Morale--All Time Low--Again?
For the first three years of my headship at Chesapeake Academy, every mid-January a senior administrator would trudge into my office, head down, sheepish look on her face and sadly announce that morale among the faculty was at an all-time low. The first time I heard this I was very concerned and spent time with my leadership team strategizing on how to raise morale. The second year we spent a little less time noodling over the morale problem.
By the third year, I spent no time on the problem as I had an epiphany: Everyone’s morale is low in January. The winter holidays have come and gone, days are short, the next break is months away and it is cold outside. Anyone in their right mind would feel down. No wonder morale was low.
That was when I began to make a distinction between conditions and problems. (If I recall correctly, Rob Evans, one of my favorite speakers and a clear thinker, [who I will compliment here as I doubt he will ever see this blog entry] introduced me to this idea). Certain things happen because that is the way life is. In schools, everyone is hopeful in September, down in January, and has revived energy in spring. A survey of parents will always be more positive in May than in February.
Another condition endemic to private schools is that parents will complain about the high cost of tuition at re-enrollment time. It probably does not help much to explain (yet again) why tuition is such a good value even as it increases. But that is for another blog.
Leaders must be cognizant of the distinction between conditions and problems. It is worthwhile to apply energy and resources to solve problems. Applying energy and resources to conditions is a waste of time and money.
Here are some attributes of conditions:
They repeat in a regular rhythm
They are multi-faceted
They are created by elements outside of your control
They ebb and flow
The low morale of my faculty fit into each of these attributes nicely. It occurred every January, its cause was multifaceted and little to do with what was happening in school, the school could not control the amount of sunshine in the day or the temperature, and in time morale bounced back.
If you think you can improve a situation by your actions, it is a problem and if it is worthy of your time, by all means attack it. If on the other hand, the issue at hand is systemic beyond what you can control or influence, it is a condition and probably not worth spending too much time trying to change it. Learn to tell the difference.