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Shifting the Monkey: Book Review

28 Jun

Being an assistant principal is an exceedingly challenging job.  In fact, I think an argument could be made that it is the toughest in a school.  Teachers work the hardest day in and day out- creating lesson plans, contacting parents,, working on assessments, researching their content, etc.  Principals have the most on their plate- the most responsibility, the highest stakes in their decision making, and the most overall stress.  Many days, being an assistant principal feels like some cruel combination of the two.  The reason is APs are often the “front line” for dealing with difficult people situations.

In a large high school like the one I work in, APs are the direct supervisors and evaluators of teachers (usually large departments- for example, I supervise over 50 teachers in three departments).  They are also the ones that parents go to first for complaints if the teacher was not successful in satisfying their concerns (and many attempt to skip the teacher all together).  Part of how I look at these challenging situations is that the principal is the quarterback, and I am an offensive lineman.  I take on the challenge of protecting my quarterback so that I can keep him from getting sacked. The school needs him to be able to keep his eyes downfield.  Just like an offensive lineman, there is not as much glory in that, and taking on a litany of confrontational situations can become exhausting.  

The bottom line is, in order to be a successful assistant principal, you must have the ability to manage tough situations with people- whether it is job performance or parent complaints.  That’s why Todd Whitaker’s “Shifting the Monkey” really spoke to me.

Let me rephrase that.  It didn’t merely “speak” to me- it allowed me to breath a sigh of relief.

Sometimes I get bogged down by all the confrontation and forget something- that 95% of the people I interact with do their job- and do it very well.  Nearly ALL teachers and parents are positive, well-meaning, and want the best for kids.  The ones who aren’t can ruin my day, week, or month all too easily.  So Whitaker has some very sound advice for dealing with negative people.  (As the tag line calls it, “The art of protecting GOOD PEOPLE from LIARS, CRIERS, and other SLACKERS).  It comes down to identifying the “monkey” (the problem- which the “good people” often put on their own shoulders, relieving the slacker from any responsibility), and putting the “monkey” where it belongs.  To do this, Whitaker argues, managers must treat everyone as if they were good, and base your management decisions on your best people.  This will give incentive to the hard-working people to continue doing the job well, while making the negative people uncomfortable. 

I will say that it is refreshing to hear that to do my job well- I need to focus my time and attention on others who do it too.  It’s a lot easier to go into negative situations when you are treating everyone well, and knowing the monkey does not belong on your back. 

I don’t want to give away too much of the book- it is concise, and a very fast read (perfect for an airplane trip or day at the beach).  Whitaker blends a great sense of humor with some hard and fast management axioms that will become useful to you on a day to day basis.  This book is a must-read for not only school administrators, but anyone in a position of personnel management or customer service.