Handling Prima Dons (and Donnas)
I had a colleague in a school ask me about how to handle a prima don on his staff. He feels he is being held hostage by this individual. The individual is loved by parents, does great things with his students, is creative in the classroom, and get his students (all of their students) to perform at their best. He's also also cranky, arrogant, and think the rules apply to everybody else but him. This summer, the prima don may implicitly (or explicitly) say that if things don’t go his way, he will leave the school.
I suggested two filters to use at the outset-I had my suggestions, which you'll see below but I am quite curious about what readers of this blog suggest instead of or in addition to what I've suggested.
1. Ethics and Policy: If the person is violating any ethical canons or school board policy, you have no choice but to confront and quickly use whatever disciplinary measures you have to in accordance with your local and state policies and procedures. It’s one thing for a teacher to care about the children under her supervision or for a technology teacher to show how streaming video websites work, it is an entirely different matter for her to dispense pain medications or temporarily disable your system’s website filtering system without following your district policies. Whether the person is teacher of the year or a family member of the school board chair, you have to handle this person in the exact same manner as any other employee.
2. Consistent High Performance: All three of these words matter. If the person is not giving you consistent high performance, then you have a much easier decision-cut them no slack and look for removal, dismissal or nonrenewal. If you have a person who is rude to everybody and doesn’t do a good job, you are under no obligation to keep them around. We’d suggest that each time you work with a prima donna, you think through whether the person is still exhibiting consistent high performance.
A. Find the combination: While many prima donnas exhibit the same annoying and destructive behavior, they generally have different sets of needs. Some may need additional “air time” to demonstrate their superior knowledge and intellect. Others may want public recognition for the work they have done. Still others may want to be perceived as a “power player” by being asked to serve on a district level committee. By looking for what you see that they want, you have a tool that you can use to help leverage better behavior from them.
B Build a wall: Prima donnas know they are good and some may simply want to be left alone. If your prima donna simply wants to be left alone, put their expertise to use on a lone ranger project that aligns with your strategic goals and they don’t have to spend time in what they consider wasted time in endless meetings.
Build a fence: If your prima donna loves the limelight, and wants to be perceived as a leader, have them lead a committee, but with conditions. Your conversation may go like this. “I’m glad you’ve agreed to lead this committee. Remember that one of the key aspects of this committee is to get a set of recommendations that that everybody will buy in to. You’ve got a lot of skill and talent and your perspective is valuable. One of the areas that will be important for you to focus upon is building upon the ideas of everybody in the group. What ideas do you have to make sure that everybody is listened to and heard?” When the prima donna pushes back, you have an opening to discuss how their skills in this committee can help increase their credibility with the others on the team not only for her specific skills but also being perceived as someone who listens to others.
3. Ensure accountability: You can certainly include high performance in the interpersonal realm as well. If one of your key values is client service and you have individuals who are rude and inconsiderate to others (internally and externally), you have to have this conversation with the prima donna. Point out that he runs the risk of alienating and distancing himself from others with his actions. Serving as a mirror to his behaviors serves as a start to demonstrate the linkage between his behavior and the actions and behaviors you want from him.
4. Check the “will”: You have to make the determination whether the prima donna is acting the way he is because of his interest in improving your school or if he is simply castigating you because he doesn’t like anybody telling him what to do or actively undercutting what you are trying to achieve. If, in your conversations, you find out that the individual thinks there is a better way to do this, you should certainly listen. On the other hand, if he is doing end runs, generating rumors, and generally trying to undermine you and what you are doing, you have an entirely different (and we hope, quick) resolution to the issue.
What other suggestions do you have in place of or in addition to what I have noted?
What a tool! This moron's first mistake is thinking that principals help teachers teach. They don't. They don't have time, and many, mine included, have no teaching experience in the grade level they are principal for (my principal was a middle school English teacher, now she is principal of an elementary school, and has to be taught what younger children need).
The second mistake Chris the principal makes is thinking that teachers want principal input. We don't (unless the principal is a great teacher, which we wouldn't know)! And that does not mean we don't want our students, school, colleagues, or district to succeed. We just want to be the professionals that we are, and do our job without hindrance, unnecessary committee responsibilities, and fear of reprisal from power-hungry, career-minded principals.
This screed by principal Hitch should be looked at as part of the problem in education; professional teachers being reviewed, retained, or fired by folks whose mission it is to foster conformity to a norm not yet affirmed, in a desire to wrest control of education away from those who provide it--teachers! Reminds me of HMO's power over doctors, which is waning. When will principal overwroughtness wane?