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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Refocusing: The Lion's Share

Refocusing: The Lion’s Share

By Amy McCabe
Waldron Junior – Senior High School
Shelby Eastern Schools
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

After observing and evaluating two teachers – one who scored effective or even highly effective; the other who scored ineffective – upon which teacher does conventional wisdom (and some might argue state mandate) require the principal to devote considerable attention and the lion’s share of his or her time? 
The ineffective teacher, of course.
This may even include, among myriad responsibilities, a Teacher Improvement Plan outlining areas of concern, steps for intervention and remediation including resources and professional development, detailed benchmarks, and a specific timeline are required to help this teacher meet minimum expectations.  Such gymnastics typically become highly charged and drain the emotional, functional, and temporal limitations of all parties responsible for implementation and hopeful success. 
All the while, little-to-no attention, let alone an investment of resources, is provided to the effective/highly effective teachers. 
That’s educational neglect levied upon adults.
To use an example gleaned not from K-12 education, but that from those a bit more unconventional in their wisdom, Buckingham and Coffman (1999) contended that the best supervisors invest their resources in the strongest employees, highlighting their strengths and running interference, so that the rock stars can fully develop their talents.  They say that this is what separates the average supervisors from our best, the latter that do things differently.
Additionally, Buckingham and Coffman (1999) stated that by succumbing to the safe, conventional notion of “average thinking,” those who focus on the below-average (trying to push them to average), bring about the unintended consequence of “average, itself” becoming the goal. 
None of us wants this, do we?
Our children deserve better.
Yet, with this in mind, how does an analysis of the lion’s share of a K-12 leader’s time play out in teacher evaluation and mentoring?  In Indiana, for example, many of those trained to use a popular evaluation instrument, the RISE evaluation, were admonished to begin their assessments of teacher with the “Effective” column, thereafter moving their analyses of “good teaching look for’s” to the right – toward either the “Needs Improvement” column, or further, toward the “Ineffective” column – if the desired “Effective,” or (put another way), “average,” indicators were not present.  The left column, “Highly Effective,” is used only when all “Effective” indicators are met, plus some of the “Highly Effective” indicators. 
As evaluators with this system of observation, we are, by default, leading with average – not with excellence.      
Now, imagine something a bit different. 
Envision implementing ONLY what we are required to implement with those who aren’t measuring-up – utilizing instead of all of those gymnastics listed at the beginning of this article –the minimum, statutorily required investment with the weakest teachers. 
Imagine stealing a page from Steven Sample’s Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, where we would hold a candid conversation with that underperforming teacher in which we quit hiding behind a rubric’s quest for average and instead state, “I would really like you out of here…both you and the [school] would both benefit from a change. I’m not firing you, but leaving the decision entirely up to you.” 
In this circumstance, the underperforming teacher owns the situation and makes the decision to strive toward excellence rather than average - or to leave.  At least, in all fairness to the teacher, he or she knows where the principal stands. 
There’s no dance. 
There’s no “play pretend.”
This scenario might, thus, free the school leader to invest in his or her best. 
Sample (2002), cited George Clements from Jewel Tea Company who noted we should spend only about 10 percent of our time hiring, firing, evaluating, praising, and remediating.  This is radically different that what is currently being prescribed, isn’t it?  The remaining 90 percent of our time – our lion’s share – could then be spent being “the first assistant to the people who work for [us]” (p. 121). 
This might even propel many more of our schools from “Needs Improvement-to-Average,” toward “Good-to-Great.”


Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do differently.  New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Sample, S. (2002). Contrarian’s guide to leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Amy McCabe and Ryan Donlan are imploring those in K-12 leadership to pay more attention to our best folks.  If you wish to join them in this calling and mission, please feel free to contact them at or at 

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