Author: R

About Life, Work

Organizational change is like a drop of shiny liquid chrome

When I was younger, I used to play with liquid mercury with my bare hands. A thermometer for the house’s heat control was broken, so what is a kid to do? We lived in an ancient house, and I’m sure there the paint had led in it, so liquid mercury was just part of the ecosystem. I know…it explains a lot!

I noticed something very peculiar about the mercury while it was on the palm of my hand. It resembled a big drop of shiny chrome liquid. Any time I broke it apart with my finger, it split into smaller shiny chrome drops that eventually rolled back to the center of my palm and seamlessly became the original big drop it was before. When I saw the movie Terminator 2, with its liquid metal special-effects, it reminded me of my play with liquid mercury.

Change causes schools to behave like that. When a major change comes into an organization, smaller drops split from the one big drop, and smaller groups of staff debate whether the new director/direction is a good idea or not, and whether they agreed with and like it. Eventually, if all is executed right, it becomes one big drop again as the splintered groups join in the new direction.

Coming into any new organization and bringing along substantial change implies expecting, and dealing with, that initial splintering of staff. Smaller groups will form, some talking hopefully about the new that is coming, and some being more skeptical about the unnecessary shaking of the status-quo-tree. Not having sufficient notice and not knowing their place in what is becoming the new organization can be very taxing on people’s nerves. Add to it that in schools the cyclical nature of an academic year means change will often come at the worst time.

Having been part of senior leadership for over 20-years has allowed me to see various versions of this scenario play out. In my younger years I found myself on both sides of the fence, not knowing that my position requires me to be on the positive and hopeful side, and not providing fuel for dissent. Along the years I’ve learned that certain things are best said in the shower in a song and not shared out loud with staff. Senior leadership must stick together, regardless of conditions. Staff will hear a scream even if we whisper. We must weigh our comments and non-verbals carefully, especially when staff are commenting on ongoing organizational change. It’s part of the trust that is granted to us by our proximity to the catalyst of change. We cannot go unguarded in behavior, however daunting the challenge.

Likewise, staff should understand that what is happening is not only happening to them but to the whole. As part of the organization it is a must that if there are unanswered questions we don’t join in the game of “who can make the best guess or assumption” of what is happening. Conversation should be hopeful and fuel should not be added to the skeptic-fire.

It’s inevitable that change comes into your school, sometimes with relentless repetition. The best way to brave through it is to stay focused on your contribution, and if you need to smile, students are great at providing reasons for that. Trust that eventually the smaller drops will join and form the original big drop, and all will point in the same direction once again.

About Life

Fellow travelers…look up

They look travelled. Not like a person rolling their carry-on holding a Starbucks cup on one hand at the airport travelled, but worn down brown-leather boots travelled. The travelled whose face skin-creases’ light shaded color glows as if out from the center of the leather fold of the boots’ worn cover. Their eyes half-open, and without energy to form emotion on their tired faces. Still, they stand firm, holding on to three children all-the-while holding on to one oversized canvas shopping bag. Their luggage.

She is vigilant, looking around at her surroundings, trying to pick up as much as possible to ensure no mistakes are made as her and her family’s documents are scanned by the Homeland Security officer sit-standing between the line of waiting travelers and their turn at taking off shoes and enduring never-ending renditions of “take everything out of your pockets, take off your belt, take off your shoes, and take all electronics out of your bags and put them in a bin”. The family’s clothes look like they’ve been on them for weeks. Clean, but worn. 

He has the youngest child on his left hand, the family bag on the other, and holding on to the other two by sight alone. He is slightly shorter than his wife, but looks stronger than the more-average, and well-fed, 6’ 1” American officer scanning their documents and faces in front. He says nothing and seems to understand that his wife will tend to documents and surroundings while his role is with the family bag and the children. 

The kids are not wrestles. Odd for kids that age. One is no older than 4 years old, followed by a 6-year-old, and the oldest, a girl, is 9 or 10 years old. They are tired, quiet-excited by the adventure, and intimidated by so many people and their hectic rhythm of shoes flying into a bin and jackets coming off their bodies almost simultaneously. They are in awe.

The youngest little girl is holding a dirty stuffed bear in her arm. It used to be white, but is now the color of grey skies before it rains. There is no telling if the bear was with her from the beginning of the 23-day journey the family took from their native Costa Rica to the US-border, or if it was given to her by someone at the immigration detention center where they have spent the last month after being detained by border police on the US side of the border. 

As they deposit their sweaters and jackets into bins, she looks exhausted, not being able to keep up with the same steps other travelers are taking at different bin-belt lines. He remains vigilant, ensuring the children are within arms-length. Simultaneously, both seem to have eyes on their hands as they can take off shoes, belts and other garments from the children without taking their eyes off of the horizon, their surroundings and of the distance. As they wait for their bins to disappear into the dark tunnel of the x-ray machine, the children quietly stand near enough to feel their body-heat, and mom and dad look at uniformed people to lift a finger pointing the way to the next action step. They are ushered through a separate entry, sparing them of the dreaded body-scan “empty your pockets, stand here and put your hands up like the image in front of you” machine. Security officers must understand this family is not trying to bring anything illegal into an airplane, as they barely understand where they are to begin with.

The last I saw of them they were waiting for their bins to come out of the x-ray machine on the other side. As a plane’s take-off was now visible through a large window nearby it dawned on the middle child they were about to get on a plane, and his eyes opened wide with excitement. A tiny smile was visible as this secret was his to keep for the time being. His mother was standing next to him, looking at the same plane take off, and her eyes watered until a tear appeared and glided down her cheek.


Being public about it, for once

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Most people do not think of themselves are salespeople. As Daniel Pink points out in his book To Sell is Human, most of us are in fact in the business of selling our ideas, our image, and ourselves (selling our skill+time for salary) most of the time. Teachers, in particular, are not such great salespeople when it comes to telling their story, showing their work, and showcasing the product of their efforts.

I learned something the other day. In conversation with someone who has deep experience working with Boards, I heard something that profoundly changes the way I see how we communicate with Boards, and in a way, the public at large. I learned that Boards are usually comprised of people that (1) are powerful/influential, (2) are not educators/academics, and (3) are mostly in dark as far as the impact of the work of teachers day in and day out. As members of the senior leadership team, we can not (1) make Board members less powerful/influential or (2) turn them into educators/academics. But we can (3) shine the light on the work going on at the school so that they are not so much in the dark. I never really thought about this in this way, which is why the feedback was so profound for me.

Now I’m on a mission. To showcase the good work being done in our school. This article about the signing of a new partnership is part of that effort. More will come soon.

Educators may not make great salespeople, but if I can help it, I will shine a light on the incredible work being done in classrooms day in and day out.

Stay tuned 🙂

teach, Work

Office Cleanup / Limpiando un poco

1 Comment

It was time to change what my space looks like, and how it functions. It was getting too messy, and much too distracting for my work.


Ya es tiempo de crear diferentes oportunidades para nuestros alumnos, ya que el desorden distrae demasiado.