Get On Your Feet (And off your seat!)

Influence. Authority.

School is actually pretty simple. It comes down to two things: a).What we do; b) The way we do it.

When you begin to account for the differences between classrooms, schools, and school system, those two concepts can serve as a lens to understand the school’s impact on learning differences.

If you seek to have excellence and consistency, you’ll need to get the people who you work with to reach a clarity on what we do and a conviction about the way we do it. To do so, you’ll need to deploy two of your most important tools: Influence, and authority. Granted, you’ll need both, but the dosage you choose will go a long way toward establishing the effectiveness of your work… .and also its sustainability.

As the leader, you “get” others to do what they need to do, and do so in the manner you’d like for them to do so. You’ll need both influence AND authority to get the job done. Yes, I’m on team influence (if you’ve ever read anything here before you know that) but your school is too complex to only get by with influence and its too nuanced to merely use authority. So how do you combine both to get the people of your school to do the right things the right way?

Your location will tell you what you’ve selected. If you are trying to lead (get people to do the right things the right way) and you are doing most of it via email, mandates, meetings and directives, YOU are leaning heavily on your authority to get your job done. If you find that you are in your office a lot, you are most likely counting on the authority of your position to get people to do things right. And, a lot of them will do just that! People who get into education tend to skew toward being pleasers (they did well in school as students and like making good grades), rule-followers (ever heard them ask you to just tell them what to do and they’ll do it?) and achievement-oriented. Because of the personalities of many (most? depends on the location and the grade band, perhaps) of our teachers, you actually CAN get a lot of your people to do what you want them to do from the comfort of your office.

Where that often gets you is with an assorted response among your people on the HOW WE DO IT part. People tend to fall back on what they’ve done and what they’ve seen in the absence of clear direction. So, some of your teachers just from your authority will follow the WHAT of your directions. Without examples, shaping, and an ongoing dialogue though, they are likely to do the HOW based on things you MIGHT not want them to follow.

So how do you engage your powers of influence among your teachers and staff? Again, look at your feet. If they’re in your office, you’re using authority; if they’re out in classrooms, hallways, PLC meetings, the cafeteria, most ANYwhere, you have the opportunity to activate influence mode.

Shaping the HOW WE DO IT part of school takes time but you learned how to do it as a classroom teacher. You notice behaviors and recognize and reward the desired ones. You bring attention (in a professional manner) to unwanted behaviors and offer better options. You do this by being out there in your school, embedded in the lives of your students and teachers. Maybe you have a teacher who is sarcastic in her conversations with her students. How will you ever know that if you aren’t out there among your people? If you only see her to rate and assess her performance via your evaluation system, you might be rewarding someone who SEEMS to be doing great but isn’t doing it the way you, the school and the school system want. You have to be there to know. You have to be there to shape behaviors in the way that matches your school’s culture goals.

The same is true of a teacher whose behaviors are exactly what you are after. If you don’t see them and recognize them, she may stop doing them, believing that no one notices and maybe it doesn’t matter. (Your Tier One teachers become Tier Two when you don’t recognize their work!)

School is simple… but it’s not easy. Do you want to lean only on authority to lead your school to success? Mostly on authority? If you want to influence, you’re going to need to do it out in your school, regularly, and intentionally. I think that influencing the teachers on HOW and WHAT we do is among THE most important roles you play as school administrator. At the end of this year, don’t hunt for explanations and excuses of why you wanted to get out there more often but just didn’t. Get out of your seat, and get on your feet! You are the exemplar for your school or system.

Authority is from your seat; Influence is on your feet.

Influence lasts longer.

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