Making the machine work

In Ray Dalio’s book he describes companies as machines. (or maybe this was another book, I’ve read a lot over the past year). The machines are there to serve a  function or get something done. In a school as an administrator, you probably have experience being part of this machine. Maybe you have the job of planning certain meetings every week that other people attend. Or maybe you enter the data, or maybe you dust off the statues in the lobby. Whatever part of the machine is your work, it is important. It is a part of role, and not your identity though. Once you move up to the administrator role you have to take on the role of making, maintaining, and reimagining the machine. It’s kind of hard to do those things while you are still a part of it. It is great that I know how to go in and admit students, but that is not my part of the machine, that’s the secretaries. It’s great that I can get to teach a class, but it is a luxury, and I’m actually putting the machine in a rough spot by choosing to do this.

Making the machine work is my primary job. The machine is comprised of people, and those people could do a lot of things that do the work for you. I used to build websites, still do I guess, and some of the websites can have pre-built stock themes, which can do a lot of interesting work. Some people build a web site and let these stock themes do all of the design, and they don’t customize anything for themself. They aren’t really building a machine, they are just hoping that all these machine parts operate together well. At our school we have lots of really talented staff. Some of the things the staff do we can think of as that persons responsibility or that person’s pride project. If the school needs to depend on that person, then you have the lone ranger problem.  Another problem you might run in to is just looking at problems that are part of the machine and thinking that they are progblems with people. 

Grades didn’t get handed in on time, and the idea was I needed to talk with people about why this task didn’t get completed. Some of the people on the list seem like people that are pretty on the ball. I decided to make sure that while people knew that there was a consequence to not having the grade done, I also asked them what was getting int he way. IN this way I am opening up the machine to see what could have helped make it better. It sounded like there were some log-in issues, and some people have a lot of codes to manage. These were things we could try to do better, and make the system work better in the long run. Hopefully this will help the machine get better. By talking to the staff about the machine, we are letting the staff know that this is a priority, not chastisement or power, and that when they see ways that machine can be improved we want to embrace it.

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Lone Ranger Syndrome

This happens a lot at our school. Somebody thinks about a problem that needs to be solved and works on their own to solve it. The person bears the brunt of completing a number of these tasks to make this solution feasible. While this works temporarily, with much applause from the school staff, trouble can be around the corner as the problem continues to require this person’s solution.

The person could get burned out. This could be for a number of reasons. Frustration about lack of help from others. Inability to complete regular work. Inability to tackle the complexities of the problem as it changes beyond what the solution was meant to handle. If none of these are problems, then your lone ranger will be able to operate successfully for some time. If not, then a bunch of other things can happen. The lone ranger can feel defeated, can expand their need for resources beyond what they are actually capable of handling or responsible for over seeing. frustrating conflict between other people on staff who know that resources are tight. Communication will be a big problem, especially if people did not know that they were or weren’t part of the plan.

What if it isn’t just a one off problem. What if it is a giant task that multiple people depend on? What if a task that was spread among many people has shifted on to the shoulders of one? How do you extract the problem from out of the hands of a lone ranger without making the school run less efficiently? Worse, what if you realize that you’ve unwittingly become a lone ranger and now it’s become unmanageable?

Leadership and administration

A teacher was wondering whether to should take on a leadership role at her school offered by her administration. Two things to unpack, leadership, and administration. Administration is the defining of work, ours holding people accountable and guaranteeing compliance, it’s what you need a license for. Leadership is making sure everyone knows what they vision is, and feels a part in the process of getting there. Leadership shows through your work, teacher or administrator. Not always in it’s perfection, but in it’s alignment to the shared vision, in it’s expression of your own personal taste and values, and also of the fact that you keep bringing it day in and day out. The question to think about this is what is this position having you do? Are you doing administration, or are you doing leadership?

