How do you treat people well when your relationship is mediated by a clunky, externally mandated system?
In case no examples come to mind, let me be more specific…
How do you treat your teachers as human beings when you have a formal evaluation system with 692 steps to complete and forms to fill out?
Whenever a good idea gets turned into a policy, it inevitably gets clunky and impersonal. “I need to help my staff grow professionally” turns into “I have 240 one-on-one meetings with teachers this year, each accompanied by a form.”
“What are you proud of, and what are you struggling with?” turns into a form.
Classroom visits turn into formal observations.
I’m not opposed to any of this formalization, because without it, we’d have nothing at all in place in too many schools. Clunky and formal is better than nothing. We need ways to ensure that our students are receiving high-quality teaching and that our staff are continuing to grow, even if that means lots of paperwork.
But one thing I know about leadership is that people follow humans who are leaders, not systems that are run by people with leadership titles.
If your leadership consists of implementing the policies and procedures dictated by others, and nothing else, your staff have no one to follow. They need leadership, and leadership is inherently human and relational.
The best leaders treat the systems and procedures as a baseline for what they need to get done, then quickly move on to the real work.
“We need to get this form filled out, but I’ll take care of that—let’s talk about what’s really going on.”
Have your leaders said things like this to you? Mine have. I’ve been shown, by example, how to take the issues seriously but put the person first. I’ve seen how to meet the deadline and keep the state happy, without forgetting that the purpose of evaluating someone is to make sure they’re doing a good job.
Once that’s been done, we can devote 100% of our energy to helping them do a good job.
And if you don’t know until the form’s filled out whether someone is doing a good job? Then you don’t know them well enough to lead them.
How do you make sure the real human work happens, in between forms, deadlines, and signatures? How do you bring out the best in your staff?