SHIFTING THE MONKEY
A how-to leadership guide for empowering
teachers and changing the behaviors of the
weak performers. Based on the text, Shifting
the Monkey, by Todd Whitaker.
Universal American School
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
“Excuse me, you’ve got
something on your
What is all this monkey business?
Monkeys: responsibilities, obligations, and problems
“Monkeys are absolutely normal and not a concern in a
well-led business. The trouble begins when the monkeys
are not where they should be and some people are
forced to do more work to make-up for others who
aren’t doing their job.”- Whitaker (p.10)
Monkey problems exist not because teachers are lazy, but because
they are ALLOWED to be lazy. They’ve been given opportunities to
shift their monkeys onto the backs of other educators, causing an
imbalance of responsibilities throughout the school environment. As
this unnecessary shifting occurs, unnessary stress is then placed on
the backs of leaders and the hard-working teachers. It becomes the
leader’s job to ensure that this shift does not occur and the weaker
performing teachers are held accountable for fulﬁlling their
responsibilities and contributing to the school enviornment.
Le adership Tiers: What type of leader will you be?
Tier 1 Self-Focused: Leaders that just focus on keeping monkeys
at a minimum, but not giving enough attention to needs of
the teachers and organization.
Tier 2 Team-Focused: These leaders will protect
themselves and the “good” teachers. They will make
sure to keep the monkeys in their place.
Tier 3 Organization-Focused: These leaders will ensure that their
personal needs and the needs of the “good” teachers are
met, while simultaneously aligning those needs with the
betterment of the school.
Where is the monkey and where should it be?
Question the Monkey…
Always check for monkeys, even in small situations
Communicate consistently with teachers as they can
identify monkeys you may have missed
Spend time talking to teachers, students, and parents for
Ask these questions while on the monkey hunt:
-Are teachers, parents, and students happy? Are students needs
-Do leaders work with teachers to ensure they have the necessary
skills to communicate with parents?
-Do all teachers have active roles in PLC’s or are the same teachers
-Which teachers are arriving on time? Arriving late? Leaving early?
Staying late? Working on the weekends?
-Have staff expectations changed that create resentment among the
consistently hard-working teachers?
3 Principles for Keeping the Monkey Where it Belongs!
1. Treat Everyone Well
2. Make Decisions Based on
Your Best People
3. Protect Your Good People First
TREAT EVERYONE WELL: Do’s and Don’ts
‣ Treat all teachers as if they are good teachers
‣ Ask about progress in group tasks, report cards,
duties, student work, etc. (Teachers will either be
able to give you an update or be held accountable
for not completing the tasks)
‣ Approach teachers on a 1:1 basis regarding their behavior.
‣ Follow through with what you say
‣ Sort out whether employees are ignorant (can be trained) or
subordinate (cannot be trained)
‣ Use group negativity to motivate the weaker teachers as it will
discourage the strong teachers.
‣ Add punishments for future expectations (offers the opportunity for
teachers to decide if its worth it or not)
‣ Engage in conversation involving excuses
‣ Sympathize or argue
‣ Make empty threats
Make Decisions Based on your Best People
What does that look like in an
international school setting?
A new 5th grade teacher is often complaining.
“Well back in the states we would….” is a common
phrase of his. The team leader ignores these
statements and responds with statements such
as, “Have you seen how the readers’ workshop
resources help support ﬂuency and
comprehension? I’d be happy to show you.”
A 2nd grade teacher implements Two high school robotics
reading strategies that he learned in his teachers are comparing end
previous school. Rather than telling him
no, the principal visits the class to learn of year projects of their
classes. Teacher 1 had a
more about the great things they’re group of students that were
trying in 2nd grade! The principal has a signed up from the beginning
follow-up discussion to talk about the and received consistently
high marks in all areas of
great things she saw happening! school. Teacher 2 had a group
of students that were thrown
A middle school principal begins each staff meeting with group into a class because there
praises. At one particular meeting he begins by sharing an wasn’t enough space in other
classes. T1 has consistently
interaction with a parent that was positively raving on and on higher results, but both
about the Islamic Haj parade in which a group of non-Islamic teachers demonstrated
teachers dressed in the local attire and learned a traditional effective teaching practice
Arabic song. He then preceded to share how impressed he has
been with teachers arriving on time to cafeteria duty and what a and showed student
differences it makes in noise levels and ability for students to improvement. The principal
has a conversation with T2 to
finish their lunch in time for recess. Later on, the principal commend him for his efforts
speaks privately to specific teachers that have been consistently
on time for duty all year and thanks them for their dedication. with the students, despite
having a challenging group of
You can’t change the thoughts of people,
but you can change their behavior.
