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“Putting the Horse Back in Front of the Cart” in Our Public Schools Requires Courage

Schools and school systems are scrambling to integrate social and emotional learning (“SEL”) into their curriculum, this is in addition to core academics — for many good reasons.

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In my own participation in and observations of myriads of classrooms across a variety of public primary, middle, and high schools over the years, I’ve participated with many hard-working and dedicated school system personnel.  In addition to their hard work, many are continuously participating in a variety of curriculum and teacher development programs to improve their current work efforts, with increasing success — in many, but admittedly not all, cases.  Often, frustrations among school staff members continue to fester — and sometimes erupt.

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The press for school and student performance is continuous.

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Along with this continuous press for performance improvements, many kinds of resources for meaningful district, school, and classroom performance improvements are increasingly available, and are increasingly being utilized, many times with positive results.

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Participants also increasingly generally recognize that school-wide improvement efforts — especially when supported by the district — are far superior than are simply classroom efforts, as foundational and important as classroom actions are.

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Even so, I (Dr. J) have come across what I think is a critical “missing piece” in many school-wide performance improvement efforts.

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The problem is that “mastery” of social and emotional learning skills, now intended to be included in each school’s very core curriculum, was never an actual curriculum completed by the adult staff members — teachers, assistants, service personnel, and administrators alike!

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Comprehensive and well-rounded social and emotional learning was not yet understood — nor included — as part of any formal curriculum that will have been mastered by a vast majority of present school staff.

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Adult personnel are likely to have obtained their own social and emotional learning in a largely informal, unstructured — and in widely varying and incomplete — ways.

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The result is that different adults may employ different attitudes, expectations, or behaviors under the same challenging emotional and social situations.

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Each individual’s response is, as it should be, personal, but given our varieties of perspectives and experiences, may not necessarily be fully aligned with optimal performance as valued by the school.

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For example, there are a variety of passive-defensive and aggressive-defensive responses, in addition to constructive responses, that can be offered to the same basic circumstances.  These different attitudes and responses can lead to widely varying impacts and results.

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Putting and Keeping the Horse in Front of the Cart

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“Putting and keeping the horse in front of the cart” in our public schools means empowering our adult personnel to fully understand and appreciate, through their own formative learning with practice, their own well-rounded, constructive, social and emotional options, while at the same time co-creating needed organizational changes that will support their efforts to do so.

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Adult school personnel need not be largely relegated to their own individualistic and potentially non-aligned backgrounds, with their associated non-aligned expectations, familiarities, and goals.

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Instead, through incisive behavioral inquiries completed anonymously and tabulated across groups, adult school personnel can identify what they’d like or wish they could do, behaviorally, with their peers and students, versus what they sometimes actually end up doing.

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This process uncovers a gap between what school personnel ideally would like to do, to perform their best work, on the one hand, and what they experience and do sometimes to simply “survive,” on the other hand, day-to-day, on the job.

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Your empowering your staff to uncover and clarify this gap can be used to your school’s advantage.

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To “Put the Horse Back in Front of the Cart” Requires Courage

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To “put the horse back in front of the cart” requires organizational courage, which also requires the principal’s courageous leadership-by-example.

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Courage is the will to act in spite of fear or despair, for the purpose of human growth. Fostering organizational courage is difficult but the key lies in being true to vision and values while at the same time embracing current reality, despair, and fears.

~ “Organizational Courage, Part 1 of 2 – What It Is” by Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme, posted on Monday, April 11, 2016

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To Put and Keep “the Horse in Front of the Cart” Requires a Clear Focus on Your Prioritized School Performance Goals with the Right Purpose, Attitude, and Tools — with Support

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You can empower your adult school staff today by discovering your school staff’s social and emotional experience versus aspirations on the job.

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There will be a gap.  This gap provides a natural tension you can tap to advantage.

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CultureChasmPic

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People have aspirations (their “ideal workplace culture”) which they attempt to translate into an effective mission and philosophy, only to find that organizational structures, systems, technologies, and participants’ skills/qualities can not only help, but also sometimes interfere, creating the “current workplace culture” of operations.  The current culture represents an adaptation to less than perfect circumstances, which sets limits to individual, group, and organizational achievements.

