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Stop Fake Work in Education
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Stop Fake Work in Education
Creating Real Work Cultures That Drive Student Success

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July 2020 | 296 pages | Corwin

Don’t do more work—do the right work.

Educators at all levels have increasing demands keeping them working harder than ever, but they are often working hard on things that don’t really help them reach the loftiest of goals—student success. This “Fake Work” can mire the most dedicated educator in exhaustion, burnout, and a lack of confidence that improvement is possible. 

Nielson and Burks show leaders and their teams how to stop doing Fake Work, by providing tools for gaining focus, building high-performance teams, and identifying and driving the right work with the right behaviorsWhen you offer your team a better way of working, planning, and collaborating, you turn Fake Work into Real Work—and stagnancy into dynamic change. This data-driven, research-based guide shows you

An overall approach to addressing your culture—the foundational elements that supports the change that sets you up for maximum performance.
A simple, three-part model—strategy, alignment, execution—for shedding Fake Work
Road maps for aligning organizational strategies and actions
Tools for gaining focus, building teams, and cultivating productive behaviors
Real educators’ stories
Exercises, reflection questions, charts, checklists, and more

School change remains elusive when the path to success is murky. Clear the way for principals, teachers and students by turning Fake Work into Real Work—and uncertainty into true success.


 
Companion Website Contents
 
Foreword by Debbie Silver
 
Acknowledgments
 
About the Authors
 
Introduction
It’s All About Student Success

 
This Book Is About Real Work

 
We Use Real Educators’ Stories

 
Our Research and Experience Taught Us to Focus on Work

 
Focus on Work

 
This Book Is Practical, Reflective, and Tool-Based

 
Take Advantage of the Benefits of the Book

 
The Book Comes From Our Converging Journeys From Diverse Roots to Common Paths

 
 
Section I. The Foundational Principles of Fake Work and Real Work—and Knowing the Difference
 
Chapter 1. Fake Work: A Road to Nowhere
Real Work and Fake Work Defined

 
Fake Work Negatively Influences School Boards, Administrators, Teachers, and Students

 
“Standing on the X”: Focusing on the Point, the Pinnacle, and the Launching Pad for Success

 
Fake Work Is Illusive and Easily Misdiagnosed Because It Is Work—Often Hard Work

 
The Nature of Work Has Changed and Educators Are Overwhelmed With the New Reality

 
 
Section II. Understanding the Causes of Fake Work: How It Damages the Work Environment
 
Chapter 2. Exploring the Origins of Fake Work in Education
Fake Work Is Plentiful and Complicated

 
The Root Causes of Fake Work

 
 
Chapter 3. The Culture of Fake Work and Four Causes That Enable Dysfunctionality
Cause 1—A Complacent Culture: Organizations Allow Old Habits to Inhibit Excellence

 
Culture Drives Performance and Is Threatened by an Accumulation of Flaws

 
Cause 2—Ineffective Teams: Teams Have Few Common Goals and Minimal Collaboration

 
Providing Perspective on Professional Learning Communities

 
Cause 3—Inadequate Communication: Poor Communication Results in Missed Opportunities, Mixed Messages, and Poor Problem-Solving

 
Communication Breakdowns

 
Cause 4—Unprincipled and Negative Behaviors: Cultural Values Fade When the Wrong Behaviors Are Unchecked and the Right Ones Are Unsupported

 
 
Chapter 4. Fake Work Results From Poor Strategies, Weak Priorities, and the Failure to Align
Cause 5—No Strategic Clarity: Without a Clear and Common Roadmap, Organizations Flounder

 
Cause 6—Unclear Work Priorities: Too Often, Critical Tasks Are Not Linked to Strategies

 
Cause 7—No Strategic Alignment: Without Alignment, Teams Default to Silos and Lack Collaboration and Cohesion

 
 
Chapter 5. Two Causes That Undermine Executing and Sustaining Strategic Implementation
Cause 8—Failure to Execute: Organizational Intent Falters Without Real Work Plans and Being Accountable for Them

 
Cause 9—Diminishing Long-Term Commitments: Individual and Team Effectiveness Dwindles When Teams Fail to Manage, Maintain, and Sustain Implementation

 
Summary of the Causes of Fake Work and Transitioning to Real Work

 
 
Section III. The Paths to Real Work: A Step-by-Step Process for Strategy, Alignment, and Execution
 
