Author Archives: Mike Muir

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.

Working With A Diverse Staff: The Complete Series

This series is for school leaders working on implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change.

Your success depends not just on your technical knowledge about the initiative, but also how well you understand the three kinds of staff in your school (Yahoos, Yes Buts, and NFWs) and how their support needs differ.

The Yahoos are those folks who are always excited about new and interesting practices, programs and resources and were anxious to try them out in their own classroom.

The Yes Buts seem hesitant and skeptical of the initiatives with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?”

The NFWs are the folks who look a little like Yes Buts with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?” but who are really saying to themselves and their fellow NFWs, “No freaking way am I doing this!”

Another Adventure; Same Mission

I have a new job. Well, I have a new employer.

I recently joined GEAR UP Maine. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is that federal grant program  that increases the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

The traditional approach to GEAR UP programs provide academic supports so students are both academically ready for college and can graduate on time. It provides opportunities to parents and students, such as tutoring, campus visits, and financial aid workshops, to help them view college and post-secondary education as a real possibility.

Maine is going further by leveraging several Multiple Pathway pilot programs of school-design, shared leadership training, and supports for proficiency-based education.

My position is Proficiency-based Education Specialist. I’m working to support our over-tasked, under-resourced schools with frameworks, tools, and supports right-sized for their context. In addition, we’ve identified a couple promising practices we’re helping some of our schools implementing: experiential math, and student micro-credentials to certify learning outside the classroom.

I have joked for a while now that for the last 20 years I’ve really only had one job: helping schools figure out how to reach disengaged learners, students in poverty, and youth from rural, isolated areas. I just keep changing who pays me!

Well, this change to GEAR UP Maine certainly fits the bill!

How to Best Support NFWs

This post is part of a series for school leaders working on implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change. The NFWs are the folks who look a little like Yes Buts with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?” but who are really saying to themselves and their fellow NFWs, “No freaking way am I doing this!”

This post focuses on how to best support NFWs.

The best way to support NFWs is to begin by acknowledging who they are and how they are likely to respond to the initiative. Ironically, acknowledging that you will likely have little control over the NFWs in relation to the initiative is very freeing. Frustration is when reality doesn’t match expectations. But when you know what to expect from NFWs, you can let go of the frustration, making it much easier to be patient with them. Simply let them be who they are, and take pride in the effort and energy you are putting into the Yes Buts.

Respond to NFWs inquiries (patiently) with the same legitimate answers that you’d give Yes Buts, and don’t react when they throw  up the next question. Offer them all the same resources and professional learning opportunities (that are within reason and are practical) that you would the Yes Buts.  But don’t get too hung up on responding to their every request and concern. Be polite, be patient, but don’t engage or get drawn into a debate.

Don’t put any more than 10% of your energy and effort into NFWs. They are not the ones who will help you move the needle. Sometimes NFWs will eventually come along, but generally only after they realize “the train has left the station.” That only happens when enough of the Yes Buts have changed their practice to have really moved the needle for the school.

What We Misunderstand about NFWs

This post is part of a series for school leaders working on implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change. The NFWs are the folks who look a little like Yes Buts with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?” but who are really saying to themselves and their fellow NFWs, “No freaking way am I doing this!”

This post focuses on how we misunderstand NFWs.

 

Sometimes, when we are new to school change work, or when we are new to working with a particular staff, we will misidentify an NFW as being a Yes But. That is because they raise the same kind of objections. But we must remember that NFWs have a different objective. The Yes Buts honestly want to know about the objection and can be appeased when they receive a response they view as legitimate.

On the other hand, with the NFWs, if you address their concern, they will quickly respond, “Well, maybe. But what about this?” and throw up another objection. Their motivation in asking is not the same as Yes Buts. The NFWs’ objective is to avoid doing something they don’t want to do. Generally, they are not really concerned about the question they asked, they just think maybe it will be the “legitimate” thing that will get you to say, “Well, I guess we shouldn’t do it then…”

Don’t worry. You will quickly start to tell the Yes But questioners from the NFW questioners.

The much larger problem than misidentifying NFWs is that we think we can or should change their minds about the work.

I have worked with wonderful, caring Learning Coaches and Technology Integrators who so believed in the work what they ended up putting most of their time and energy into trying to get the NFWs to do a better job with the initiative. The problem of course, is that they forgot that, by definition, these educators were going to do everything in their power NOT to implement the initiative in anything other than some superficial “check list” approach. The travesty, of course, is that all that high quality time and energy from the Coaches and Integrators went into a black hole, instead of working with the Yes Buts, where it would have made a difference.

 

Next in the series: How to best support NFWs.

How to Best Support Yes Buts

This post is part of a series for school leaders working on implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change. Your success depends not just on your technical knowledge about the initiative, but also how well you understand the three kinds of staff in your school (Yahoos, Yes Buts, and NFWs) and how their support needs differ.

The Yes Buts seem hesitant and skeptical of the initiatives with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?”

This post focuses on how to best support the Yes Buts.

