her for a meeting and confront the situation and find the principal’s reasoning for hanging her out to dry. If the response doesn’t contain the right logic or true sincerity … its time to walk.
    How easy it is for a person in power to forget the reason their there . . . to provide best possible education for our kids . . . and in turn keep others down.
    A sad commentary on education today.

  6. Right on! Tell her to look for another place to work.

  7. Man, I would cause a scene and then be out of there. I’ve done it once and I would do it again. People like this should not be in education. How many times has this administrator done this before?

  8. Leaders should protect and defend their group members, not bring them down.

    The principal could have asked that everyone keep their mind open to possibilities as they gave Pam a fair hearing.

    Teachers are being constantly evaluated; who critiques our administrators?

  9. All of the feedback is great! It is nice for my feelings to be validated. I truly wondered if I was over-reacting, but now I feel like my initial reaction was right on. On Monday morning I will be requesting a meeting with my principal. Wish me luck…or the courage to walk!

  10. First, I don’t think it’s the administrator’s job to “support” by rejecting negative feedback. If you don’t want to really know what teachers think, then don’t ask them.

    Second, Before I’d condemn the teachers out of hand, I’d like to know what tools she discussed. Did she have prior conversations with teachers to find out what kind of tools might be considered useful to them right now. Very nice to tell people about tools that they may investigate at some point.. much better to look at what they’re doing and seek out tools that might be used with what they’re doing today. Be relevant and responsive if you want good results.

    Third, Remember that different teachers are at different places with technology… Your teacher who can’t seem to figure out how to use a pull down menu doesn’t need to hear about wikis or secondlife or tagging or technorati or ripping a youtube video to their flash drive. Remember to differentiate for teachers just like you do for students… give levels of utility so that people can buy in where they are.

    Lastly, when was the presentation? Was it after a long day of teaching and a long meeting of reminders and details? Did it come right at the end of the marking period which is not the best time to use up teacher time? It’s pleasant when a presentation is upbeat, but was it long winded? Teachers who’ve been dealing with kids (and parents, schedules, administrators, broken xeroxes, end of the marking period dramas) want short and to the point… usable right now and demonstrations of accountability upward as well as downward.

    Instead of being all upset because they didn’t love her.. or thinking it must be those mean teachers and that unsupportive administrator… Id’ ask: what could she do differently, what did she not take into consideration as my starting point?

  11. Thanks for your comments Audrey. Good thoughts, and things I have considered. I’m not going to defend myself to you, but I will say that I teach all day and deal with parents and kids just as much as the other teachers. I was asked to put something together and I did so in a thoughtful way. I am not just crying about having my feelings hurt, I am upset to have an administrator give mixed signals to me and the other teachers. It is about education not about me. And if the administrator felt that it was important for me to present these things then she could have , at least, told the group that she was the one who asked for the presentation to be given when they came to attack the message. Instead she gave those teachers more reason to believe it is ok to reject anything new presented to them.

  12. Hmm, this sounds like a familiar situation to me. It’s sounds like she is emulating the invertebrate sub-species of administrator (nodding her head, and being supportive of your co-workers complaints, omitting the fact that she requested you do that presentation). If she is also the sneaky sort (she set you up for this, and is not merely hanging you out to dry), then tread carefully. I would NOT confront her if she is the later, just look for a new position. If she is the former, you’re unlikely to change her ways, but sharing your displeasure, etc. will be intellectually honest.
    Since Scott has been brave enough to speak the truth about this administrator, can we talk about how unprofessional and mean your co-workers were?
    The training was a “waste of time”, how about, “I appreciate Pam’s efforts, but this is not a topic that I feel is relevant to me , and I’d like our meeting time focused on xyz”. If they didn’t like how you presented it, “I didn’t feel the presentation was effective for me because I prefer more of xyz”. Some of us reading this may disagree with those sentiments, but at least it’s not a personal attack on you.

    Sending you a symbolic alkaseltzer Pam. I’ve been somewhere similar and it’s sucky, but I’m somewhere better now ;-).

  13. Audrey, she was ASKED to do that demonstration, she stated it was short, and that they didn’t want to learn about the topic because they didn’t consider it relevant. Frankly, I’ve sat through many irrelevant, and poorly done PDs, but I’d never bag on someone to the administrator about something they volunteered to do, and certainly not that publicly. That makes people not want to do anything and is toxic to a work place. I believe in courageous conversations, and speaking the truth, but it has to be done in the context of feeling safe and trusting each other. There was a better way for them to express their lack of enthusiasm for the training and topic.

  14. You’re probably right, AMercer. I’ve been down that road myself… i.e. enthusiastically giving my all and finding myself caught in the crosshairs between various agendas.

    I just think that the more productive way to address whatever it was that happened is through self reflection. I don’t think that the value is in demonizing her admin because he didn’t protect her from her colleagues views or demonizing the faculty because they didn’t stand behind the thin chalk line.

    If Pam has something to gain here it’s in becoming more interested in what she was doing and what the subtext was. Want to complain because nobody wants to grow? Okay… and then the teachers can complain about the unresponsive PD… and the admin can complain about the burnt out teachers? blah blah blah blah. Why not look deeper and use it to evolve instead? Mostly the comments have been about how terrible it is that this happened to her, how useless the teachers and how callous the admin. That’s not very helpful, in the end. It’s affirming and it feels good to get support. But, it isn’t how we grow. We grow when we look at our part and we acknowledge that a team (like a family) is a complex organism and we have to know the organism to motivate, move or influence it. That’s what I think and I think it’s good advice… maybe a little tough love, but worth thinking about.

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