SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!
This blog is a follow-up to the last one posted, Praise in Public, Condemn in Private.
Is “condemn” too harsh a word? OK, if you think so then call it “correct”. Correcting something, an error made, begins first with noticing an error, a mistake. It could be a little error or a big one or anything in between. Then figure out the right way to do something, change the course of a ship, restore temperature in an operating reactor to the correct range or deciding what an employee should have done in a given situation, rather than what that employee actually did. Then tell the employee, first what was wrong with his actions and then what he or she should have done differently.
I am not trying to make this complicated, but believe you me, when you start “correcting people” they will resent the hell out of it. We have all felt that way, being “picked on” by a nosey boss, at least in our personal views of the matter, have we not?
But before getting into how employees might react when “corrected”, let’s first consider the supervisor doing the “correcting”. Note from above that the first step for ANY supervisor, be he the “head janitor”, manager of a design team doing engineering work, the man in charge of an assembly line or the CEO of a company (large or small making no difference, fundamentally).
Let me ask a question to make my point. What is the primary job of any supervisor? Is it not to “supervise”? Yes, sometimes a supervisor is tasked to perform other work, like clean his or her own share of an area, assemble items in a shop, write an important letter or other document, etc. But if such people are “double hatted”, have work of their own to perform as well as supervise others, which must come first? I suggest that if they are paid more money because they are supervisors then supervising must always come first, as a matter of priority.
Supervising, at any level, means to look for good or bad performance on the part of those under your supervision. People, all people, make mistakes and some excel, exceed expectations, on many occasions. The job of a supervisor is to notice those things and take action when they happen, good or bad performance by others.
As with any job, I also suggest that the “devil is in the details”. Tightening a bolt in an assembly line operation requires some attention to detail. Get it too loose and the part will fail. Tighten it too much and the bolt may break under added stress. Sure it is a detail, just how tight to tighten a bolt, but major disasters have occurred as a result of such errors as well. Failure to mop behind a toilet can leave a stinky mess for others to endure and complain about as well. Small stuff, maybe, but the small stuff can lead to more serious things over time. The job of a supervisor is to prevent such from happening, is it not?
I submit that if you are designated as a supervisor, of anything, then look for the “small stuff” as a matter of priority and take action to prevent little things from going wrong, again. It also goes without saying that finding the “really clean” area and acknowledging an employee’s effort to make it so is a very important part of your job as a supervisor every day. Just think about it. If you are a supervisor, ask yourself at the end of each day, how many people did I praise and/or correct during the course of that work day. If the answer is zero then why are you being paid to supervisor must be a question asked of yourself. If you don’t and things start going wrong in your area of supervision, then I can assure you that someone else should be asking the question of YOU.
Most employees, including those responsible for supervising other employees, do not like being “corrected”. A mechanic in a garage, a sailor swabbing a deck, an officer directing the movement of an aircraft carrier, etc. want to do their job and be left alone, without someone looking over their shoulder all the time, so to speak. I submit that if you do your job properly, the amount of time others spend looking over your shoulder will be very little. They will have developed confidence, based on sustained good performance, in your ability. And when, inevitably, you do make a mistake, the corrective action will be mild and very private, if the supervisor knows what he or she is doing, which is not always the case, for sure.
Take a teacher in a classroom, a real veteran teacher. Should he or she resent the presence of an Assistant Principal sitting in the classroom, observing how things are going? My guess is most teachers will call that “spying” and resent the hell out of such actions by a supervisor. They would much prefer the Assistant Principal just sit in his office and deal with problems brought to him, not be out looking on his own, to see what problems might exist BEFORE they land in his office as a “problem student”.
Then just imagine the reaction of a veteran teacher that gets a list of “errors” noted by such a supervisor, or a note saying “Well Done. Excellent class”. What if a student is raising hell in a class and the teacher does not get control of such a student? Should any observer, supervisor, just ignore such an event and say nothing to the teacher that failed to control even one student in a class? Should a teacher resent such an observation by a supervisor?
I suggest that if the Assistant Principal observing and the teacher teaching work as a team, supporting one another, then together they will begin to find ways to control errant students, just as an example. But if the supervisor and employee work against one another, one over correcting and the other complaining about “spying”, then the workplace, a single classroom for example, will not be operating at peak performance, which should be the goal of both people, the supervisor and the employee doing the actual work.
Because I am so interested in public education, I close this blog with the following question, observation if you like based on substitute teaching for about 8 years in several different schools and schools districts. Not ONCE in those 8 (about) years did I EVER see a “supervisor” come into my own classroom and observe, just sit in the back of the room for ½ an hour or so and watch how I as a substitute performed my job. It just did not happen, EVER, in my experience and I never saw it happen for regular teachers as well.
The ONLY time I saw Assistant Principals or Principals in any school in “action” was when they sometimes patrolled the hallways during class breaks, or sat in their office dealing with problems brought to them. They NEVER got out and watch the real action going on in the classrooms, the fundamental level where education of kids takes place.
Take that level of supervision to a higher level, the Assistant Superintendent, or even the Superintendent himself, much less a member of the BOE. When was the last time any of those high level authorities in our public schools got down to the classroom to see what really goes on in such environments? NEVER is my observation, which I admit is limited.
So Debbie Fort and Lynda Banwart, is it possible that both of you as new members of the BOE will spend some time in real classrooms, observing quietly, making a list of both the good and bad things you see and giving good feedback, professionally to those teachers, Assistant Principals, Principals, on up to the Superintendent himself (a man who is in FACT YOUR employee). If all you do is sit in a meeting once a month, read a few reports, get briefings with God knows how many “eye chart” vu-graphs, etc. are you really finding out what is good and bad, down in the classrooms where education takes place, or should take place, then are you really doing the job you were elected to perform?