I hope that everyone had the chance to look up at the sun, safely, and watch science in action. As a science teacher, I always worked to bring lessons to life by applying them to real examples in our world. It was thrilling to watch an event that nature brings us only once in such a great while. As I put on my eclipse glasses and watched the moon creep across the sun, it got me thinking about everything that gets in our way when we approach our work as school leaders. What are the different things that block us from spending time doing what is most important to our schools? These three were mine.
1- Minor Student Discipline- In a perfect school, if there is such a thing, most discipline issues are handled by the teachers through preventative management, engaging teaching, and in-class consequences. Only a sliver of violations of student expectations that have to do with aggression, ongoing disrespect, and persistent disruption arrives at the door of the Principal. Unfortunately, some of our teachers that struggle with building a self-sufficient classroom send kids to the office when they respond poorly to a poorly developed and executed classroom management plan. Rather than undermining the teacher, we take the time to talk with the student, and we have to set up some more time to work with the teacher on better understanding what should and should not result in an office referral.
2- Resistant Teachers- As we aim to dedicate somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of our time to developing the professionals in the building by observing and providing feedback, some teachers take the challenge of growth head-on. Others drag their feet and give excuses for why they cannot or should not change their approach. Our time and energy is diverted away from other more receptive teachers in order to dig in with the resistant teachers to find a better way to present feedback so that they will take action. As a result, we give less guidance to the people that will do the most with it.
3- Difficult Parents- No matter how many fun family events we plan, no matter how many opportunities for involvement, we build, and no matter how consistent we are with students, there always seems to be a handful of parents that seek a direct route to the school leader’s ear when they are unhappy. When we ask if they have communicated previously with their child’s teacher, they are put off by our lack of personal attention, and the social media world is going to hear all about it. The energy that we expend worrying if this person has the power to erode our credibility with the parent body of the school blocks us from planning and executing family events for the benefit of the entire school.
During the eclipse, I was most curious about when I would see or feel a difference in the air and in the sky. It seemed that there was no noticeable change around me until about 80% of the sun was covered by the moon. At that time, crescent suns appeared on my deck, peeping through tiny natural pinholes in the leaves above me, the birds and bugs started squawking and buzzing like it was the Amazon rainforest, and the temperature dropped. This was an unstoppable natural event. The only way that I could avoid these changes was if I went inside to hide.
As a school leader, I would be lying if I said that I never went inside my office to hide from difficult parents, resistant teachers, and minor student discipline. Each gets in our way of spending our time on the parts of the job that we love most. Through planning and prevention, we can reduce the amount of time that we spend dealing with the obstacles in school leadership, but no matter what we do they will never completely go away. If we can focus on keeping our attention on the most important things for 80% of the time, then everything else will take up just a few minutes out of your day. They will pass, the sun will come back out, and as quickly as possible we can get back to do the most important work of helping build the best possible learning environment for our communities..
This Blog was written by Leaders Building Leaders consultant Geoff Gorski. Reach out to [email protected] to comment.
If you would like to spend a few weeks learning with us through a book study of Todd Whitaker’s Dealing with Difficult Parents, click here to find out how.