PD with Dr. Rob Evans

Dr. Evans and I in Hiroshima, April 17, 2019

Dr. Robert Evans is a therapist and psychologist that besides his private practice seeing patients in the Boston area, also serves as a consultant for schools. He is a former high school teacher and has worked with over 1700 schools in the USA and around the world. His expertise is organizational dynamics, relationships, both professional and personal and managing change in schools. He recently has been concerned about the huge change in the non-school lives of children. He also helps educators talk candidly about the work they do and when in disagreement, “stop talking about each other, and start talking to each other.”

Dr. Evans’s ideas have had a big impact on my leadership. His books shaped my early leadership of school and along with his professional partner, Dr. Michael Thompson, who specializes in the education of boys, also influenced me as a father. There are few education consultants that resonate with me like Dr. Evans. It was such a meaningful day to reconnect with his ideas and meet him personally!

The Japan Council of International Schools (JCIS) invited Dr. Evans to spend the day with the heads of school last month during our annual spring meeting. I uploaded my notes to Scribd and I will post them at a later date. My major takeaways immediately follow:

  • I am in strategic planning phases in two schools. Dr. Evans remarked after hearing how each of us got into education and international schools, that how much of our time as leaders is spent on things that cannot be planned. He called good school leaders, “gifted improvisers”
  • Overwhelmingly, school heads face dilemmas, not problems. Dilemmas are things that cannot be fixed, and there are no fixed solutions. Being a parent is one big dilemma.
  • Despite the plethora of schools looking to business management books for ideas on how to lead schools, Dr. Evans doesn’t feel they have much to teach school leaders. He also feels good school leaders do a lot of managing, not just leading and this is necessary for a well-run school.
  • Humans grow up with unresolved issues with their parents and routinely transfer these unresolved issues onto leaders, including heads of school. In times of crisis, heads of school become important symbols just by being there. He refers to school heads as “the priest in the secular parish”.
  • “Japan makes Switzerland look like Italy. “
  • “As you get older, you get more like yourself.”
  • The biggest part of conferences is not what you learn, but sharing and connecting with others in a similar position.
  • Dr. Evans has a strong definition of educators and sees educators like people who choose a vocation. We take the vows of poverty, duty, obedience, etc. and generally, educators avoid open conflict with other adults. People who choose to stay in the classroom are different from other adults, especially business people. The school head needs to have both mindsets.
  • Many teachers are not the ideal collaborators, they are individual artisans, sheltered from adult inspection more than most professions.
  • Teachers talk too much about curriculum and not enough about pedagogy. “No content can survive how it is taught.”
  • Shared commitment to appropriate candor in the service of growth and helping our students”
  • When faced with teacher or leader that is not cutting it, what do you do. Go through this protocol. 1) What would you like to say to this person? Imagine saying it straight. 2) Frame it like a parent with an intro statement, “I’m worried about… “I’m concerned about… “I’m puzzled that…”. 3) Say it and let it sit so they have to reply to it.” 4) then give options, move to another position, etc. 5) Educators feel obligated to answer the question, use “oh” – don’t try to persuade, Are you happy? Things are not going well, if you are wondering about replacing someone, do it and don’t wait.
  • Don’t try to sell someone to change, use pressure and support.
  • Interpersonal skill is more important than technical skill.
  • School faculties are not “families” because people are paid, but often, heads are in a parental role.
  • For teachers battling addiction, nothing better than a firm limit.
  • The strongest organizations are not hammering on weaknesses, but building on strengths.
  • Organizational culture eats strategy. You are the school’s enshriner of culture and remember what really matters to you will matter to others – culture cannot be separated from the head of school.
  • Schools actually play a minority influence on children, because for an 18 year old at graduation, 10% of her life from birth to this moment is away from school. Not an unimportant influence and schools do save some people and made their lives much better.
  • Applicant pools for school leaders are dropping and a good head has guaranteed lifetime employment.

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