From Our Executive Director, Jacqueline Hicks (March 2017 Newsletter):
One of the things teachers identify as a reason for leaving their profession is that they don’t feel supported by their administrator/principal. I choose to interpret this as a need for relationship – a better relationship between the Leader and his/her Followers. (Check out our ‘10 Things Principals Don’t Tell Their Teachers But Should’ blog post. )
I am remembering my experiences as both teacher (follower) and administrator (leader), and I can share how I felt in both roles. As a teacher, I wanted my boss to support me in fulfilling the agreements of my teaching contract and allow me to participate and contribute my gifts. I wanted confirmation about the things I was doing well, and help with the things that were challenging. As the administrator, I wanted my teachers to enthusiastically embrace my vision and help me realize my goals for our students. I wanted partners who would let me know when they thought I was veering off track, and who would add their efforts and ideas to our joint success. I wanted relationships with colleagues who would be responsible and hold me accountable. In my conversations with other teachers and other administrators, they have expressed desires for a similar kind of rapport.
Unfortunately, I found the opportunities to discuss, reflect and improve upon our joint efforts were few and far between. Both as teacher and administrator, the lack of opportunities was disheartening. It wasn’t just lack of time, but also lack of courage and, more importantly, lack of skill. It felt risky to attempt to have conversations about my and other people’s performances. It seemed to me that not only did my colleagues find speaking about their own successes and challenges uncomfortable, they were also uncomfortable with me sharing about mine. For me as teacher and as administrator, I wanted to know how people felt about my performance, and to share my feelings and observations as well. On the occasions when that did happen, an atmosphere of safe self-disclosure had been established, and people were willing to be more open to each other.
A wise mentor taught me that the more skill one has, the less courage is required. I find this is true no matter whether the risk is something physical, like rock climbing, whitewater rafting, or downhill skiing, or something relational, like sharing feelings, developing an authentic relationship, or resolving a conflict. The skills I learned and practiced for dealing with feelings and developing relational competence are: congruence – the ability to state authentically, clearly and responsibly my current experience, beliefs, ideas, thoughts, feelings and opinions; empathy – the ability to enter another person’s point of view in order to genuinely understand them; and unconditional positive regard – the ability to suspend judgments and truly appreciate the differences presented by others.
As I grew in these skills, I realized that when I felt a lack of support from my boss, I could do something about it. I was in charge of getting the support I wanted. I felt more comfortable to express my opinions and stand up for what I felt was important, even if it was different than the opinions of others. I was able to influence my boss because I understood what was important to her, and I genuinely wanted her to succeed. I did not need to blame anyone else for me not getting what I wanted. I was able to see ways to include what others wanted as well. Most of all, I discovered that most of my fears about communicating openly with my boss and colleagues were unfounded. If you want things to change, you’ve got to be willing to talk about it. Be brave and find your voice. We can help you work on your skills.