BLUF: What is the best way to implement O3s in a very flat organization such as a school? (I searched the archives and couldn't find a similar post)

The Long Details:
I'm the Vice Principal for an international school in Asia. We are a K-12 school with 55 English teachers and 11 Mandarin teachers. We also have 8 office staff and 20 support staff. Grade levels meet as teams on a weekly basis and 3 grade levels will meet as a division once a month. We also hold all-school staff meetings once a month.

I'd like to begin 03s within the organization. However, time is a huge restraint for teachers and we don't have team leaders or other types of organizational structure.

I have been given the go-ahead by the Principal to begin a more structured coaching/feedback system but he will continue with the traditional admin-teacher supervision model (2 or 3 formal classroom visits/year with follow up debrief mtg).

The school is very young but growing incredibly fast. We hire 20-25 new teachers to accommodate growth and turnover (typical contract is 2 yrs).

Since the Office staff have more flexible schedules and are not as "trained" as teachers, I will definitely do weekly 03s with them. However, what about the teachers? Right now, I'm thinking about once a month 03s with 2-3 informal classroom visits (drop-ins) each month.

I know monthly 03s are note really 03s, so does someone else have a better idea?

Should I focus on more interaction with the top 20% and bottom 20%?

BTW, M&M, thank you immensely for giving your tools so freely. I hope more school administrators can get tuned in as well.


juliahhavener's picture
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I know we've seen this question in the not-too-distant past, but I wasn't able to find it on a quick search - I'll keep looking. I would say, if you implement this, do it for everyone (otherwise people will spend their time trying to figure out why they were 'singled out' or why they aren't one of the 'priveledged ones'). I also don't know that I would use 'training level' as the dividing line.

Monthly isn't ideal, but you know that already. The relationship is stretched when it's out that far. Sometimes, I think you have to do what you have to do - but if you go monthly, it's even more important that YOU never miss.

rthibode's picture

Howie, here is the thread to which Julia refers. The relevant discussion starts with hexemom, 7 posts from the top.

juliahhavener's picture
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WillDuke's picture
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If you can only meet with a person once a month, can you really manage them? Maybe it's time to review the org chart.

It sounds like you already have some ad-hoc organization going on (grade levels and 3 grade levels). Can you set someone from those groups into a management role?

howie's picture

Thanks for link to the thread. I've pmed hexemom to see if we can share ideas.

Yes, we do have some structures. But they are all egalitarian. No pay differences and no teaching assignment differences. I could choose to just do 03s with committee heads (these were elected within the committee and not appointed by admin).

We don't have department heads and to be honest, some schools are getting rid of department heads and implementing learning communities instead. While more egalitarian (pos & neg), learning communities tend to flatten out the org chart. Since we are a young school and don't have a union, we can implement grade reps or department heads heads more easily than most schools. We will embed the supervisor role into their teaching load and/or salary. But I don't want to wait a year.

Regarding direct reports, many school jurisdictions only do performance evaluations on teachers with probationary contracts and support staff. It's different with professional staff (teachers). It's a bit like a university, once you have 'tenure', you are guaranteed a job. With the unions, getting rid of a under-performing teacher is very difficult. I think 03s can help stop this trend. With feedback and coaching, under-performing teachers can be coached to better results. As it stands now, too many things go left unsaid and uncorrected until it becomes a big problem.

Ironically, many (I'd say all but it's a superlative) of the educational admin gurus out there echo that relationships are key to developing your staff. We know that the best way to improve school results (ie. learning and student achievement) is through engaging our teachers. Now we just have to find the structure and time to do it.

rthibode's picture

Hi Howie,

I can relate to the issues you raise.

It sounds like 03s with your committee chairs would be the best option for now. If they were elected by your teaching staff rather than appointment by admin, the other teachers may trust them enough that you can have them do some development work.

My team leaders hold weekly meetings with their team to share plans, trouble shoot, and cover little bits of training/upgrading that I feed through them. The staff love this process b/c they're able to get help solving their problems right away. A lot of learning happens in these meetings.

The teams have only 4-5 people each, which lets us keep the meetings to 1 hour. The team leaders meet with me for O3s and we also meet every second week as a leadership team.

WillDuke's picture
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I think "people" regardless of their career need to spend time with the person to whom they report. They need this time to develop themselves and all the other stuff that takes place in an O3. And afterwards feedback and coaching.

Consequently I would start with the premise that O3s need to be done. I'm going to do them. Then I am looking at how to do them, instead of all the reasons I can't do them.

One of my favorite tools: "Okay, you don't know how to do that. But if you did know how, what would it look like?"