Protect the Good People First!
How to make sure
good teachers feel
encouraged by their
adm i n is t rat o rs .
Offer good teachers the opportunity to NOT volunteer. Let them
personally know that you recognize their consistent volunteering and
they can sit out if they need a break.
Treat all teachers well, but not equally. Let the good teachers have
preferential treatment for leadership, PD, and rare opportunities.
Other teachers should still have other opportunities for growth, but
good teachers shouldn’t be punished for doing great things!
IF parents complain about a good teacher, back them up and do
not assume the worst about them. Always give them a chance to
speak with you and share their experience.
Leaders should demonstrate that they are strong, reliable, and
trustworthy by making time to communicate with dedicated teachers,
have a presence in classrooms, and execute difﬁcult tasks.
The Rule Monkey A few
“Control people with rules.” leaders should
EX: A small group of teachers are avoid!
continuously unprepared for lessons.
Rather than addressing just those The Avoidance Monkey
teachers, the principal designates a rule
that all teachers must submit detailed “Managing by avoiding challenging
lesson plans 3 weeks in advance as situations.”
opposed to having them available on
their desk throughout the day. EX: Homeroom and Specialist teachers
have a scheduling conﬂict. The AP
The Arguing Monkey avoids making a decision because she
knows one group won’t be happy. The
“Confront and Contradict.” longer she waits, the more frustrated
they get. Leaders must make timely
EX: A team leader lashes out against a decisions even though its not always
fellow teacher that has a new idea for easy.
introducing the new unit of inquiry. The
TL argues and defends the old method
before listening to the new idea.
Teachers on this team are less likely to
share their ideas and feel uncomfortable
in the workplace.
Blanket Monkey, Blame Monkey, Pouting Monkey, Crying Monkey
A few examples…
Domain 1: Collaborative Culture
Leaders foster collaborative efforts by using group praise approaches as
positive reinforcement, ignores the complainers that may bring down the
positive atmosphere, rewards effort not just results, and treats all
teachers as if they are good teachers.
Domain 4: Facilitating Improvement
Leaders are always checking for monkeys and making sure that they are
not being shifted onto the backs of the wrong people. Leaders hold all
teachers accountable by modeling good behavior and using questioning
strategies to improve the behavior of weaker teachers.
Domain 7: Advocating for Student Learning
Leaders demonstrate attributes of a Tier 3 leader by being organization-
focused. In doing so, leaders are ensuring that teachers are well-equipped
and prepared to beneﬁt the entire school, which priorities student learning.
The Monkey Hunt is an ongoing expectation for leaders,
so keep in mind the:
3 Questions to Always Ask Yourself
1. Where is the monkey?
2. Where should the monkey be?
3. How do I shift the monkey to
the proper place?
Whitaker, T. (2012). Shifting the Monkey. Bloomington, IN:
Solution Tree Press.
Todd Whitaker: http://www.amazon.com/Todd-Whitaker/e/B0045AYYBC
Shifting the Monkey book cover: http://www.amazon.com/Shifting-Monkey-Protecting-
Monkey on back of pack: http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-monkey-your-back-
Hanging Monkey: http://monkeybusinessinstitute.com/improv-comedy-shows/
Thinking Monkey: http://www.greatnotions.com/pr/Embroidery/King-Graphics/1/
Sitting Monkey: http://www.free-graphics.com/clipart/Silhouettes/Animals/
Avoidance Monkey: https://monkeysbadmonkeys.wordpress.com/
Rule Monkey: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2040084/Plotting-Monkey-strikes-
Arguing Monkey: http://www.fandango.com/movie-news/quiz-whats-your-movie-monkey-