Hello again. A writer that I follow describes his newsletter as appearing with “fanatical irregularity”. It appears that I’ve joined his scheduling pattern. I’ve never asked why he publishes so randomly but I can easily explain how this has happened for me. Have you ever moved?
Two weeks ago we finished a whirlwind process that saw us complete the purchase of a new home and the sale of our previous home of more than a decade. It was an exciting time.
Things moved along very smoothly with only small doses of stress. But then it was time for the “M” word… moving. Now, 10 days after “the move” our conversations almost all include sentences like, “Do you remember packing xxx”; “What box what it in?”; “Where is that box?”; “How did we get so much stuff?”; and, “Why the hell did we bring it?”
So I hope you’ll forgive me if I ease my way back into some kind of writing routine by relying on a couple of pieces that I read this past week between collapsing into whatever chair was at hand and falling into a sleep filled with dreams of packing boxes.
Will Parker writes a blog entitled, Principal Matters. He has been a teacher, the Oklahoma Assistant Principal of the Year in 2012 and is currently the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association for Secondary and Middle Level Principals. He’s ‘been there, done that’. As we have been exploring the issues surrounding the concept and reality of school leadership, I wanted to share his recent blog.
Will entitled the piece “Managing Demands, Dealing with Difficult People and Promoting Positive Morale.” It struck me as valuable because it dealt with practical matters in day-to-day leadership and culture creation. Note: Will’s blogs are also available in podcast version.
This is a “how to” piece and Will has organized each section with a short contextual intro followed by his suggestions for dealing with each. I’ve reprinted his sections and, as usual when I reference someone else’s work, I urge you to read the entire piece entire piece and to become acquainted with his work.
Note: After each of Will’s sections I’ve added some of my own thoughts/comments. These are not intended to critique Will’s observations. Rather they’re intended to tie his work to concepts and thinking previously explored here in Rethinking Learning.
Part 1: Managing Demands
As you walk through a school, you will find teachers, students, and staff rely on you for more than just supervision or observation. People are looking for problem-solvers. In my first year as an administrator, I carried a notepad with me and tried to write down notes on every conversation I was having for follow-up.
I soon discovered I was spending more time do follow-up than I was helping others find their own solutions. In some ways, I was fishing for them rather than teaching them to fish. With that in mind, here are four takeaways to keep in mind when managing questions or demands:
- Give up your “Savior” complex.(It takes a team to lead a school.)
- Share follow-up.(If it’s important, have them write it down.)
- Teach others to find solutions.(Learn to “shift the monkey” as Todd Whitaker teaches.)
- Set timers for time consuming tasks.(Your value does not equal an empty inbox. Sometimes mundane tasks like emails or reports can go faster as timed tasks.)
You cannot lead alone. And the sooner you realize you need a team, the better. It is easy for leaders to fall into the trap of believing their job is to save the day. That kind of mentality will lead to burnout. Instead, shift your mindset so that you approach the complex problems of your school with the idea that it will take everyone on your team to find solutions, create strong environments, and reach new goals.
Comment: It is assumed that, in order to be a good leader, one must be a good problem solver. There is no question that problem solving is an essential part of the leadership role; however, too frequently this expectation leads to two unanticipated and undesirable consequences: (1) we become better at ‘problem solving’ than at problem analysis (leading to solutions that seem, not surprisingly, do not solve the problem) and (2) we reinforce a hierarchical structure in which only the “one at the top” solves the problems – i.e., we create dependence among our colleagues rather than building the kind of ownership that follows engagement in broader problem analysis and solving.
Part 2: Dealing with Difficult People
It’s easy to remember hard conversations—especially ones where people lose it emotionally. No one ever learns to perfectly manage difficult conversation(s). But there are some ways you can shift your mindset so you learn to better manage them. Here are six tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure you’re not the difficult one.
- Seek to understand before being understood
- Be firm but friendly.
- Change your posture and use humor when appropriate.
- Agree to disagree
- Consider bringing parties to the table.
Keep in mind that others want to be heard and understood. Sometimes the goal is not finding complete agreement as it is being a sounding board and helping find solutions together. Simple things go a long way in deescalating emotional conversations: like keeping your hands open when you talk, taking notes to show you are listening well, and repeating back what you hear someone saying. At the end of the day, you want to know you’ve given others the courtesy you would want if the tables were turned.
Comment: My experience in working with school leaders has taught me that there is little or no intentionality in leadership preparation programs in the area of productive conflict resolution or the development of confidence in what Susan Scott refers to as “Fierce Conversations”. I would add the intentional development of this skill to Will’s suggestions.
Note: See Susan Scotts two books entitled, Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership”
Part 3: Showing Appreciation and Maintaining Morale
It is easy to lose sight of the culture and morale of your team members when you’re focused on managing demands or difficult moments. I talk to a lot of principals who ask what they can do to keep their team members encouraged. Here are eight suggestions on ways to embed appreciation into your routines:
- “Kudos” emails(These are quick summaries of great things you see happening when you do a walkthrough of your building.)
- Video shares(Use your smart-phone to capture great learning moments and share via email, social media or link in a newsletter.)
- Hand-written notes or cards (All of us enjoy the thoughtfulness of a handwritten thought or word. I once had a 25-year veteran teacher who told me she had never received a hand-written note of encouragement from an admin till I gave her one.)
- Monthly awards(Use your faculty or team meetings to highlight great team players once a month and publish it out to others.)
- Newsletter/website publicity(Have a frequent, consistent summary of communication for parents and community members; use it as a way to brag on your teachers, students, and staff.)
- Face-to-face(Take advantage of observation follow-ups to look a teacher in the eyes and tell them something specific you appreciate about what they do with students.)
- Food, food, and more food(Maybe it’s because I love to eat, but I always feel encouraged and loved when someone adds food to a meeting.)
- Social media shares(Never before have we had access to so many free, accesibile ways to share and brag about our teachers and schools. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LindedIn, or Voxer: find ways to celebrate and encourage others.)
Comment: Think of each of the suggestions that Will has include above as ways in which relationships (whether they be with students, colleagues, parents and/or community members) are strengthened. I connect this to the conversations, relationships, trust, followership model previous shared in some of my earlier posts.
Will ends his piece with the following thought:
As school leaders, we are directly involved in the kind of environment where learning can happen. How we manage demands, deal with difficulties, and encourage positive moments will lend to the outcomes others have in our learning environments. Don’t think you will ever do this with perfection. By sharing tasks with teammates, learning to navigate tough conversations, and highlighting successes of others, you will find yourself cultivating the soil for positive outcomes for your teachers and students.
As always, your comments and thoughts help each of us grow, Be well.