April 23, 2018


Do You Know Somebody Who is Always Positive?
Last week I had the opportunity to share thoughts with members of the IASA Three Rivers Region. Three Rivers Region President Dr. Diane Cepela, Superintendent of Fairmount School District 89, arranged for Morris High School Superintendent Dr. Pat Halloran to be the entertainment for the region meeting. Pat sang four songs accompanied by a friend who played the keyboard. At the end of the fourth song Pat was given a standing ovation by his fellow superintendents.
What I remember most about Pat is not his singing ability (he was very good) but, rather, his personality. You can view and hear Pat singing at the meeting here . I have known Pat for several years and he always has a positive outlook on life and makes me feel good just to talk to him. Pat is a great listener, confident in his ability to be a leader, good reader of non-verbal cues, and very respectful. I was thinking of Pat this weekend again as I was reading an article about LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner in Inc. You can read the article here .
In this article Scott Mautz writes that communication skill is the number one "skill gap." Mautz states that these five are the keys to being a great communicator:  
  1. Really listen - without drifting
  2. Exude confidence
  3. Be a non-verbal ninja
  4. Make "clear and concise" your mantra
  5. Start from a place of respect 
I would like to add a sixth skill, always be positive and try to make the person(s) you are communicating with feel positive because they have spent time talking to you.

"Courageous Conversations"
Recently I was asked for suggestions about talking to an employee about their poor performance. The employee was a long-term school district employee and also was a relative to a school board member. The supervisor was apprehensive about talking to the employee because of the relationship to the school board member.
All difficult conversations have to start with the willpower to have the conversation. The supervisor needs to make sure that facts have been gathered that are truthful and representative of the employee's job responsibilities. In this particular case the employee was employed in a non-certified support staff position. It does not matter the position, what matters is that the employee has to be held to the standards required for the position.
School attorney David Braun and I do an administrative academy titled "Successful Remediation of the Tenured Teacher." During the presentation David reminds the participants of the following steps:
  • Facts
    • What did the evaluator see? What happened?
  • Rules
    • What does a GOOD employee (teacher, secretary, janitor, bus driver, etc.) do?
  • Directives
    • What MUST this employee do to get better?
    • "SHOULD", "may", "ought" are considered fatal words - DO NOT USE THEM
  • How
    • HOW does the employee do what the evaluator is directing?
  • Commit all conversations to writing and have both the employee and supervisor sign 
Real school leaders do not jump to conclusions and discipline employees without giving full thought to all of these actions.
Probably the hardest part of having difficult conversations is having the conversation in the first place. Supervisors often want to delay the meeting because they perceive the actual meeting to be contentious or, at the least, difficult to hold. It is best to hold the meeting as soon as possible with the employee to get this perception out of the way. I always felt better after holding the conversation even if the news to the employee was not favorable. At least the first part of the remediation process was complete and we could get on to fixing the problem.
Tip of the Week
Last week Inc. also reported on some productivity advice given by Elon Musk. You should read the short article , but my favorite tip is, "Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren't adding value."
How we wish either of these was always feasible; realistically, we know we can't "walk out" of many of our meetings. You can, however, politely but firmly keep meetings moving by ceasing to read aloud reports everyone can read for themselves, curtailing unproductive discussion and organizing everyday meetings similarly to the "Consent Agenda" presented to the school board. Do yourself the favor of instructing and training your staff to do the same, then hold them to that expectation. As for phone calls, everyone knows superintendents are busy people, so few will object if, after listening ONCE to the purpose of the call, you forestall the second telling by saying to your caller, "OK. Gotta go. Bye."
For more information, please contact:

Dr. Richard Voltz
Associate Director
Professional Development/Induction-Mentoring
2648 Beechler Court
Springfield, IL 62703
Follow me on Twitter at:  https://twitter.com/rvoltz