The Price of Progress

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Culture eats strategy for breakfast – Drucker

Education is changing rapidly. Every year, as the world we are preparing students for changes, so too must education. I admit, as an educator, the change can be daunting at times, but not only is it the appropriate thing to do it can also be exhilarating. In a great number of schools and districts throughout the nation, however, the change process is something that is feared and in essence conspired against by cultures that reinforce a B,C,D culture. B,C,D cultures focus on (B) blaming others, (C) complaining, and (D) defending personal actions or the status quo. This concept and codification of the behaviors was recently popularized by Urban Meyer’s book Above the Line.

As we start to think about B,C,D behaviors let’s not simply point the finger, but also point the thumb. This behavioral pattern is not reserved for any subset of people – we all do this. If you deeply think about this you will find the behavior pervasive in all areas of your life. Great leaders are able to identify this behavioral pattern and eliminate their compulsion to act in this manner. Moreover, they influence the behavior of others and create a culture which refuses to let this toxic mentality deter progress in their organizations.

If you subscribe to the theory (and I do) that every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results they produce, then your current reality will ultimately be your destiny unless change exists. B,C,D cultures – particularly where B,C,D behaviors are honored and influence decision-making – make significant change almost impossible to undertake. The lesson is this – if you want to make significant improvements or change to your organization –the elimination of B,C,D behavior is an absolute priority.

Blame –

Blame is often levied when someone does not feel as though they wish they felt. This may be because they are anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed. Most commonly, this is found when people feel a level of inadequacy or ineffectiveness. When someone is willing to blame someone else for an emotion they are presenting an external locus of control. They are, in essence, giving their boss, co-worker, community members, et cetera permission to make them happy or unhappy.

Ironically, this is behavior that we do not tolerate from students, but often exhibit as educators. Think about our reaction if a student said they were overwhelmed because a teacher gave them too much to do. We would immediately focus on what the student could control and try to find ways to support them and help them grow. We would not tolerate them giving into this outside stress. We would use terms like growth mindset and grit and continue to move forward. Giving in and making no progress would not be an option. As educators, however, we often let our peers exhibit the same behavior without remediation – and worse, we allow those behaviors to impact how we behave.

Complain –

Complaining takes so much energy and has solved none of the myriad of problems we face in schools. Complaining always reminds of Todd Whitaker’s statement that we will be waiting an awful long time to educate kids if we are waiting for the divorce rate to be zero. In typical B,C,D behavior the complaining usually encroaches on the elaborated discussion of why what is being done to someone is unjust or unfair. As you may expect, this often results in feedback about individuals in particular, even in some cases extending to students. Stop me if you have heard about the ‘different’ kids today who lack (insert any positive characteristic you choose) compared to previous generations.

In my experience, the statements of complaint usually fall into one of two domains: “Who moved my cheese” or “They should walk a mile in my shoes.” Who moved my cheese statements usually show discontent with a lack of control over a situation, particularly when complete control was once perceived. It is important in this case to remember that hindsight often paints a rosier picture than what actually occurred. On the other hand, the walk a mile in my shoes commentary is usually reserved for demonstrating decision-makers must have a lack of perspective. This is often very common and an easy complaint whenever a decision-maker’s job description does not match someone who is impacted ‘in the trenches.’

Defend –

Almost always, when someone is exhibiting behavior that blames others and complains about the current reality, a defense is inherently made for the person’s original behavior. Typically, when someone is not happy with the direction something is headed it becomes easier to dig in and show why what you are doing was correct in the first place. While this seems natural, it is the most dangerous (my opinion) of the three types of behaviors. By stating the ‘defense’, the person making the statement becomes positional and demonstrates a true resistance to change.

Suggestions for Moving Past B,C,D behaviors

Agree to the following set of guiding principles for adult interaction:

  • In every conversation, seek solutions, do not admire problems.
  • Embrace that the status quo is not, nor ever will be, good enough for our kids – but that does not mean that all current practice is to be condemned.
  • As humans we have choice in our effort, mood, and belief in an internal locus of control. Choose wisely.
  • Best practice is not an initiative nor should it be confused with one. Having high expectations for performance is always desired, great leaders understand they must provide support along the way.
  • People do have a capacity for change – and it can be exceeded. Change is a process, not an event, and leaders must be mindful of that

Examples of B,C,D behavior

“Common Core is ruining education. No teacher can teach Math like this – there is no way a practitioner would have come up with standards like this. I have no idea why they think teaching Math like this is a  good idea. My students had fine scores every year before this change.”

“I cannot even teach anymore because all I do is analyze data. I have no idea why District Office makes us do all this extra work – it is so meaningless. I know my kids have been successful in the past – I don’t need data to tell me that.”

“We have another initiative for District Office. I have no idea why incorporating technology is so important. There is no way they understand elementary education if they think this will make a difference for us. My kids for the past 15 years have done just fine without having a tablet in front of them. This is going to be a disaster.”

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