Below is a guest opinion post sent to us by the blogger formerly known as Cerebration.
I just had the good fortune of attending a conference where Stephen M. R. Covey (Stephen R. Covey’s son) was a guest speaker. You all may be familiar with Stephen R. Covey (the father) and his ‘Big Rocks’ and 7 Habits. Those are excellent tools for management. The example goes: If you have a pile of big rocks, stones, pebbles and sand and need to put them all in a jar, they will only fit it you put the big rocks in first, then sprinkle the pebbles over them and pour the sand on top, allowing it to cover and envelope the rocks and pebbles. Figure out what your big rocks are and make them your focus. Everything else is a small stone, a pebble or sand and serves to support and protect the big rocks. It’s a great way to stay focused and as Covey says, put “first things first”.
Add to this the good old 7 Habits of Effective People: Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, Synergize, and Sharpen the Saw. Of those, synergize is the one that could have the most impact on our schools. Covey defines synergize as “Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone.” We can and should be doing this in our schools. Teachers thrive on this kind of synergy.
According to Wikipedia, “Covey coined the idea of abundance mentality or abundance mindset, a concept in which a person believes there are enough resources and successes to share with others. He contrasts it with the scarcity mindset (i.e., destructive and unnecessary competition), which is founded on the idea that, if someone else wins or is successful in a situation, that means you lose; not considering the possibility of all parties winning (in some way or another) in a given situation (see zero-sum game). Individuals with an abundance mentality reject the notion of zero-sum games and are able to celebrate the success of others rather than feel threatened by it.”
We have always maintained that DeKalb schools operate on a scarcity mentality. This is a really, really big problem at its core.
Now comes Stephen M.R. Covey and his 13 behaviors of high trust from leaders. Low trust is a very expensive endeavor. High trust organizations are much more effective and actually make (or save) money. DeKalb schools is paying an enormous price for its low trust management style. This video gives the details on the costs of low trust in business (which is completely relevant to school systems):
How do good managers establish trust? How do the best leaders build trust?
Trust is an amazingly powerful management tool. Fortune 100 companies are taking this very seriously. Trust is at the core of effective production. It is measurable. It makes an organization lean. Trust breeds results. Employees thrive on trust and they rise to the challenge. Trust allows for speed of action, speed of response time and speed of results. When employees are given all the necessary tools and training and are then empowered with trust to make good decisions, things start to happen. Gears move. Time is saved. Money is saved.
Randall Stephenson, Chairman of AT&T said, “Trust helps you move more quickly. It increases your speed. When it’s absent, you can see it… more checks, controls and processes. That’s bureaucracy!”
The first job of any leader is to inspire trust. Covey says, “Trust is confidence born of two dimensions: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record. Both dimensions are vital.”
How did DeKalb schools get to this low level of trust? First and foremost, the issues begin in human resources. There is a very low level of trust up and down this chain. Everyone – and I mean everyone – knows that DeKalb is a Friends and Family operation in which many of the upper levels in the chain of command are hired due to who they know – and therefore who they will protect. It is an insulating management style and occurs when those at the top are not competent at their job – often not nearly as qualified as some who may have applied, yet were never even granted an interview. Or worse, could not apply because the job was not officially posted – the way in which our former board hired Mr. Thurmond himself.
Mr. Thurmond is a politician. He is engaging, personable and at times downright funny as he was at a recent speech on “school board governance,” given at the University of Georgia. He is a great storyteller and a wonderful spokesperson. But he is not a competent educational leader who breeds institutional trust up and down the chain and can build back the trust of the community. That kind of leader has to understand the challenges of those in the trenches — and competently lead them.
Although Mr. Thurmond publicly states that he is working hard to “restore trust”, he is not taking the required actions to build back that trust – beginning with the first action, which is to extend trust, mainly to principals, teachers, staff and parents who have been working hard in this system for a very long time.
However, as Covey states, one does not extend trust to those who are not competent and who lack character. Therefore, the first order of business is to conduct true searches for the best and brightest to lead the areas of HR, Finance, and Curriculum. Thurmond did replace the finance chief, however, he threw the former CFO under the bus in the process – and the public is keenly aware of it. That does not breed trust – with the super or the new CFO. A full forensic audit is the only action that would build back public trust in the area of finance.
In truth, in order for this system to function at an optimum level and speed of trust, the main necessary action involves a search for a highly-qualified and skilled superintendent, a search that was promised to us by Michael Thurmond in his first days on the job — and a promise that has since been broken. This broken trust continues on down the chain, instilling fear upon fear – especially at the principal level – the most important job in the system.
In fact, Dr. Morcease Beasely, our newest director of curriculum (his latest of many titles since being hired by his relative, our former superintendent, Johnny Brown) – actually called out principals at a recent south DeKalb community meeting and essentially publicly placed the blame on them for poor student results. This is breaking the cardinal rule of trust: Always discuss the need for personal improvement in private. Only offer praise in public.
That’s enough of a rant for me for today. I just felt inspired by Stephen M.R. Covey and had to share what I had learned, as I found it incredibly relevant to DeKalb County Schools. I don’t think DeKalb County Schools can fully heal unless and until there is trust throughout the system. I am hopeful that you will all take time in the comments to bring your trust issues to the table. The blog moderators will package them and send them to Michael Thurmond and the board. We hope you trust us enough to write with complete candor, comfortable in the knowledge that your anonymity will be protected as always.