Prologue: Five Fundamentals for Doing Real Work
Build a High-Performance Culture

 
Vision and Mission Provide a Mythic Quality to a Very Real World

 
Culture Thrives in a Moral Fabric With Values Interconnected by Trust

 
Teams Are the Operational Reality of a Performing Culture

 
Prioritize Strategic Plans That Focus on Ambitious Targets

 
Adhere to the Process for Real Work: The Work Itself

 
Embrace the “Everyone a Leader” Type of Leadership

 
Ensure That Your Work Is Renewable and Sustainable

 
 
Path 1: Create a High-Performance Educational Culture
The Essence of Culture

 
Step 1: Assess Your Organization to Find Out Who You Are Now

 
Step 2: Create an Inventory of Behaviors You Want to Cultivate

 
Step 3: Transform Teams Into Cooperative and Collaborative Powerhouses

 
Step 4: Prioritize Communication and Communication Planning

 
Summary and the Path to Action

 
 
Path 2: Think Strategically
Step 1: Invest in Strategic Thinking to Gaze Into the Future

 
Step 2: Find the Right Questions and Turn Them Into Insightful Answers

 
Step 3: Do a SWOT Analysis to Gauge Your Fitness and to Penetrate Factors That Affect Planning

 
Step 4: Conduct a Stakeholder Analysis to Plan for Partnerships and Potential Distractions

 
Summary and the Path to Action

 
 
Path 3: Plan Strategically
Step 1: Understand the Elements of a Strategic Plan

 
Step 2: Engage Strategic Leaders at Every Level

 
Step 3: Collect Data Strategically

 
Step 4: Write an Executive Summary

 
Step 5: Formulate a Vision and Mission That Epitomize Your Highest Aspirations for the Future

 
Step 6: Identify Your “Navigational Stars”—the Values Vital to Your New Culture

 
Step 7: Create Objectives That Focus on Your Biggest Challenges

 
Step 8: Create a Dashboard for Your Objectives and Watch Them Closely

 
Step 9: Create a Portrait of a Graduate

 
Step 10: Develop Strategies to Achieve the Objectives

 
Step 11: Partner With the Board to Work on the District’s Vision

 
Summary and the Path to Action

 
 
Path 4: Focus on Your Real Work Priorities
Step 1: Develop a Task List That Reflects What You Do at Work

 
Step 2: Consult With Your Team

 
Step 3: Relate Your Work to the Strategic Plan

 
Step 4: Prioritize Real Work Tasks

 
Step 5: Narrow and Refine Your Real Work Tasks

 
Step 6: Shift Your Work Paradigm

 
Summary and the Path to Action

 
 
Path 5: Align Cultures, Leaders, Teams, and Schools
Step 1: Ensure That Alignment Is a Team Process

 
Step 2: Establish Alignment as the Essential Connection—the Glue—Between Strategy and Execution

 
Step 3: Create Alignment at Every Level—Systemwide

 
Step 4: Build the Critical Steps to Establish Alignment

 
Summary and The Path to Action

 
 
Path 6: Execute the Real Work
Step 1: Develop Real Work Plans for Each Priority

 
Step 2: Plan for Strategic Execution of Your Real Work Plan

 
Step 3: Plan to Cascade Real Work Plans and Priorities Throughout the Entire Organization

 
Summary and the Path to Action

 
 
Path 7: Sustain the Real Work
Step 1: Cascade the Real Work Process Throughout the Organization

 
Step 2: Monitor Performance to Promote Accountability and Teamwork

 
Step 3: Perform Quarterly Reviews to Demonstrate Ongoing Commitments

 
Step 4: Establish Real Work Meeting Guidelines

 
Step 5: Celebrate Success and Stimulate Renewed Commitment

 
Step 6: Empower People and Build Leaders

 
Summary and the Path to Action

 
 
Epilogue: And Then There Was Transformation
 
References
 
Index

Supplements

My career has been shaped positively by listening to trusted educators share lessons they’ve learned. Gaylan Nielson and Betty Burks uniquely fit the bill of trusted as they share strategies that both help you avoid the many distractions educators face and focus your attention on what is really matters for learning to happen.

Raymond J. McNulty
President, Successful Practices Network, National Dropout Prevention Center
New York

Stop Fake Work in Education provides school leaders with the mind-set and associated tool-set to keep the main thing the main thing. In the end it is all about student success and removing barriers and distractions from the schoolhouse so that school leaders and teachers can be laser-focused on student outcomes allows this to happen. School leaders that are looking for a “how-to-guide” to make this a reality should have this book on their bookshelf.

