Saturday, March 24, 2012

“Dance Moms” is Crucial Career Training for @FriedTechnology

Image from 
Until this week, I never thought all my “Dance Moms” watching would be relevant to my career, but as it turns out, it was. Knowing how to deal with extraordinarily rude, loud, ego-crazed people who feature themselves in charge of me was in fact invaluable after I got told to “shut up” in a meeting because I wasn’t a superintendent. (FYI: NOT by anyone in the organization where I work which is comprised of incredibly polite and humble people.) This post is not going to provide any gory details about who said what or why, instead, I want to examine the larger issue and ask you some questions . . .
Should meetings be closed or open?

For example, if there is a planning meeting in your school or organization about a system-wide change, should anyone who is interested or has ideas be allowed to attend? Should meetings be advertised to everyone who might be interested within the organization? Does anyone’s educational organization work this way or are most attended only by upper administration with no input from the troops?
Who should be allowed (or even encouraged) to speak in meetings where ideas are meant to be solicited?
It is easy to imagine every meeting devolving into a melee, but would it really? Could a group of professionals self-regulate so that everyone’s ideas could be heard or would allowing or even encouraging everyone to speak up be disastrous? Is there a way to listen with an open mind from a place of humility to anyone with an idea? How would your organization change if there were?
Whose opinions should be solicited about change?
Let’s pretend for a moment that your organization has an incredibly bright 20 year old secretary who has all kinds of ideas about the change you seek to make, and in fact EVERYTHING. Some of them are crazy, but some of them provide such a different perspective that they make everyone think in a new way. Do you invite this person to the table to act as an equal to the rest of the group? Do you leave the meetings open to anyone and suggest to her she should attend? Or do you try to solicit her opinions in advance and offer them yourself giving her credit?
Is transparency important for meetings?
If you speak up or say 
the wrong thing, will
you see this?
About a year ago, I visited Yes! Prep Academy in Houston, TX and met with the technology team and their leader, Richard Charlesworth. What I saw there impacted me greatly. One of those things came from a question I asked Richard after attending the team’s morning “stand up” (a daily meeting where each team member updated the group on the status of his projects (at the time, there were no women on the team), any problems he had encountered, and took feedback from anyone in the group who had an idea to help. After spending some time in the office, I wondered, in this space, how could anyone have a private meeting? No one seemed to have an office and there was only one meeting room I could see. I asked Richard this question, and he replied that there was basically no such thing as a “private” meeting in his organization. Every meeting was publicized throughout the department on a calendar where the topic of the event was described with enough detail that anyone who thought he might have a word to say would know to attend. It seemed to me part of the culture of the environment that team members would feel not only encouraged, but obligated to attend and offer ideas instead of being penalized or looked down upon for doing so.

As we move into the future, the flattened Google management model where no one can tell who is “in charge” because no one person is in charge will undoubtedly become more the norm for education as it has become for so many successful corporate organizations, as for now, many educational entities are mired in ego-driven management models that only listen to upper echelon who can be woefully out of touch with changes that are really needed and utterly lacking in exactly the kind of diverse thinking that could help fuel reform.

If you’re still reading, it’s maybe because you want to know what happened. Several important members of the group contacted me afterward to tell me that they did not agree with the shutupper and hoped I’d continue offering my ideas. I don’t know if I will go back to the meetings yet or not. I’d rather not be around the shutupper, but I also believe that educational reform is my calling in life, and if I can have an impact in this group, I don’t want to miss the chance to help.

A reminder: This blog is a personal production and this post does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of my employers. This post, unlike others that specifically address the needs and requests of my employer’s clients, was written off the clock and represents my personal opinion and perspective.


Anonymous said...

Wow! That's some crazy stuff! I have never experienced anything like that. Change is difficult for those who choose to stay in the dark. What irritates me is that they are usually in a position to make decisions about things that they know nothing about or care to learn about.

Tech Diva said...

I should have taken an extra blood pressure pill before I read this post.
To start with, there is something fundamentally wrong when the words "shut up" are used in a meeting.
When I hear stories like this, it reminds me of how lucky I am to work with such an extraordinary group of people. However, as much as I love my colleagues, we might be just as likely to dissolve into an unruly mess if not for the amazing management skills of our boss. Her people management skills mystify me in the same way that your (Amy) diplomacy skills do.
I believe that in every organization, there is always a "boss", even if no one holds that official title. In the absence of an official boss, staff will either naturally begin to defer to someone or an Alpha-persona will attempt to take charge.
Regardless, we all have a responsibility to behave in a professional manner AND to protect the quality of our environment by discouraging the type of overly-aggressive communication that you experienced. It's a shame that those friends who contacted you after the fact didn't feel inclined to speak up in favor of open communication at the time.
As for conducting a meeting where the attendees are not encouraged/permitted to give input...What's the point?

sbarrettster said...

Yes, a personal rant but still a representation of you...whether personal or professional.

Anonymous said...

@sbarrettster Well, I'm not sure what you mean, but I hope it's a favorable one. The event was crazy, but ultimately made me think about how educational organizations are largely run. Luckily, my organization is great and getting even better all the time.

@Tech Diva YES! Your team is SO awesome! The whole thing did make me feel lucky to work with the great people I do, and as always, to miss my equally awesome CISD team!

Unknown said...

I'm utterly shocked that someone would speak to you in such a way.

Since he's essentially alienated you for life, I feel sorry for his district/staff/students. They are the ones he really damaged with his words.

Good luck finding amazing people to advance YOUR organization, buck-o!

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Anonymous said...

I strongly agree with you that "many educational entities are mired in ego-driven management models." I often ask myself how is it possible that "leaders" or " bosses" in an organization do not try to empower those around them. Was this not in Leadership 101? So often, people are bullied into submission. Don't let this happen to you. Next time tell the shut upper to shut up!

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