If a teacher really wants change to happen at her school, it is only natural to think of ideas that could move the school forward. So let’s say that idea gets carried out in a purely administrative fashion. There would be some new edict. The teachers plan is in motion, but it’s not being led by the teacher. Pretty soon the idea disconnects from the shared vision and is just “another thing”. If it is purely teacher led, with no administrative might, then no other part of the school is restructuring itself to allow space for this work to be done in a shared manner. The teacher ends up doing all the work and Burns out. If the teacher can convince the rest of the team to take on some of the load then we get in the sweet spot. We can also get here if the administration operates on a more Democratic way as they roll it out. The sweet spot is both good administration and good leadership. Of course when you have neither, you have no change.

The problem isn’t the iceberg

The icebergs don’t go away. Dealing with people’s personal conflicts becomes part of my job when those conflicts spill over into the work that people need to do. It is probably impossible not to have organizations of a certain size without having personality clashes. At the core of the two that I am thinking about right now, there seems to be a serious issue or interaction that happened, and a series of requests that followed. “Don’t let em work with that person!”, “Why don’t you make them do what any normal person would do?”, “How can I work like this?” The immediate conflict is usually so obvious and raw that it can’t not be addressed. The conflict turns out to be the tip of an iceberg. Recounting the events of the initial incident with only goes so far without the person pulling up other events from further in the past. These other stories and anecdotes serve to build the case that the person is flawed and needs to change in a deep fundamental way in order for their working relationship to continue. From what I surmise, at least one person involved also things that one person should be subjugated to some kind of punishment or something. As a leader I can’t go in and fix the iceberg, I need to make sure that the ice bergs don’t destroy all the ships that need to travel back and forth. Let’s set up for things to be safe, and then maybe the icebergs will melt on their own. Trying to solve the iceberg will likely get you over extended and feeling unsuccessful.

Losing a crutch

My friend Darius once stopped from playing on a mutual friend’s crutches one day in high school. “You play with crutches, you end up needing crutches.” It made a lot of sense, one of his friends broke his ankle after they were playing around on a set of crutches. Crutches are weird things, they only end up serving their purpose if you decide to use them in that way. The use of the crutch requires you deciding that you need it.

Working with someone super-capable can lend you to use them as a crutch. The person who can do all the things that you are unsure of could be a learning opportunity or a backup. If you choose to make that person a crutch, meaning if you lean on them instead of standing on your own, then you are putting yourself in a situation where you might get hurt.

So much of each day is about just surviving long enough to not get emotionally damaged, it seems weird to try and not rely on something that can help you hobble through the day. Spotting your crutches, and ensuring that you can walk without them, or that one day you’ll be able to walk with out them, is difficult work. Without being aware of your crutches, you’re setting your self, and your team, up for disaster when they are pulled away.

Hard work day

I sat and looked at a computer screen from 4-7 and from 8:40-2:40. The occasion for this was registration, and there are a bunch of systems I have to make for that. Our school has an internal registration process where all the students sign up for classes like in college. So there is a system that allows teachers to keep track of who signs up for their classes, a chance for me to combine the results of everyone’s class lists for the purposes of enrolling them in the system. A way for teachers to see how many kids are in the other teachers’ classes, and a way for them to see what their students have signed up for. All of these tasks are done with a set of spreadsheets I call Rosterlink.

Rosterlink has a spreadsheet that has all the urls of all the teachers. Every 5 minutes, a script is launched that looks up each teachers’ sheet and adds their class or internship rosters to a tab in that same “master” spreadsheet. Also in this sheet is a tab full of information. Class names, codes and credits. students listed with two id codes and their advisors. Internships and all of their corresponding internship coordinators. This information is used to make the teacher’s rosters as informative and vaild as possible. Instead of typing a students name, the name appears in a drop down that is culled from the list which is maintained in the master spreadsheet. If new students had a name change, it is easy to add them to all the teacher’s lists.

In the past year Rosterlink has been improved to give feedback about the results to teachers. The class counts for all of the rosters are tabulated and pushed up to the front of the class list. I am in the plans to make a data dashboard for administrators to see how things are going.

The new thing today was making an additional set of functions so that intensives would work. It was pretty difficult and it meant that I had to do a lot of work all day. It was hard.

I’m going to sleep.