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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roadchips, Part II

Roadchips, Part II

Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

In graduate study a number of years ago, I remember discussing with interest the events that might take place in one’s career to transform an otherwise eager, wide-eyed rookie educator into a toxic staff member.  Peter Drucker’s work, shared by Dr. Roger Grabinski of Central Michigan University, was a big part of these conversations.

As students, we were of the opinion that many of these events on the downward slope had to do with something leaders were NOT providing – i.e. guidance, support, communication, and/or empowerment. The rest had to do with what leadership WAS providing, yet not to the good of the organization – i.e. favoritism, micromanagement, incompetence, and/or even their own hibernation as staff members were left to run amok.

I now consider each factor influencing a teacher’s path toward a negative perch in the faculty lounge a “roadchip” occurrence. 

As leaders, if we are not careful, clueful, and “with-it,” we can unintentionally create toxicity among staff by not tending to the roadchips as they are experienced.

Roadchips in a literal sense, as we discussed last week, are the little chips we find in our windshields after stones hit them. Once chipped, the windshield is susceptible to cracks each time a bump is hit.  It is also susceptible when the car is traveling smoothly or even while at a dead stop. 

This is because roadchips allow oxygen to enter the glass, which under normal circumstances should not be permeated, causing undue pressure.  It’s sort of like a chipped tooth with a nerve exposed.  It’s more vulnerable. The force of the exposure weakens the structure, magnifying its vulnerability. 

The same holds true, figuratively, in education. 

Roadchips are blemishes in one’s perceptual frame that impinge upon a clear view of the professional world.  We could even consider these “chips” to be, chips on one’s shoulder, I guess.

Roadchips are oftentimes created by leaders.

They occur when leaders are too often focused on tasks over relationships, especially as they walk about the building.

They are created by a leader’s communication methods, such as sending e-mails when in–person conversations would be more appropriate. 

Roadchips are created when teachers do not feel supported after being accosted by angry, crazy parents. Teachers often need much care and attention -- prior to and after such meetings.

Roadchips are definitely created by the way leaders come across in staff meetings, especially when leaders issue Blanket Monkeys (Whitaker, 2012), putting something on the backs of all when the issue should only be discussed with one or two. 

Roadchips happen when teachers do not know the guidelines under which decisions will be made.  If they believe their hard-earned efforts will result in binding decisions, yet they’re only taken as “advisory,” they may develop chips.

Through no fault of anyone, roadchips may even occur when otherwise hardworking people have different beliefs about the way things should work in schools … in close proximity with one another, they stumble uncomfortably into each other’s values.

As leaders, we must understand that once roadchips mar the otherwise spotless veneer of a positive person, they begin to enact further damage. Over time, they cause those affected to look at things, certainly their jobs or our leadership, in a different way … through a cracked windshield.

Skewed perceptions do not help the organization.

The good news is that with a bit of effort on the part of leadership, roadchips can be repaired.

Just as automotive service centers use a careful procedure of injecting resin into roadchips to relieve pressure on the windshield and allow for clear viewing, leaders can repair their own and others’. 

Mostly, this can be accomplished by careful communication and direct interaction with those who have experienced roadchips – having crucial conversations and using leadership’s “tools for talking when the stakes are high” (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler, 2002).  Connection and consideration are keys to the fix.

This all starts by leaders “having a clue” that roadchips even occurred.   

And … that they as leaders may have caused them.


Whitaker, T. (2012). Shifting the monkey: The art of protecting good people from liars, criers, and other slackers. Bloomington, IN: Triple Nickel Press.

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Please give Dr. Ryan Donlan a call at (812) 237-8624 or at if you would like to discuss or have something to add to this conversation. 

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