No More Mr. Nice Guy

Educators are nice.


We assume the best in others and believe anyone can be successful.


This attitude is desirable. We want people with this mindset working in our schools.


At the same time, we must be honest in our assessment of employees.

Are our employees a good fit for our school?

Are our employees performing at high levels?

Are our employees best for kids?


Unfortunately, educators are notorious for allowing poor employees to stick around for too long.


Educators are too nice.


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“All of our employees are amazing!”


When I discuss employee performance with school leaders from other districts, they often contend that all their employees are outstanding.


A little suspicious, I press a bit harder. “All employees?”


“Oh yeah! We have a top-notch staff,” they insist.


"Certainly you must have employees who are receiving extensive coaching or formalized assistance?" I ask.


"Nope. No one. Everyone is doing great!" they assure me.


Ok, so maybe they are just protecting their own. That's fine. There is nothing wrong with defending one's staff. However, my experiences indicate there is often more than meets the eye.


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When new leaders arrive in a building, at some point they will take a peek at employee evaluations from previous years. Often, they are curious to read what a prior evaluator wrote about an employee with a reputation for underperformance.


When the new leader scans the subpar employee's evaluation, many times they are stunned to discover there isn't a single comment critical of the employee's performance. Instead, the employee is marked as "exceeding expectations" on all teaching standards.


Hoping it's a one-off with that employee, the new leader searches for a folder of another employee with noticeable deficiencies. Flipping through the evaluation, the evaluator is dismayed to see that this employee is also marked as "exceeding expectations" on all teaching standards.


Soon, folders for the school's five worst teachers are pulled from the cabinet. Not a single teacher was marked as below-standard by the previous boss.


Given that the lowest performers in this school were categorized as high performing, one must assume this is a world class school with extraordinary student performance. However, this school is far from world class. With ordinary student achievement scores, pedestrian student participation rates, and declining graduation percentages, this school is mediocre at best.


How can a school full of "rockstars" produce below-average results?


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School leaders are often asked to make difficult decisions.


When it comes to employees, leaders can either improve their school by removing well-liked but incapable people or harm their school by keeping well-liked but incapable people.


While this seems harsh, these decisions determine a leader's legacy.


Let's be clear: we need to give employees every opportunity to be successful. This previous blog entry discusses the coaching and intervention all employees must be afforded. Assuming school districts have sound hiring practices and a strong support system, few employees should ever be forced to leave a district.


But in the event it's determined team members are not the right fit - either because they are uncoachable or because their skills will never rise to an acceptable level - the manager must have the courage to dismiss those employees.


Letting poor staff hang around is unfair to the best staff. When strong performers see their efforts impeded by carrying extra weight of substandard co-workers, they become frustrated. They may even leave.


School leaders cannot sit idly and let their team erode. They must hold all team members accountable by establishing performance and accountability standards.


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In education there is a rule of thumb for determining teacher effectiveness which reads as follows:


“Would you want your kid in their classroom?”


Ironically, there are leaders who would never place their children in that teachers' class. Yet, these leaders do nothing to address the ineffective teacher.


Educational leaders must stop being so nice and start doing what is best for kids.

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