7 Ways to Sound Out-of-Touch at Your School District

out of touch
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The pandemic has just taken us on a wild ride into the future. As a result, the gap is growing between those desperate to keep things the way they were and what today’s workforce is demanding. In the meantime, due to their inability to keep up with the times, school systems, like other government agencies, are facing an exodus of staff at a rate faster than ever, according to The New York Times

And even though classrooms are open and students and teachers are (mostly) in person, administrators at central levels do different work. Much of which can be done more effectively using practices embraced during the pandemic. 

Unfortunately, there are some old-guard leaders who are still in power. For them, being out of touch is detrimental to careers and has resulted in public institutions losing some of the most valuable members of their workforce to more progressive private sector industries.

If you don’t want to be or sound out-of-touch, here’s what not to say.

“In Real Life” or “IRL” / “Face-to-Face” or “F2F” 

You think you’re cool using “IRL,” but often you are using this term incorrectly. Don't use it when you are referring to something that is not online because anything you do in person or digitally is real life. 

Instead, think of it this way: The opposite of “real life” is a “fictional” or “delusional life.” This could apply to some types of games and media, but it is not the opposite of interacting with others on digital platforms. 

“Face-to-face” or “f2f” can also be used incorrectly as this term refers to when you are with others whose faces you can see whether via video or because you are in the same place. 

The best term to use when you are speaking about being with others in a physical space is “in-person.”

“In-Person Is Best” 

Working remotely allowed districts across the world to do better in terms of reaching our families, teachers, principals, and other staff. That’s because we eliminated the barrier of people having to attend events in person when it was simply too difficult to allocate the amount of time that would take. 

It’s a lot easier for example, for a principal to give a teacher one period to take a class then it is to cover for them for a whole or half day. It’s a lot easier for a family to take a 30 - 60 minute break at work, then it is for them to have to get permission to leave early or come in late.  Now, there’s no more of those completely (or nearly) empty professional learning sessions because teachers could not get across town to be in an "in person" class. 

In addition to avoiding a time-sucking commute, gathering remotely can be beneficial for those with disabilities, introverts, and those for whom the meeting is not in their dominant language. 

Tools built into video platforms can make online meetings more interactive, multimodal, and democratic than in-person ones. If you're not sure how this is possible, it's time to stop looking so old-schooly and do the research. You can start with Dan Sullivan’s Zooming Ahead. 

“You Must Work in the Office” 

Many traditional supervisors prefer to have their underlings in front of them all day so they can retain a sense of control and power. However, there are many competent and capable employees who do not do their best work this way and even feel disrespected when asked to do so. 

The pandemic improved the way we work in many ways. For example, now that professional learning can easily be delivered remotely, we can reach staff easily from across the district more effectively than ever before. However, conducting training for hundreds or thousands of people from a cube just does not work. There is no acoustic privacy, there are interruptions from colleagues dropping by to say hello, and there is too much background noise. The set up at an office desk is often less than ideal in comparison to the home studios many staff created during the pandemic. 

Work with your team to empower them to work in the environment that is best for them and helps them do their job most effectively. 

“Work From Home” or “WFH” 

This old-timey mindset puts work in a place and that place is home. 

The reality is that people can work from anywhere. Instead of “work from home” just say “work remotely” because who cares whether you are working from home, a hotel, or elsewhere. 

“You'll Get Information on A Need-to-Know Basis” 

Transparency is key these days. When you withhold information from staff, it erodes trust. Instead, ask for the input of others. They may have different and even better insights. 

The more you elicit input from other stakeholders and keep them informed, the better they'll perform. Decisions made about them, without them, erodes morale and work ethic.

“Don’t Send Communication Outside of Work Hours” 

While it shouldn’t be expected that folks will work after hours, it’s up to those receiving communication to control their technology and notifications. Often staff can be doing deep work during traditional non-work hours. That should not be discouraged if that is how they work most effectively. 

Additionally, it is more common now that people work across time zones. Telling an employee to only communicate during the hours you work makes you look self-centered and oblivious.

“Please Put Away Your Phone (or Other Technology)” 

Many people use technology for a variety or work-related tasks such as taking notes, recording, looking up terms, reaching out to their network for guidance, using assistive technology, and more. 

Let employees be responsible for how they work best. Don't be overbearing, over-controlling, or such a micromanager that you dictate how you think they might work best. Instead empower others to do their best and select the correct tools to do so. If someone isn't doing their job, address the behavior, not the tool.

If we want cities, states, and countries to operate effectively, then public agencies such as school districts must use updated language and engage in modern personnel practices. Failure to do so can result in difficulties providing basic municipal services. Additionally, there is a colossal amount of taxpayer dollars being wasted on often unwanted and unnecessary office space. These funds could be better spent providing staffing, professional development, and the much needed services needed.  

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Tech & Learning.  

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.