I walked into our house the other day to a small ruckus. Seems that there was an undetermined issue causing three of our boys some problems. As a father of 8 children, this isn’t necessarily unusual. Neither was hearing these three statements during the ruckus –
“It wasn’t me”
“It wasn’t my fault”
“I don’t know how it happened”
Oh, how I use to be so tired of hearing them. Now, not so much.
I’ve learned that these small but powerful phrases mean I need to listen and ask questions.
It Wasn’t Always So
When I first began this parenting gig I wasn’t very patient or very child savvy. Early on I’d roll into something like
“What do you mean it wasn’t you? There’s no one else in the house. It had to be you! Are you lying to me! Don’t lie to me!” “How can you not know?” “Who will know if you don’t?”
You get the picture.
Eventually, as my older children grew I learned a few things. But it took some time as I moved to the “Not Again” stage.
“I’m tired of you saying…..”
“How many times do I have to ….?”
“I’m tired of telling you…!”
“Don’t you ever listen to what I say?”
All three were really productive openers for conversations…
Eventually I noticed that wife handled situations a bit differently. She listened. Asked questions. Probed for more information. She would deal with the issue but without it usually escalating. (She’s a teacher by the way!)
I began to experiment on my children. (That’s part of the fun of being a parent. That and unexpectedly embarrassing them with signs of affection in public!)
Less conflict, fewer harsh words, more conversation, more discussions. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns and it definitely didn’t happen over night. I had a lifetime of hardwiring to rewire. It’s hard work and conscious effort to build relationships and you need to admit
“I am wrong.” “I made a mistake” “Can we discuss this?”
Tough to do.
Tough but necessary.
Life as an Administrator
Some days it felt that all I was doing was putting out fires, disciplining and crisis management. I would be exhausted before the 1st recess bell rang. Constantly dealing with issues, problems, demands – it’s not what I really imagined I’d be doing.
As a young administrator – read naive – I made a truckload of mistakes. I tried to please everyone – ended up pleasing no one. I tried to have the answers but ended up not really knowing much. I wanted to be have vision but ended up stumbling around unsure of where I was going. My first few years were trial by fire and I sometimes unwittingly set my own fires and then fanned the flames thinking I was putting out the fire!
It took me a while but I began to realize that I needed to change how I handled things, especially conflicts and my own behaviours.
I read and read and then read some more. Books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
, The Power of Trust
, Lost at School
, Shifting the Monkey
and others dealing with conflict and developing relationships. Eventually, near the end of my time as an administrator, I experienced Crucial Conversation
training which helped me to have those difficult conversations in school and at home. I began to purposefully direct my attention to what creative people do to be creative and how they handle situations in order to remain creative and get the best from others around them.
It’s More About Others Than Me
As I read and tried, reviewed and retried, I began to note my reflections as part of my own growth. This helped me to see patterns which then helped me to make changes and pinpoint how my decisions and actions were impacting others and even the school. Yes administrators and leaders, your actions and even your mood affect the school.
A few things I figured out that worked for me along the way:
Look for ways to move to solutions. When you’re tired of something happening, you need to either figure out a solution or get out. Complaining about it, harping about it and all the other things we do aren’t effective. As an administrator I was tired of some of the issue that came up at staff meetings so I changed the format of the staff meeting, starting each meeting with a Gratitude Walk – we each identified one thing for which we were grateful. I also “flipped” the meetings – focus was on growth and planning for improvement as teams. Anything I could send as a memo or information was sent out before the meeting and time was limited for discussion. I turned the meetings over to teachers to chair. It was looking for solutions. When timetabling was an issue, I brought it to the teachers. Budget? Teachers. School Goals? Teachers.
Be Specific. My experience is that those people who are doing great things take to heart when you comment about a negative action in general to the group. They believe in some way it is them. If there is an issue, you need to go directly to the person and have a conversation. Then, after the conversation, follow-up with an email about the conversation – details and outcomes that were agreed upon. You also need to tell those people who are doing great work they are doing great work and support them to do greater work.
