"We don't feel very appreciated."
As a leader, how many times have you heard something like this, either directed at a leader by your colleagues, or even directed at you by people who work in your organization? In my own experiences in leading in schools or in the district office, I heard (and continue to hear) this more than I would like to admit. And when I reflect on those times when individuals or groups in my organization would say that they felt unappreciated, I realize that many of my responses to them really missed the mark.
I have a core belief that people come to work each day wanting to do a good job. While there might be many that disagree with me, I have a hard time believing that the everyday person wakes up in the morning, rolls out of bed and says "Yep, today I am really going to blow it!" Whether it is in my world of K-12 education, or in health care, industry or business, while each of us has better days than others--days where we are more productive and have boundless energy to get the job done--I think we want to feel at the end of the day that we have worked hard and been effective in whatever field we are in. But the day-to-day grind can get to even the most positive of those among us! And while cynics might say "I can think of <enter your salary amount here> ways that you get appreciated for what you do", in the end it needs to be about more than money. It also needs to more than than how I used to respond as a leader, and how I see too many leaders express their appreciation for the work done by the people in their organization.
In the past when I heard that people weren't feeling valued in my schools, I thought that the best way to show my gratitude would be to bring people together, to congratulate them, and to tell them how proud I was of the work that they were doing. I might buy lunch for everyone, or staff clothing. Every once in a while, I might have an evening barbecue on a Friday with food and beer for everyone. And while I might have engendered some cheer and good spirits (pun intended), I noticed that any positive effects were short-term.
Yet this makes sense, doesn't it? Imagine that you were working really hard, but you were frustrated with certain aspects of your job, perhaps aspects you thought should be changed. That COULD be changed, just with a few tweaks if someone would take the time to ask you. But imagine that in response to your frustration, someone handed you a platter of cured meats and a beer at a party and told you "Thanks for all of your work." Does that make the frustration go away?
While I want to say that I was alone in this 'cake and beer' approach, too often I see leaders doing exactly what I did: they view 'appreciation' in terms of recognition and celebration. Make no mistake, most of us love a public compliment or some nice appetizers and a free pint at a party. But once the applause ceases and the lights go down at the end of the evening, a short sleep later it's back to business as usual. And very frequently when we get back into the routine of an average day, staring at the piles of marking, paperwork, or minutia of the moment, it's right back to feeling unappreciated. Cake and compliments don't change a thing.
In Changing Change Using Learner-Centered Design, the goal of appreciation is not to recognize accomplishments. When leaders of Learner-Centered Design begin the Appreciate phase, they must do something that is far more meaningful than any cake or party--they need to LISTEN to the people that they are serving as leaders. The goal of Appreciate is to develop the most in-depth and fulsome understanding of the given experience that our people are having--whether it is understanding the student experience in our classrooms, the educator experiences in our meetings, or the parent experience with our websites or parent-teacher interviews, it is the mandate of the LCD Leader and their team to become the cameraman rather than the commentator on the experience by listening without judgement and seeking to understand rather than solve. They need to be educational ethnographers that use all means necessary to understand the current state of affairs, and then use those understandings to illustrate a vision of the ideal, brainstorm and test ideas, and then proliferate the changes that make a difference.
In K-12 education, the number one factor influencing student achievement is "collective teacher efficacy" - the idea that a staff’s shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes for all students. When we have teachers with high efficacy, they show greater willingness to try new things with students and set more challenging goals. Giving people cake and compliments does not change their belief that they make a difference. However, when leaders APPRECIATE the current challenges had by those in their schools, districts, and other fields and industries, and then use those observations to change that experience through the Learner-Centered Design model, they truly demonstrate to those who work in their organizations that their voice and their actions make a difference.
Sounds a lot like efficacy to me.
To learn more about Learner-Centered Design, visit http://www.pblconsulting.org/
from the desk of an educator:
It's education: there is no more time, but we DO have time. There is no more money, but we DO have money. So let's put the learner at the center, and conduct ourselves accordingly.