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Introduction and summary
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The University of Sydney. University of Newcastle Library. University of New England. University of Tasmania. University of Western Australia. The following actions may also help principals deal with teachers like Gloria:. Assess your leadership style to make sure you are providing positive, proactive ways for teachers to share concerns. Underminers may develop as a result of unnecessarily controlling, autocratic leadership, which gives few opportunities to positively resolve issues. Even if your style is more open, if you're new, teachers may go underground with their negativity because their past leader was autocratic.
Develop an open communication channel to ensure that any potential underminer informs you—rather than others—about his or her concerns, no matter how unpleasant or trivial. Be open and receptive when faculty members share concerns with you. If you let people know you're really interested in listening to their complaints or worries and using their perspective to guide change, they'll be more willing to share with you.
Use open-ended or probing questions to gain more details. Use reflecting skills to better understand the teacher's perspective. Put in place positive processes to hear and evaluate your faculty's concerns as you implement any change or initiative. For example, you might regularly conduct a pro-con conversation among teachers, guiding them to identify the specifics of any new strategy you're considering, including what the school might need to do to overcome challenges the strategy will present. Put a "Concerns-Based Suggestion Box" in the teacher work room, or periodically meet with staff members individually to explore their ideas and concerns.
Set productive ground rules for staff behavior, such as allowing one party to complete his or her side of the story before you rebut; being ready to talk about both the positives and the challenges associated with new ideas; and keeping the discussion focused on the topic, not the person. The on-the-job retiree is a true challenge. Because he or she is retiring at the end of the year, the on-the-job-retiree reasons, it's acceptable to coast for the remainder of the time.
Such an attitude isn't restricted to senior staff members.
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We have worked with people in early- or mid-career stages who exhibit characteristics of on-the-job retirees. Behavior, rather than age, is the hallmark of these resisters. Look for the following characteristics:. The teacher openly states that he or she is leaving at the end of the year and has decided to "coast out" this time. The teacher may brag about the fact that nobody can make him or her do anything. You may notice that he or she is doing the bare minimum in daily work. The educator shows a diminished level of motivation and work ethic.
You may notice that you begin to feel negative or even slightly depressed as you interact with this teacher. People who have shut down can project negativity. The teacher seeks the support and empathy of coworkers, as he or she tries to slack off, possibly striving to make others feel sorry for him or her. On-the-job retirees have a negative effect on the day-to-day climate of a school and eventually will weaken its culture. Part of this damage can come from the model they provide for less experienced colleagues by setting the tone that it's OK for anyone to shut down in relation to their commitments at the school.
This tone can be contagious.
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A charismatic coaster can become a "cult figure" or gain prestige because he or she openly defies the organization. Some teachers may look up to the person and even reinforce these negative behaviors. Cliques may form around those who admire the premature retiree and those who don't. People may feel forced to take sides in relation to their actions and behaviors.
When you hear an employee has declared him- or herself "retired" before the end of the year, you'll need to respond quickly to this posture—and a frank conversation is often the first thing to try. For instance, Julie, an elementary principal at a school we'll call Barton Elementary, heard from key staff members that a teacher named Stan was planning to retire at the end of the year.
Stan had also announced he wouldn't participate in the professional learning community PLC to which he'd been assigned. Julie considered the PLCs to be an important part of supporting Barton Elementary's teachers as they learned to implement student assessments. If Stan were allowed to opt out of these activities, it would send a message to others that the learning communities' work was not important. Julie knew she had to address the situation quickly. She scheduled a meeting with Stan and took the bull by the horns:.
J ulie : Stan, I've heard you're planning to retire at the end of this year. We'll miss you if that's the case. I've heard some talk that you're saying you plan to coast out the remainder of your time with us, and you're not even going to participate with your grade-level PLC. Is this true? J ulie : I agree—you have worked hard; you've contributed a lot to Barton and to our students. You've been a good leader. So why do you feel you don't want to contribute all you can in the year before you retire? S tan : Well, I've seen plenty of other teachers here ease off on their responsibilities during their last year.
S tan thinking : I guess I had a lower opinion of them because they shut down at the end of their careers. J ulie : When a teacher leaves a school, that educator leaves a legacy behind. That legacy includes things like a reputation, what others think of you, what others remember after you're gone. Stan, I'd like you to think about the legacy you want to leave here after your retirement.
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And I'd like us to meet and talk about this again next week. When Julie and Stan met again, Stan reported that he wanted to leave a positive legacy at Barton Elementary. Julie was ready to build on this answer. She said she was happy he'd reached this conclusion, and she pledged to keep him engaged in meaningful projects at Barton, including working with new staff and leading his learning community. Julie knew Stan was a likeable, persuasive person who appreciated getting attention from leading others. She tailored his role with these traits in mind. Throughout the rest of the year, she met regularly with Stan to stay updated on his progress.
As a result, Julie kept this teacher productive and engaged until he left. Not every teacher can be motivated by an appeal to his or her best self or future legacy. Here are other ways to deal with on-the-job retirees:. Give the employee an important task or job that uses his or her particular skills or passions. Or give the teacher a choice between several tasks. Use peer pressure to engage the employee. Develop team projects that need everyone's effort or attend meetings of the professional learning community this educator belongs to and ask questions designed to get him or her involved.
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Offer a trade-off; get the employee to agree to continue to engage with efforts toward reform in exchange for a reduction of some other responsibility that it may be fine to take a break from such as bus duty. Add a responsibility that requires a similar time commitment but would interest the teacher more. Develop a growth plan. Because the on-the-job retiree may feel that you, as a supervisor, cannot do anything to apply consequences, move cautiously as you develop this growth plan.
Keep it focused on building up the positive aspects of the employee rather than making it a punitive, experience. Pair the on-the-job retiree with a younger teacher, sharing with each what you want them to gain from the relationship. For example, tell a younger teacher that you want him to gain from the content knowledge of the more senior teacher, and tell the older teacher you want him to gain new presentation ideas from the younger one.
Think through how to present the arrangement so no party feels negative about it. Work with the employee to develop a private succession plan. If you help the on-the-job retiree feel like a valued leader whom you and the school will miss, you'll motivate the potential coaster to want to pass the torch. Be careful to communicate that you care while helping the teacher stay responsible.
Never say that you want the resister to resign although deep down you might like this to happen. Making people feel pushed out sets the stage for an age-related discrimination lawsuit. Show that you want to help someone like Stan stay productive. Focus on supporting the teacher as long as she or he meets reasonable expectations.
Working with difficult and resistant staff members is unavoidable if you want to make long-lasting school changes. In the end, the labor it takes to successfully deal with resisters will pay off—in accomplishing your goals and attaining a positive working culture. John F.
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Eller is professor of educational leadership at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota.