Lessons Learned as an Edupreneur Year 4: But For One, Life Would be Great | Tanya Sheckley | 4 Min Read

May 10, 2023

This may be an unpopular opinion, but the pandemic year was awesome for our school.  We had families who were grateful for school and for our teachers.  We had a small and safe (as safe as we could be) environment and we had students who were excited to be here.  

The following year was a different experience.  Collectively we were dealing with trauma, relearning how to be in society, shifting expectations, and dealing with new fears.  It was a tough year for us, but a year where one important lesson was cemented.  A lesson that holds true in any business or school.  A lesson in my last Entrepreneurs Organization workshop resonated so much with my small workgroup that I was asked to speak about it to the entire audience.  Everyone in the room had their own story of a But For One scenario.    

Year Four:  But For One

But For One is what happens when you have a toxic employee, co-worker, or family in your community who you retain because of One key role that they play in the organization.  As an organization, or school, grows, you know who these people are.  The ones who are difficult to deal with but have information or expertise that no one else in the organization has.  Or the ones who are argumentative (which you consider constructive) but have a strong relationship with a key client or family.  Or the ones who never partake in community building activities or team building events and then at meetings declaratively state they don’t feel like they are listened to, respected, or are part of the team.

When we ask new leaders what was the single most important lesson they learned in their first years of leadership, it was when to let an employee, client, or relationship go.  Letting go of someone is never easy. As leaders, we are keenly aware that we are developing people, supporting families, and creating opportunities for growth. Letting someone go can feel like a pollutant to those success factors.  But not letting someone go when it needs to be done can be toxic to the entire community and organization and leads to failing our responsibilities for all of the other amazing employees we are supporting.  My first three “Lessons Learned” articles have been about finding advisors, building a team, overcoming personal shortfalls, and hiring; this one is about when to let go.

Imagine an educator who isn’t a good culture fit and you let them go early in the school year.  You quickly fill that role with an educator who understands your mission, philosophy, and is an expert in the field.  Over the next several months it becomes clear that they aren’t meeting coaching goals, their students aren’t making the progress you expected, and they are consistently late or missing meetings.  But you didn’t want the students to lose a second teacher in one year.  That is the One—numerous shortfalls lead to the idea that you should let this person go, but you didn’t want the students to lose another adult in their lives in one school year.  Finally, you decide the value of the One (not wanting the students to lose another teacher) is not worth the struggles you are facing and you let them go.  That’s when the real issues start to surface.  You realize that workplace toxicity can be like an iceberg, you react to the portion you see, but so much more is happening below the surface.  

You have another team member who is a challenge to have on the team. They are direct and honest, but often not in a kind way.  They bring unique knowledge to the team but had difficulty sharing the knowledge or helping others understand what they know.  They have a special relationship with one family who is important to your community.  You discuss not renewing their contract and asking them not to return to your team, but you really love the relationship they have with one family.  When you started the school year, they made life miserable for your new teachers. Instead of coaching and teaching them, they actively worked to allow them to make mistakes and then were condescending about their struggles.  Their role was as a leader, to develop the team, and to teach what they know to make you all better; instead, they waited for mistakes and pounced.  This team member abruptly put in a two-week notice at the start of a three-week break.  You realize that there was one reason you had kept them (their relationship with a family), and if you had made the decision earlier, you would not be scrambling to solve problems left behind.

When there is only one key reason to keep an employee, it is time to let them go.  If you are saying, “I think we should let them go, but. . .”  Whatever that One BUT is, can be solved.  There is so much happening under the surface of the water, the part of the iceberg you can’t see, that One is your message.  Choose to solve One problem, not the several others that are being caused by a toxic team member.  Be like Elsa and “Let it go.”

You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Tanya Sheckley for Intrepid Ed News.

Tanya Sheckley

Tanya Sheckley is Founder and President of UP Academy, an elementary lab school which values innovation, empathy and strength and incorporates a unique neuro-development program for children with physical disabilities. Tanya’s vision and mission show it’s possible to celebrate differences, change what’s broken in the American education system, and that all children can receive a rigorous, well-rounded education. She is an Edpreneur, Author of Rebel Educator: Create Classrooms of Imagination and Impact and host of the Rebel Educator podcast. She speaks frequently on the future of education and entrepreneurship. She is a rebel educator who works with new and existing schools to question the status quo and develop innovative student experiences through inclusion and project-based learning.

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