Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

3 Reasons Why Status Prevents You From Collaborating

By Peter DeWitt — November 04, 2015 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Status is an interesting issue when it comes to the roles we have in school. Some people have it and don’t want it, and others don’t have it but wish they did. Merriam-Webster defines status as, “the position or rank of someone or something when compared to others in a society, organization, group, etc.”

In schools we know that superintendents and principals have status because they are in leadership positions. For decades the superintendent was supposed to be a pillar in the community, and the principal was also seen as an important figure in the community.

But what about teachers on assignment like...

content coaches

instructional coaches

technology assistants

Some of you reading this may be turning your nose up to the screen saying, “Coaches are a joke,” “It’s a made up position,” “We don’t even know what they do.” Those are often the negative criticisms that often comes with the coaching role.

The positive comments are usually, “She really helped me see my blind spot,” “He is a wealth of knowledge,” and “We learn together when we go through the coaching cycle.” Yes, those are real comments.

Whether teachers believe it or not, coaches have status. Those positions are seen as having status because there are usually a few people in the positions, and they often have to work and share their expertise with large numbers of teachers. The title they are given has a real or perceived status. It’s just that not everyone talks about it.

Having status isn’t always bad, because hopefully it comes with some sort of credibility. Perhaps the person in the position, whether it’s administrative or instructional, has expertise or has been known to be supportive and vocal about issues that matter. In those cases having status is usually positive. It’s how it’s used that matters.

We even see status in our connected world...

In social networking, we see educators who have thousands or even hundreds of thousands of followers and that can help bring them some sort of status (It also can create egos that care more about followers than their message).

When Status Prevents Collaboration

Sometimes having status can really work against someone who is trying to collaborate with others. As an instructional coaching trainer working with Jim Knight, status is something we focus on when we are exploring Knight’s components of “Helping.”

The reason why status is so vitally important to the conversation of helping adults is due to the wedge that it can create between people. Instructional coaches often find that their status, which they may or may not want, can prevent them from working with others.

It’s important to acknowledge status so we can learn from it and move on with more effective ways of communicating.

There are multiple sides to the issue. As Knight says, “If people perceive us as putting ourselves “one-up” they will resist.” So, we have to understand that status is something that might be preventing us from working in collaboration with others. There are at least 3 reasons (I’m sure you can find more!) why status prevents us from getting as deep into relationships as we could.

Experience vs. Expertise - One of the common issues is that teachers don’t believe the coach or leader should have any status at all. This happens a lot when leaders or coaches have less experience than teachers in the school, so therefore the teacher doesn’t believe that the person deserves to be in the position. It’s important to note that, although experience is important, someone could be less then stellar at their job for 30 years, and someone else can be amazing at their job after five years. It’s expertise (Hattie) that matters most.

  • The way coaches and new leaders work around this is by proving themselves on the job. If they have the job they need to show why they got it. Create deep relationships with everyone possible, offer high quality resources and suggestions, and learn on the job along with the people that you are coaching or leading. Don’t whine about the difficulty others may create for you, do something about it to help show them you deserve to be in the position.

People don’t always like titles, especially if they don’t have one - Sometimes this happens out of spite. A teacher who wasn’t chosen as the coach doesn’t want to work with the coach because they don’t believe the person chosen over them deserves it. This is a bit different from the above example because the people with the grudge may be acting out of jealousy...or they just dislike anyone with a title. What compounds the issue is when that person passed over has friends that they bring into the situation, because it prevents the coach from having the opportunity to work with teachers.

  • Time will hopefully heal all wounds, and good coaches and quality leaders establish credibility over time with their actions, that hopefully some of the people who once didn’t believe the coach or leader deserved the position will end up being on board.

Using the status - The last reason is the fault of the coach or the leader. Sure, I don’t like using the word “fault” but sometimes coaches and leaders wear their status like a badge of honor. They inherently believe doors should be opened for them because they have the title, when the reality is that their behavior prevents people from wanting to work with them.

  • This one is a little harder to provide helpful hints because the person using their status may think they deserve to use it in whatever way they want. The reality is that if the title is the only thing getting someone in the door, d they’re “all show and no go” when they’re in there, people will start to poke holes in your expertise.

In the End

The best thing to do about status is act like we don’t have it. In Knight’s philosophy of coaching, people in coaching and leadership positions never put themselves “one-up” from others. Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf comes to mind. Our jobs as teachers, leaders and coaches is to serve others, not feel as though everyone else should serve us.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Creative Commons Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.