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  • Jim Mercer

SamTastic Weekly Tip: 11/6/17 - Train people to use you right.

This week’s tip: Train people to use you right.

You train people to use you every day by how you act, respond and talk.

1. Teacher: “I need more paper from the supply room. Can you use your key to let me in?” You: “Sure. Let’s go.”

2. Custodian: “There’s a mess in the north hallway. Should I clean it up?” You: “Yes. Please do.”

3. Parent: “The cafeteria is giving kids 2% milk. Can we switch to 1%?” You: “Yes. I will take care of it.”

4. You: Look at your phone’s email and messages every time you hear the ding or feel the vibration and respond.


Are these the wrong response? No. We get it. You want to take care of your people and help. But keep in mind that you are teaching your people to use you for management, rather than instructional work. These responses create an “interrupt driven” work life rather than a work day that is intentional.


So what could you do?

  • Teacher: “I need more paper from the supply room. Can you use your key to let me in?” You: “Mrs. Jones in the front office can get that for you faster. She is the First Responder for supplies. When you see her would you also schedule a time for us to talk about the good work I saw in your classroom yesterday?”

(The first part, of course, lets the teacher know who to see for supplies. The second part is called a pivot. You answered the management request and changed the topic to instructional—the way you want the teacher to use your time. Of course, if you weren’t in the teacher’s room recently you would likely need to say: “You know, I haven’t been in your room recently. Would you ask my SAM to schedule me to come in? Pick a time I can help by sitting with a group of student. I can help them while I watch you teach.”)

  • Custodian: “There’s a mess in the north hallway. Should I clean it up? You: “Thanks. No need to ask me. I depend on you to do this work so I am not pulled away from instructional work. I appreciate your great work.”

(You might give your custodian read-only access to your TimeTrack and ask that he/she help you get to GREEN events on time. Wouldn’t it be great if your custodian came up to you and said: “Hello, I noticed you are supposed to be in Mrs. Steven’s room right now. Can I walk you there?”)


  • Parent: “The cafeteria if giving kids 2% milk. Can we switch to 1%?” You: “Great idea. Would you talk to Eloise, our counselor, about this? She is our First Responder for the cafeteria.”

(You might also say: “We received initial test scores for freshmen. Would you be interested in participating in a parent focus group session—would you see my SAM so she can add you to the invitation list?”)

  • You: Look at your phone’s email and messages every time you hear the ding or feel the vibration and respond. Instead: you put your tech away when you are working with people—your full attention is needed. NSIP Director Mark Shellinger says: “Making people feel important is the first rule of leadership. You make people feel unimportant when your attention is elsewhere.” ; set your computer so it gives an automated reply to every email:

“Thanks for your email. I focus my time with teachers and our students during the school day so I can be most effective. I won’t see your email until 4:00 PM, today. If you need help sooner would you please contact my SAM? “

(Many SAM teams use this idea and report that it works great! It allows the leader the freedom to focus on instructional work and lets people get the help they need faster. It also results in a significant decrease in email. Hooray!)

  • Set a time each day on your TimeTrack to triage your email messages—15 minutes to separate the wheat from the chaff—the things you need to work with versus the things you should immediately delete or send to a First Responder. (Some leaders give this task to the SAM or pick a separate First Responder.)

  • Set email rules. For example, you may elect not to respond to emails when it is not absolutely necessary.

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