I often get mired down in seeking perfection. Often something, even if it's the wrong thing, is better than nothing. If you need to innovate, celebrate that innovation as a success later. For now, get started.

howie's picture

I thought ppl might be interested in hearing how my first few weeks of 03s have gone.

I decided to focus on the 4 direct reports that I have in the office and IT department. For the teaching staff, I am meeting with the grade level teams and other committees. But, next year we will be adding grade level co-ordinators and another vp. This will provide us with the necessary structure for me to do 03s with the grade level reps that are my direct reports.

The 03s have gone very well. Right away I was able to find out about a direct who was unhappy and thinking about quitting. The 03 allowed us the time to address the issues and (re)build a relationship. We are both much happier now. This direct is the most excited about 03s.

We have improved our effectiveness and communication amongst my directs and myself. The directs come prepared with issues, status reports, and ideas. It has also lessened the ad-hoc conversations and emails that used to pop up on a daily basis.

You never know what your directs are going to bring up. One week on e of them opened up about some tough pressures at home that helped to bring things into perspective for me. However, the very next week, she brought her new iPhone to me to fix. But ultimately, both issues were very important to her and if 10 minutes a week is all that is needed for me to show that I am concerned about them, so be it.

Other ppl have noticed the 03s. One positive, one not. Another office staff (a skip level) saw the effectiveness of the 03s. She put together a proposal for us to accomplish some of our stalled goals. While this required that she become one of my directs, her former sup is very pleased as she sees the overall benefit for the organization.

The principal also noticed the 03s. He's quite cynical about them. He doesn't like the fact that I am unaccessible during the time. Of course, he could just knock on the door or call my mobile but he just doesn't like seeing my door closed. In particular he was unhappy that both I and the office manager are unavailable during our 03. He suggested that we move the 03 to after school. I met with him and pointed out that the 03s were the same time every week and, as such, quite predicable. Further the 03 prevented many of the issues from becoming a mini-crisis which would take more time to resolve. As a result of the office manager 03, we changed his hours so that the office was manned for longer after school. When the principal asked us to do the 03 then, I told him we could reschedule if he wanted to cover the office during that time. He quickly agreed to let us continue with the original 03.

I've missed a couple of 03s. About half of my directs will make a point of asking me when it will be rescheduled. I need to do a better job of rescheduling them ahead of the original time as MT suggests. If you wait until later, it is too easy to just postpone until the next 03.

Overall, I find that 03 help to establish the relationship that is necessary for feedback to be effective. I know that MT says that feedback is not personal. But I haven't met anyone who doesn't take it personally. Once they have been through some 03s and you have explained feedback and, more importantly, they know that you care about them as individuals and about their performance, they are much more open to feedback. Feedback is taken personally because people are insecure. 03s enable them to become more secure which in turn makes feedback much less personal. I hope that makes sense.

Anyways, things are going quite well and we've put things into motion so that next year will have even more structure that is 03 friendly.

US41's picture

I love the way such a simple thing as a one on one meeting can expose organization chart problems and personnel problems all in just a few short weeks. Otherwise, you might never have considered these possibilities and opportunities! Awesome! Way to go!

The school I went to had "department heads." They were basically team leads without extra pay who headed up science, foreign languages, math, history, electives, and English. The principle created virtual teams and had the team lead department heads directly supervising teachers in their department and holding staff meetings with them. When a VP spot opened up, the top performing department head was first in line for the job.

Thinking about it, at some point my school must have had a principle come on board who was a good manager who said, "Wait a minute, I can't manage 100 teachers myself! That's ridiculous!" and he worked with HQ to fix the org chart.

WillDuke's picture
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Wow, another success story about O3s. It's not surprising, but it's sure fun to hear about. I love that you took the initiative and found a way to make it work. I love that other people are appreciating them. I can't even express how wonderful it is that you have saved a person's job and happiness with them. That's so easy to blow past, but think about the impact!

What's up with the principal though? Is he concerned you're exceeding your territory? Worried that you're aiming for his job? He sounds like he might be insecure. It might pay to work up a personality profile on him, and yourself, and adjust communications accordingly.

Like M&M always say, credit goes to the one who does it. You are doing it. Very cool! 8)

juliahhavener's picture
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Howie, glad to hear how well they're going for you!

I struggle with rescheduling early, too. Very often when my O3s are interrupted it is due to the call volume we have - I've realigned my O3s into our least busy time of day in an effort to minimize these. It sounds like you have a decent handle on where your opportunities for improvement are and a good idea of what needs to happen to get there.

It may be 'as seen on Manager Tools', but it's always amazing to me to see the value that comes from a simple 30 minute meeting.