Friday, March 12, 2010

Building a Better Manager

The New York Times recently ran a piece in the Magazine section entitled "Building a Better Teacher." The majority of the article focuses on the work of Doug Lemov, founder of Uncommon Schools. In his quest to distill the elements of good teachers, beyond people who are well versed in relevant subject matter, Lemov has developed a Taxonomy of Effective Teaching practices. To quote the article:

When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?

Lemov thought about soccer, another passion. If his teammates wanted him to play better, they didn’t just say, “Get better.” They told him to “mark tighter” or “close the space.” Maybe the reason he and others were struggling so mightily to talk and even to think about teaching was that the right words didn’t exist — or at least, they hadn’t been collected. And so he set out to assemble the hidden wisdom of the best teachers in America.

Certainly Lemov isn't the first person to try and classify the behaviors that make better teachers, but it seems like he's making a lot of headway in convincing people to examine these traits.

But what I really took away from this taxonomy was the fact that the behavioral traits that make good teachers or "classroom managers" could be applied to almost any kind of leadership position. I was impressed enough to pre-order Lemov's book, Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, to see what I could learn about effective behavior in management.

At Simmons, I took a lot of courses in organizational behavior, which were really helpful to me. I've always been intellectually intelligent, but it's taken a lot of work to improve my emotional intelligence, or EQ. It was part of the reason I chose the program--I knew that was something I needed to improve.

Of course, I already have incorporated some of Lemov's lessons, such as specific instructions. I used to work with a graphic designer who didn't always incorporate all of the edits I'd given to her for projects. So I began opening pdfs in Adobe Acrobat and using the highlight and note tools to mark up the projects, and writing out, letter by letter, what changes I needed. It's such an effective tool that I use that for almost every editing project I do--it's clear, easily understandable, and best of all, still electronically portable. It's far better to say "Align this headline with the blue bar in this picture" than, "pull this text down a little."