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In the school descriptions that follow, organizational culture style names and descriptions are from Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Organizational Culture Inventory®, Human Synergistics International, Plymouth, MI. Copyright ⓒ 1987-2015.  All Rights Reserved.  Used by permission.

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Evidence, across multiple settings, clearly indicates that most people would prefer to experience a more solid presence of “Constructive” norms in their workplace.

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In fact, organizations that are more effective demonstrate stronger tendencies along Constructive styles.

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In the absence of strong tendencies along Constructive styles, more defensive styles tend to be promoted.

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Defensive styles are associated with poorer organizational performance.

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“Constructive” organizational performance and sustainability is achieved by actually “doing good.”

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ConstructiveStylesPic

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The evidence, across multiple industries, clearly indicates that most people would prefer to experience a more solid presence of “constructive” norms in their workplace.

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In contrast, passive/defensive styles of behavior show up when members attempt to protect vulnerability by “being good.”

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More effective organizations show lower tendencies along passive-defensive styles.

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Passive-DefensiveStylesPic

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It’s aggressive/defensive styles of behavior that show up when members attempt to protect vulnerability by “looking good.”

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Effective organizations show lower tendencies along aggressive/defensive styles.

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Aggressive-DefensiveStylesPic

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Let’s return again to how culture works:

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People have aspirations (their “ideal workplace culture”) which they attempt to translate into an effective mission and philosophy, only to find that organizational structures, systems, technologies, and participants’ skills/qualities can interfere, creating the “current workplace culture” of operations.  The current culture represents an adaptation to less than perfect circumstances, which sets limits to individual, group, and organizational achievements.  (See below.)

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HowCultureWorksModel

     aspirations… >                          creations…               >                          “reality”                        > current performance

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How much does this matter?

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Defensive cultures are more stressful, with lower performance.

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Constructive cultures are less stressful with higher performance.

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OCI,ResearchSummaryPic

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School personnel will naturally demonstrate a variety of constructive, passive-dependent, and aggressive-dependent approaches to sometimes conflicting organizational and social demands.

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To be frank, we are each susceptible to becoming defensive if/when stressed variously by different kinds of circumstances, dependent upon our experiences, backgrounds, and present support.

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This work is not about identifying and then trying to change individual personalities. This is because it is not particularly constructive to focus on “personality,” per se.  This is about empowering all personalities to find more constructive social and emotional responses, with sufficient and useful support, through thick and thin.

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What do you think?

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☞  Is your school facing recalcitrant performance challenges?

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☞  Can you see how “inevitable” misalignments among your school

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  • structures

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  • systems

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  • technologies

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  • skills/qualities of personnel

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will at times spawn unfortunate adult defensiveness?

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☞ thereby detracting from reliable adult social-and-emotional leadership-by-example with your students?

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☞ thereby detracting from agile adaptability among school staff, as social-emotional, technological, and student-teacher-school performance goals continuously evolve?

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☞  Can you see how more reliable adult social-and-emotional leadership-by-example would lead to less stress in your school?

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☞  Would less stress in your school be helpful?

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☞  Can you see how more reliable adult social-and-emotional leadership-by-example would lead to more effective academic and civic engagement and learning by your school’s students?

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☞ Are you ready to move beyond simply adding new programs (as important as these can be) to also empower staff to work more effectively with changes you already desire and anticipate must be made?

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☛  Are you ready to move into step-by-step alignment of your school’s climatic factors (structures, systems, and technologies along with personnel skills/qualities) to support a constructive culture-based alignment of all school personnel’s leadership-by-example — in easy and difficult times — to further positively transform personnel’s continuing effectiveness, with enhanced student satisfaction and performance the result?

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We welcome your comments and questions.

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☞  We also invite you to sign up for our periodic “Principals, and their supporters” newsletter.  ☜

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You are also welcome to contact us directly.

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Most sincerely,

~Norman

Peace of Mind for Peak Performance
Bridges to Culture Advantages
Conflict as Opportunity
(All firmly grounded in respect)

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One Comment

  1. Ping from Vacation Reflections: Top-Notch School Performance | Business Culture Solutions LLC:

    […] and skills can be brought into constructive focus for mending — specifically to support enhanced constructive and less defensive adult personnel […]

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