As described in the previous post, Yes Buts will work with you when they feel supported.

And that support is critical. We cannot assume that they know how to do the work of the initiative nor that they are willing to put a lot of their own time and energy into inventing new strategies. They need good examples.  They need good “how-to” instruction. And they need support trying it out in their classroom and getting to a practical and reasonable level of implementation.

Where Yahoos have little legitimacy with Yes Buts, other Yes Buts have a lot of legitimacy with their peers.  As much as possible, we must share Yes But strategies and Yes But examples of success. You can share Yahoo examples, but you better just share them as good examples/strategies, but mask the fact that it came from a Yahoo, or the idea will loose legitimacy.

When Yes Buts have their anxieties authentically addressed, and they feel supported, they sometimes get to the level of implementation in an initiative where they see positive results of the effort (e.g., better student results, better student attitude, the new way is easier than the old way, the new way gets better outcomes than the old way), and they become a Convert!

A Convert is a powerful tool for moving your school initiative forward. They have the enthusiasm that a Yahoo brings, but with all the legitimacy of being a Yes But. Treat your Converts well and use them liberally to help move the other Yes Buts deeper into the initiative.

You should be putting about 70-80% of your energy into supporting the Yes Buts.  This is the group where you will get real results and have a chance of actually seeing the needle move. But, conversely, not putting enough support, or the right kind of support, into your Yes Buts will stall your initiative.

 

Next in the series: How we misunderstand NFWs.

What We Misunderstand about Yes Buts

This post is part of a series for school leaders working on implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change. Your success depends not just on your technical knowledge about the initiative, but also how well you understand the three kinds of staff in your school (Yahoos, Yes Buts, and NFWs) and how their support needs differ.

The Yes Buts seem hesitant and skeptical of the initiatives with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?”

This post focuses on how we misunderstand Yes Buts.

The biggest thing we misunderstand about the Yes Buts on our staff is that we think they are trying to block the initiative with their “Yes, but…” questions. In truth, the Yes Buts’ objective is to get their concerns addressed.

Pay attention to what they are asking. They may be hesitant or skeptical, but their questions represent their real concerns and worries about aspects of the initiative.

When you offer a response they view as authentic and credible, Yes Buts will view it as a satisfactory response. And if you satisfactorily address their concerns, they will often say, “Oh. Ok,” and work with you.

There will often be additional yes-but questions, but you need to assume Yes Buts are legitimately anxious or troubled by the issue and will similarly move forward when they receive a credible response.

In fact, Yes Buts are used to either having their questions and concerns blown off or getting lame answers. Your providing responses that they view as legitimate, authentic, practical, and doable will gain you enormous credibility with them and their willingness to try. Having those kinds of answers to Yes But questions is a critical component to moving your initiative forward, and not paying enough attention to them or not taking the questions seriously can be a major reason an initiative doesn’t move forward.

Further, most of their questions are practical in nature, focused on how to make the initiative not just be a good idea, but something that actually works.  Be prepared to go find answers to Yes But questions from others who are having success implementing the same kind of initiative.

The other thing we misunderstand about Yes Buts is their attitude. Just because we respond to their concerns does not mean that they will become enthusiastic or even happy about the work. We cannot assume that their lack of enthusiasm means that they will be difficult to work with  or block the work. Remember – they are skeptical. They are probably worried about failing or the initiative not working as promised. And they are probably tired of the Educational Flavor of the Month, requiring them to put time and energy into learning new things only to have the Flavor replaced by another. No wonder they don’t seem happy about it!

Remember, the Yes Buts are the heart and soul of the school.  They may not be the innovators nor demonstrate the enthusiasm and open curiosity of the Yahoos, but the Yes Buts are largely solid, capable, competent educators who establish the culture of the school. The Yes Buts will make or break your initiative, and should be treated accordingly.

If we have addressed their concerns, and if they feel supported, Yes Buts will work with us. They will put in the time and effort, even if they aren’t convinced yet that it will work. And we should be happy with their willingness and not get hung up on how convinced, happy, or enthusiastic they are or are not.

 

Next in the series: How to best support Yes Buts.

How to Best Support Yahoos

This post is part of a series for school leaders working on implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change. Your success depends not just on your technical knowledge about the initiative, but also how well you understand the three kinds of staff in your school (Yahoos, Yes Buts, and NFWs) and how their support needs differ.

The Yahoos are those folks who are always excited about new and interesting practices, programs and resources and are anxious to try them out in their own classroom.

This post focuses on how to best support Yahoos.

Yahoos are easy to support.  They are largely self-sufficient, having lots of good ideas of their own and facility with identifying and tracking down resources.

When they do come to school leaders, it is generally for permission, for resources they can’t find on their own, or to authorize funding for resources.

The best way to support Yahoos is to find ways to say yes to their requests, or to help problem solve their needs.  Once they have those, they are quick to return to working on their own.

You should be spending about 10-20% of your time supporting your Yahoos.

 

Next in the series: How we misunderstand Yes Buts