Listen, listen, listen
– ask questions and then listen, listen, listen. Now, I didn’t always do this well and it’s still something I need to improve upon. I wish I had found Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers
years ago – and she’d written it sooner! Listening and being attentive are crucial as is asking deep probing questions which you can’t do if you don’t listen! Before Multipliers, I did figure out that when someone threw up the “I’m not good at….” line, or something similar, it was an invitation. You could see it as an excuse, which it might look like at first but think about it, they are telling you they aren’t good at something. In education people rarely admit they can’t do things. But you only have a moment and if you eye-roll, shrug, sigh or whatever, the moment is gone.
“I’m not very good at…..”
Gives you a chance to ask, as Liz Wiseman says, “What is keeping you from being successful?” and be a support for them. What an opportunity! Before, those types of comments just irritating to me. Now, seeing it as an invitation, it’s an opportunity. I still miss them and replay what I will try to do next time when a similar situation arises.
Have clear expectations and communicate them. This is something that is different from having policies and mission statements. If you say “We will do what’s best for students” then you need to communicate what you mean, clearly. It’s a nice phrase but what does it mean in the school? How does the school culture reflect this? You need to be able to tell people what that means AND show them what it means. Action and word need to be in sync so it’s important that you are clear about your expectations.
Believe people are capable and trust them to do great things. That’s why you hired them. Or someone hired them. Too often when I began as a principal I thought I was the smartest person in the room or I needed to have all the answers which was a terrible way to work. It was exhausting and I didn’t have all the answers but I was too proud (arrogant) to admit it. Eventually I began to realize that I wasn’t suppose to have all the answers – I was suppose to support people to help them on their own journey to finding answers, to connect them with other people smarter than me. I like Steve Jobs’ quote
identifies them as Talent Magnets
who draw in people who are talented and then support them to do great things. Learn from them as they do great things. Allow people the room to be great while also requiring them to extend and grow. As Liz Wiseman explains
They attract talented people and then use them to their fullest’ you might think of it as working at their highest point of contribution.
Focus on effectiveness not efficiency
. The most efficient way to teach is the lecture method – delivered by the teacher. However, it’s not the most effective method for student learning. There are so many different productivity methods you can use. You need to purposefully plan each day, your goals, the goals of the school you will focus on that day, who you will see and how you will use the time you have each day. It’s not that you need to schedule each moment. As Todd Henry says “You control your schedule, it shouldn’t control you”. I would highly recommend Todd Henry’s book Die Empty
and his podcast episode The Power of the Morning Ritual
where Todd discusses the importance of routine for those people who are creatives. I picked up so many ideas that have helped me become better focused and more productive.
Relationships are the foundation of all you do.
Too often I didn’t worry about the relationship piece. I was my own best friend and supporter! But a party of one is a pretty lonely celebration! The Speed of Trust
really helped me to see how important relationships were to all we do as educators and how foundational Trust is to creating and sustaining growth in a changing environment such as education. As a leader, it’s important to realize that you have a huge influence on the tone and mood of the building each day. We all have rough days but if staff see it as usual and not an exception, it affects what happens in the building.
I know that over time I became more frustrated when people weren’t seeing the wonderful learning opportunities that technology offered. I would complain that we needed to move into the 21st century and quit using excuses for not changing. Eventually I realized it was me who needed to readjust how I was seeing things and, instead of coming from a deficit model, begin to view it as an opportunity and invitation.
…. if we get tired of hearing certain things because we really don’t have a response to help people or don’t know how to meet them where they are at?
….. how we, as leaders and innovators, can open up the invitation that “I don’t know how to …..” gives us?
…. meet people where they are and move them forward despite what/how we think they should be/act?
….. support cultures of learning for everyone without predetermined expectations?
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