Over the last number of years, my husband and I along with our friends have enjoyed annual summer motorbike trips to the US. Perhaps because we are on Harleys there seems this curiosity of American citizens to see what we weird creatures called Canadians are all about, This summer, with the US presidential election campaign creating a bizarre culture of chaos in the States, we found, in the western states anyhow, a great willingness to tell us about how one candidate known for outrageous statements is going to win this thing. According to one particular person, the candidate proclaimed that Canadians were ‘dying in the streets’ because our health care system is just so inefficient and far behind that people can’t receive the care they need. We reassured this person that Canadians are fine, and although we may have health care issues that no, we are not dying in any street waiting for a surgery. Seriously, people.
What struck me was that the presidential candidate had put this out there – and the comment was not dissected, checked for facts, or completely dismissed. It was believed without question. Again, seriously, you people.
On a less judgemental note this encounter did get me thinking about the power of the leader’s voice and how critical it becomes as a leader to choose words carefully – to be the responsible spokesperson yet the passionate advocate with a big vision for the future. However, as a school leader, the pressure is on to have the answers and right now. And, this the case on a daily basis. Your choices seem to be to barrel ahead and be good with off the cuff, or appear reluctant, tentative to take a stand. As a beginning administrator, what can you do? Some things that helped me out along the way:
Don’t be afraid to take a moment to think. Or maybe a day. When the pressure is on, people say all kinds of things that shouldn’t be said. I can very honestly say that the decisions I’ve come to regret are usually the ones made in the heat of the moment.
Refrain from thinking this is all on you. It isn’t. It’s all about your students, but you will be dealing with the most heightened of emotions from students, parents and teachers, and certainly not all groups will be pleased all the time. Sharpen your own toolkit when it comes to question technique and communication strategies, as you search for both fact and perception in tricky situations. Stick to the issue. (I highly recommend the course Cognitive CoachingSM . The strategies within are a coaching model for working with teachers, but has tremendously helpful implications for every day interactions)
Find a mentor. Even though the pressure is on to be all things to all people, admin colleagues generally know this is an impossible expectation. So, reach out to a colleague for advice – someone you respect who will give you the straight goods, someone who will be on board with more professional conversations. Or, think of a few you might call, but do call. In my school division, I was so blessed to be a part of a smart, supportive groups of administrators, and I knew I could call any one of them at any time.
Then be a mentor. One of the best things that ever happened as a rookie was when a colleague called me up one day and asked my opinion on some district issue. I couldn’t believe he was asking me anything – an experienced administrator asking the opinion of a rookie? Crazy. But so began a long collegial friendship which was a lifesaver, provided many opportunities for admin-type discussions, and gave me another side to my decision-making. Later on, it was my turn to call up a rookie and ask for an opinion, or to encourage the new kids to express themselves in admin meeting discussions. We all learn from each other.
Take time for reflection. A daily journal isn’t everybody’s thing, but I did keep a book going every year that included daily notes from phone calls, meetings, etc. and later on I began including some quick comments and questions on things I didn’t have time for at the moment but needed to look at later. This evolved into writing a little more, and changing my writing approach to reflect on human behaviour more than daily events. Write a few sentences each day – your reactions, your thoughts on the day. Keep writing.
Keep the feelers out there to gauge staff reactions and investment. Got a great new idea? As hard as it may be, welcome those who challenge you in an honest, forthright way. Sometimes the toughest things to hear are the most important. After all, do you really want your staff to follow blindly? Might sound idyllic but these smart people have their own opinions, and expressing those opinions will keep you reflective and sharp if you let it. Question yourself: Does your idea need a recalibration? Are you moving too quickly? Who needs support? Being open to checks and balances will assure your staff that they are integral to moving forward successfully as a team.
Pray. ‘Nuf said.