Jeff Goldhorn, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Education Service Center, Region 20
San Antonio, TX

Work smarter, not harder, is the theme of this important book for leaders at all levels of education. Nielson and Burks keep the focus on the main thing, student success, while writing passionately about the features of Real Work and compassionately about the traps of Fake Work. The stories of real school leaders punctuate and bring to life the authors’ transformational design model. The 7 Paths to Real Work provide a clear, accessible, step-by-step approach to doing this work. The hands-on tools and templates will help you get started. Fake Work is the rare book that situates strategic thinking and planning in the context of cultural considerations to provide a compelling and credible approach to leading change. Best of all, it is a delightful read that has the ring of authenticity and practicality.

Jackie Acree Walsh, Ph.D.
Author and Consultant
Montgomery, AL

One question: Where was this book and information when I began my work in school administration? What a great resource! Whether you are a beginning teacher leader or a seasoned administrator, this book can make your life easier by recognizing and acknowledging the impact that high performing cultures have on student achievement and how to achieve that culture in your work. This book points to running on a treadmill and getting nowhere, ie Fake Work, but most importantly it points to the important strategies to do the real, meaningful, impactful work. This book should serve a focus of study for all teams. 

Lora G. Mora, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Center for Educational Leadership, Department of Education, Trinity University, Deputy Superintendent, Retired, Northside ISD
San Antonio, TX

If they didn’t coin the terms “fake work” and “real work” in education, Nielsen and Burks certainly clarified them and their impact on the lives of students and those who serve them. Fake Work in Education provides educators with a clear purpose and path for moving from organizational addiction on the fake to systemwide focus on the real. 

The authors weave research with practice through artful use of real experiences from real educators who’ve been stymied by the fake work syndrome in their own schools and districts. But Nielsen and Burks don’t stop there...throughout the book, they provide practical strategies, tools and measures for educators to begin their own efforts to focus on the real work.

Denise Collier, Ed.D.
Educator, Professor, and Educational Consultant, Chief Academic Officer, Retired, Dallas ISD
Dallas, TX

This book had me hooked as soon as I read the definition of Fake Work! As educators, we are passionate by nature. We are also notorious for putting a great amount of effort into all we do. Yet, how often do we stop and ask ourselves whether our efforts will be matched in value of the output of what we are working on? We don’t! We work and work and work, and look up only to realize that we haven’t moved nearly as far as we set out to. This book encourages and challenges us to evaluate everything we are doing on a daily basis to ensure strategic alignment with our goals. The success of our students depends on us understanding this concept of Fake Work and putting our best effort and energy into the Right Work.

 

Deanna D. Jackson
Principal, Watts Elementary, Schertz-Cibolo Universal City ISD
Schertz, TX

As a school Superintendent for over two decades and a National Baldrige Examiner, I became consumed by a quote from W. Edwards Deming, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” The greatest challenge in an organization aspiring to align with Deming’s systems approach is to take what many consider an abstract concept and translate to daily actions. The key for us was to help staff understand the concepts, but more importantly give them tools to implement. Stop Fake Work In Education: Creating Real Work Cultures that Drive Student Success is one of the best collections of practical tools for educators aspiring for performance excellence.

 
Greg Gibson
Superintendent of Schools, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD
Schertz, Texas

As school districts strive to transform their organizations into systems based on trust, shared values, creativity, innovation, and respect, Stop Fake Work in Education: Creating Real Work Cultures That Drive Student Success, offers hope for a better way of working, planning, and collaborating – all focused on student success. Nielson and Burks have pooled their experiences and learning from the fields of education and business to offer readers more effective processes to create new paths to achieve results while transforming their cultures to true learning organizations. Their transformational design model for systemic change provides direction, while highlighting some of the fake work pitfalls which tend to consume educators’ focus and time.  From the Board room to the classroom, Real Work must become the focus of all, each and every day, preparing students for success in life.

Johnny Veselka
Executive Director emeritus, Texas Association of School Adminisrators
Austin, Texas

The book challenges leaders to aim our collective energy on what matters most in education, the students. The authors give us practical tools to help us let go of the Fake Work that is derailing high performing school cultures and lay out a path to ensure our Real Work priorities are strategic and successful.

Jana Chang, Ph.D.
Educator and Data Use Advocate
Hawaii

In the world of education, teachers and administrators often deal with multiple initiatives and other demands on both their time and energy, making it so easy to get caught up in doing “fake work”. This book helps leaders fine tune their work so they can focus on what really matters - kids, what they are learning, and how we know they are learning  it. The vignettes provided throughout illustrate the reality of the every day life of school leaders, showing the tools provided within the text really do help stop the “fake work”. 

Shannon Johnson
Educational Diagnostician, Former Principal
Shertz, Texas

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