In light of the myriad scandals flowing out of Montgomery County Schools regarding superintendent Joshua Powell and his inner circle, we’re always blown away when he speaks or is mentioned publicly. Because of all of his messes in Union County and the nightmare currently unfolding in Montgomery County.
So we were definitely entertained by what we discovered on the National School Boards Association’s website:
Want to turn around your schools? First find, fix educator incivility
Leaders who want to improve struggling schools are missing the boat if they start focusing on issues such as instruction, technology and textbooks, according to a Kentucky superintendent who is researching the impact of “workplace incivility” on public education.
In his third stint leading a district, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua E. Powell told a Sunday afternoon clinic that if he gets a shot at a fourth superintendency, “I think I’d try to turnaround culture before I’d try to work on instruction and other issues.”
Powell and his wife, Anna, are involved in ongoing research on the impact of how school staff work together – or don’t – and the effect those realities have on teaching and learning.
“We need to look at relationships between workplace behavior and other variables, like student attendance. We changed the leadership in one school at midyear and student attendance rose because the new leader is a culture person,” Powell said.
“Incivility has the most negatively profound impact on public schools,” he said. “We say, ‘Oh, gosh, we’ve got to make everybody feel good, and that will fix culture.’ That’s not culture. Culture is about high expectations. It’s about how everybody interacts and is directed to a common goal of mutual respect.”
In Montgomery County, Powell said district employees are expected to operate under two “nonnegotiables” – not being mean to children and not being mean to each other.
“I’ve been talking to teachers about what things bother them about their coworkers. In one school, 30 percent of our incivility is over things like not sharing educational resources,” he said.
Powell said Scandinavian countries have researched issues of coworker bullying and incivility for two decades. That isn’t the case in America. “We don’t want to explore this in public education because too many superintendents and school boards won’t have the courage to do something about it,” he said.
Another aspect to fixing incivility in schools, according to Powell, is just to get teachers aware of and report problems.
“Really awesome teachers don’t know what’s going on. They think everyone is civil, loves kids and have high expectations. We take 30-40 people in our district to do walkthroughs, and the thing that most disturbs our teachers are behaviors going on in classrooms that they weren’t aware of,” Powell said.
“Educators can be very mean to each other, but they very rarely report those behaviors to administrators. The logical question is, ‘If leadership is aware of these employee issues, why don’t they do anything about it? Why don’t we clean those things up?’”
But Powell fervently believes that “the most significant variable in changing a district is to change the culture of civility in the district. The cost of failing to do so is measured in turnover, absenteeism … and in learning.”