Don't Forget to Listen

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The last couple of weeks have been really crazy.  So crazy that I had to come in on a Saturday to actually catch up and clear off my desk.  We have all been there, I know.  The challenge for me these past few weeks has been that the further behind I got, the more challenging it was for me feel effective in my job.  People would come in to chat and ask "Do you have a minute?" and while I was saying "Sure" or "Of course", I was screaming in my head "No, I don't have a minute!  Get out and see my assistant to make an appointment!"  Not an effective mode to be in when having a conversation that is really important to that person seeking you out.  I also was really putting myself out there collecting data from the staff about a recent PD day that had been a stretch for me to put together as well as a stretch for many to participate in.  Needless to say, as the feedback came in, I was still feeling so invested in the day that I couldn't take the feedback for what it was: their ideas and opinions that I had asked for.  Instead, I was reading the feedback as a personal comment on me and my abilities.  So that was a big problem as it was starting to color my interactions with the faculty, putting me on the defensive every time someone said "can we talk".   And then there have been the parents reaching out to me specifically or to one of us on the Admin team with complaints, complaints, complaints.  Well, many were not so much complaints as they were frustrations or problems that they needed help solving.  But my frustrations with myself and with my lack of time was causing my mind to automatically read the emails or hear the voicemails as nothing but complaints and jabs at me, our school, and how we do business.

Time to hit the re-set button!
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Following a  bit of a rant in a Voxer group about my frustrations with the world, Ken Durham reminded me that all feedback is good feedback.  And Catina Haugen helped me to re-frame the comments so that I was not hearing the words in a negative way, but rather, I was hearing them as challenges that needed to be looked at.  This led me to re-read the comments from the PD feedback and realize that at the heart of the feedback, people were asking for more time and exemplars.  That's not hard to hear.  That's constructive feedback that is worth knowing to help frame future PD time.  It also allowed me to have a more productive conversation with a Department Chair who needs to lead their department in a complete re-vamp of their curriculum.  During the process I not only discussed specific examples of ways to redesign pieces of the curriculum, but I also offered to procure subs for grade-level team meetings.  I don't think I would have thought to do either had I not re-read the PD comments with an eye to "what challenges can we work on and solve."  The Department Chair was very grateful for the offer and I am certain it will play well with the department.

Then there were the parents.  Two stand out: 1. a student who has missed quite a bit of school due to an allergic reaction and 2. a parent who told us to raise our tuition rather than hold fundraisers that our students are expected to participate in (we are a private Catholic school so fundraising is important).  The first situation was addressed with a meeting between the parents, the student's counselor and myself.  We worked out a clear plan that is manageable.  The parents left much more comfortable than when they arrived.  And all that took was me not reverting to confrontation mode--mama bear protecting her cubs (teachers) when told by a parent that they can't expect his daughter to complete any busy work--but rather starting from the perspective of a parent understanding the scary situation they had been in when their daughter was rushed to the hospital and no one knew what was wrong.  Re-framing.

The second situation engendered a conversation with our Admin Team.  Not to gripe about the fact that this mom had no right to tell us what to do, but rather for us to talk about the fact that we had failed.  Part of our job as Administrators is to educate our parents, and in this case we had neglected to clearly synthesize the part of our mission that is to make our education available to as many as possible.  Thus, our tuition is "a bargain" in comparison to many of our competitors.  But that means that we have to run a little leaner and rely on fundraising to help balance our budget.  So we have a new action item for the coming year in so far as we need to better communicate the Mission, Vision and Purpose of our school to our stake-holders. Re-framing.

So as I take some time to reflect on these last two weeks, I am grateful that I have friends and colleagues to remind me of how I can be a better leader.  In this case, it was a relatively simple fix: Don't forget to Listen.  
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