Don’t Let Workplace Myths Impede Innovation: 6 Tips

Topics: Early Career Principals

You have a great idea for promoting a culture of optimism and collaboration. You share it with veteran principals, teachers, and administrators. And you hear, “That will never fly.”

It’s a common refrain based on the belief that the legal constraints of union contracts and employment rules are barriers to new efforts.

This may be more myth than reality. Effective school leaders make it a priority to build excellent workplace relationships. By taking these six simple steps, especially early in their careers, they pave the way for innovation by cultivating transparent, honest, and legally appropriate connections with school employee association representatives.

  • Meet early and often: Invite building representatives for a chat. Let them know your goals, and let them share their thoughts. Keep the dialog flowing by scheduling regular meetings. Some potential problems can be nipped in the bud.
  • Be honest, but firm when necessary: You might have to make tough decisions that teacher associations won’t like. That’s okay. Never sacrifice what is right for your school just to avoid rocking the boat.
  • Keep a copy of your collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on your desk: The CBA sets the workplace rules between union and district. Familiarize yourself with the table of contents and keep the document handy. If you do not have a CBA, review any district policies that may apply.
  • Review and understand teacher-evaluation rules: State laws, CBA provisions, and district regulations can be very specific about evaluating teachers with provisions such as number of required evaluations and dates of issuing non-renewals.
  • Schedule time with your HR director: Lots of laws and regulations govern the employment relationship, including federal civil rights laws. You don’t need to know them to the letter, but communicating with your HR director is a good way to familiarize yourself.
  • Ask “Why not?” questions. And keep asking them: Too often, I hear new principals say that “legal” or “union” issues prevent them from implementing exciting new concepts. But you do not necessarily have to be a prisoner to myths of the past. To those who dismiss an idea with “the legal card,” keep asking, “Why not?” If you’ve followed these tips, you may have the recipe to dispel those myths with facts or plausible alternatives. Even when a union or legal rule truly is an obstacle, keep asking “why not?” until you reach that conclusion on your own.

Mark Paige is associate professor of public policy, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and board member, Education Law Association.