Performance and the pebble in the shoe

Have you ever had a pebble in your shoe or sandal? It’s annoying isn’t it? It doesn’t really hurt but it moves around and is quite irritating. Have you noticed that when the pebble moves under the arch of your foot you can still feel it but it is not quite the irritant that it is when it is under your heel or between your toes? When the pebble really becomes an irritant we can’t do anything apart from stop, take off the shoe, and remove the offending pebble.


The pebble is a metaphor for what gets in the way of schools performing. What I have been finding as I work with schools is that they spend a lot of time on big school actions and forget about the pebbles in our shoes.


I was recently coaching a primary school and a secondary college that are in the process of implementing frameworks to support teachers moving into a developmental and performance mind set. Each school has developed a staff rubric to articulate expectations at differing levels in areas such as being professional, being self-reflective, team work, etc. [1] 

 

The rubrics (one a primary rubric and the other a secondary college rubric) were designed by the school staffs drawing upon what they identified as the behaviours staff would be displaying at each of the four levels (essential, consolidating, established, exemplary). T-he rubrics were modelled upon the thinking exhibited in the development of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.


Two very different approaches are being used to implement the use of the rubrics within the staff community. However, in both cases all staff are included (not just teachers), and the rubrics are being introduced in a very gradual approach so that the staff don’t feel that it is yet another thing that requires lots of extra work.


One factor I will note is that both schools are very good schools. They have a lot of things that work really well and their students perform well according to the standards they are measured against. The performance frameworks are not about taking action to address “something wrong” in the school, but moving the schools from being good schools to exceptional schools.

 

In the primary school we have begun the implementation process by exploring their rubric in small teams. In this case we began with school teams that may not normally consider themselves as a team (office staff, support staff, select year level teaching teams, etc. ) Our intentions in the approach was to give each team a chance to know themselves as a team, articulate their team raison d’etre, and to discover what these teams saw as hindrances to their ability to perform. What we became aware of was all the pebbles that were in shoes. Most of the pebbles came from a lack of clarity about lines of accountability, poor communication between staff, and also inconsistencies that had propagated through the school due to changes that had occurred over time. The direction forward for this school for 2013 became clear – to remove as many pebbles as possible such that clarity and effectiveness (in procedures and communication) could arise.

 

The implementation process at the secondary college involves the development of a mentorship program where staff in positions of leadership throughout the school are being coached to become mentors for the staff body. Concurrently we are running workshops on topics such as leadership and trust whilst the staff are given time in select meetings to reflect upon the staff rubric and share with a partner about their progress. The intention of this approach is to set up a consistent support structure that embeds teamwork and performance as part of the normal operation of the school.

 

One interesting facets arose from the discussions in the last session, and this won’t come as a surprise to anyone, teachers seem to view that their purpose at school is empower the performance and learning of the students. They listed a range of elements with respect to their relationship with students that made a difference to student performance. These included:

  • Expectations – challenging them but realistic ones
  • Looking from their viewpoint, empathy
  • Encouraging and Acknowledging Strengths
  • Walk with them on the Journey
  • Giving them time, Honouring them
  • Sharing oneself – passions, experiences, lessons learnt
  • Being Explicit with the boundaries
  • Belief in them
  • Mutual Respect
  • Trust
  • Openness
  • Role Modelling Behaviour
  • Honest
  • Authentic
  • Listen
  • Awareness

 Seemingly fine - right? What was unusual was that they did not see empowering their colleagues to perform as part of what is necessary to empower the students to perform. Whilst the school demonstrates great caring and team work in many areas of operating as a school, fundamentally the school context is one of individuals – a team of champions not a championship team. High performance organisations operate within the musketeer motto – All for one and one for all.

 

As a result of the inconsistency in context (remember this is the small percentage of what is holding this school back from creating an exceptional performance environment) pebbles have lodged themselves in the operation of the school. Some of the hindrances (pebbles) the team identified included:

  • Mismatched expectations between each other
  • Differing expectations of adults compared to students
  • Lack of empathy for adults?
  • Teacher capacity is diminished due to juggling many things
  • Whether or not the other person showed a willingness to grow and change
  • Lack of self-awareness on the part of the individual
  • Avoidance of conflict
  • React to situations rather than be pro-active
  • Avoidance of righting wrongs and thus a lessening of trust between people

What we have gone to work upon in the school is built upon Stephen M.R. Covey’s work in his book The Speed of Trust. The staff in positions of leadership are using the 13 Behaviours of Relationship Trust identified in the book to begin exploring any areas they are not building trust with their teams.

 

Next Time: How an individual’s Fundamental Way of Being can get in the way of performance.



[1] There are other rubrics designed for curriculum and such but they aren't implementing them until later in the process.

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