Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Three big things that make me scrap my admin posts. Scary relationships, word salad, and the minutiae trap.

3 years ago I became an assistant principal at my school. While I am still a teacher of one class each cycle, my main focus is on leading the math team and the support staff and also overseeing the programming and scheduling for the school. It sucks writing about admin stuff for a lot of the reasons that makes blogging challenging for anyone. Last year I tried to do more blogging about admin stuff but ended up hiding most of those posts somewhere else because they didn’t feel right. There are 3 specific things that has made it hard for me to blog about my admin work like I blogged about my teaching.

Relationships are hard to write about safely

Relationships are key to any kind of school effort, but writing about staff relationships is rarely appropriate. As we talk about school change, the conversation quickly talks about what people think about the change, or what people think about other people, or what people me. If any of those relationships are keeping you up at night, how do you get the ideas out on your blog that all your co-workers know about? When I wrote about students I used pseudonyms and changed details Those tricks don’t seem to apply as it’s too easy to figure out. Even if I try to mask the name, one would have to guess which of the 8 teachers I’m talking about, as opposed to which of the 90 students I taught that day. A potential staff slip up is more dangerous than with my students. My relationship with those 8 people will go on a lot longer than the kids who I probably won’t see after this year. Longer relationships are longer, and full of complex, tangled details. It’s hard to fully describe the full picture of a co-worker relationship while trying to tell a story of why today was a success, or why the meeting went terribly wrong. I could ask the co-worker if they mind that I write about them, but that isn’t really fair. As their administrator, they would probably feel like they have to go along with what I’m saying, and potentially harbor discomfort.

Vagueness of leadership writing

Writing about education leadership is pathologically vague. Tweets I’ve seen from administrators always sound kind of feel like word salad of educational jargon. A lot of these school leader tweets have this feel (which I am in no way meaning trying to hate on, btw.) I’m guessing she is trying to both describe a pattern she has noticed over interactions with a bunch of teachers and abstracting in order to get something across in tweet form. She can’t go too into detail about where this arose from or how it plays it out in her school, because teaching probably looks totally different at her school. Administrators work with systems and structures that are as unique as their fingerprints, and there just isn’t the time to explain all the necessary relevant items when you have something to get across. Instead the ideas have to extracted from the actual situation that happened, and written as an abstract life lesson that people can maybe apply to their life. I’ve noticed this in leadership books and a lot of other things. Stuff is pretty vague.

I’ve noticed it in own writing too. Last year I had to have a mediation with a couple of staff members and afterwards I wanted to write about it. If it was a conflict between students I could approach a blog post like this: it like “XXXXX and YYYYY had a conflict around ZZZZZZ. We used this protocol, it went pretty well!” I would be able to provide details about who X and Y are, and I can also point to where the task is online that they were working on. As an administrator working with adults, I can’t give too many details about X and Y without divulging their identities, and probably breaking their trust and ruining the relationships we talked about a couple paragraphs ago. Furthermore, Z is a task that really only makes sense at my school, which would require a whole separate blog post to explain, and my actually get us in trouble if fully detailed. So instead I wrote this post on my other admin blog. I instead use a metaphor about icebergs, I posted this a good week or two after the event so people can’t guess who I’m talking about, and it isn’t even clear what I did or why a protocol would be helpful in doing that. It’s super vague. Why go through the trouble of thinking out a reflection to wind up with something that feels as substantitve as soggy shredded wheat?

The Minutiae Trap

Given all of this, it’s easy to want to reflect on a lot of the stuff you can write about. Spreadsheets, compliance, budget allocations. These things are nice and sanitized, self-explanatory, and because they are so concrete they are easy to write about. They are also boring and dangerous. So Megan Roberts did a really good job of illustrating the dangers in a story I’m not sure I have permission to get into details with…but I can vaguely describe it. She was an assistant principal, and she was focused on a lot of these technical aspects. Programming, compliance, getting things done. Her colleague was more interested in building relationships, setting the tone and other “touchy-feely stuff”. Megan felt like she was doing more of the leadership work on her admin team. Then 9/11 happened. In the face of that crisis the school didn’t a leader to check boxes. It needed someone who could connect with everyone personally and let them know everything is going to be ok. It was clear to Megan that leaderships is more than just checking boxes, doing the spreadsheets and other things. The trap you can fall into with admin stuff is thinking that the things that are detached from everyone, and that fit into nice clear boxes which people can understand are the things that are important. This minutiae is not the leadership that the school needs when an emergency comes, but that kind of stuff involves the messy human relationships and the weird institutional quirks at your school that are hard to write about with any clarity.

So what am I trying to do?

I guess I’m trying to figure out how to not be the minutiae guy and have real relationships with people, people who I can’t blog about without being vague. Umm… Oh and there’s all that minutiae stuff that I do want to write about, just without falling into to the trap of thinking that’s all there is to this job. Any ideas on how to do this? Any bloggers out there doing it? Let me know in the comments.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Carl,

    You gotta #pushsend. Who are you writing for? It is completely fine to write for your own reflection. (ie minutiae stuff, for example). Can you write about the situations you feel compelled to write about by posing a question, almost like a Dear Carl column?

    Dear Carl,

    How would you handle a situation where…

    Yours,
    Asking for a friend

    Dear Asking for a Friend,

    When I have had to deal with this I have been frustrated by…but found some success…

    Hope that helps. Yours as always, Amy

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