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Education Opinion

WHAT I THINK I SAY: WHAT I THINK OTHERS HEAR

By LeaderTalk Contributor — April 09, 2009 3 min read
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I have said, “We must be explicit about what we want students to know, understand and be able to do.”
What some heard was, “You are not doing a good job.”
I have said, “We will be more effective of we collaborate and work together to figure out how to best meet the needs of our students.”
What some heard was, “You are not doing a good job.”
I have said, “The responsibilities of public education have changed; we can learn together how to be successful in this new environment.”
What some heard was, “You are not doing a good job.”
I have said, “I believe in the ability of teachers to reach and teach ALL children.”
What some heard was, “You are not doing a good job.”

I am quickly approaching my fourth year as principal in my current school. At times I feel as thought the four years have flown by; other times, I feel like it has been a very long - and very arduous period. I must preface this by admitting that as far as challenges in public education go, this position is a dream job. Our district is blessed with plentiful resources, very involved and supportive parents, and a student population that is extremely compliant and very well-behaved. However, examining practices and looking at how to move our school forward collectively and how to ensure that we are creating an environment in which every child is valued, nurtured, and provided with opportunities has been a journey fraught with unexpected challenges both personally and professionally.

I accept the bulk of the responsibility for how things have gone. In all honesty - we have made a good bit of progress in breaking down some barriers among professional staff, building a level of trust and comfort in speaking one’s mind and sharing one’s thoughts, challenges, and successes, and in developing a common vision for what is needed within our organization. However, doing the really hard work of following through on the “what is needed” - getting teachers to truly work together as professionals and discuss, debate, and work through issues of planning/choosing what is to be taught and how to assess student learning - that is a different story!

As much as I have read about the importance of understanding an organization’s culture (and I do believe I own and have read almost every book that has been published) when proposing any type of change, I greatly underestimated the impact of my words, actions, and what I can only describe as the ‘balance of power.’ I also do not think I realized the degree to which each individual’s psychological needs contribute to the working of the organization as a whole and how - as the positional leader - understanding, taking into consideration, and responding to how my leadership effects each person - requires skills I never thought about.

I am currently involved in a leadership training called “Pattern Aware Leadership.” We are examining the patterns of our families and our upbringing that impact who we are and how we approach our work and our relationships. It has been enlightening. The bottom line message - EVERYTHING IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS. And, how we operated within our families - the patterns that were established and in place even before we entered into the dynamic - very much effects how we operate within the various organizations and systems to which we belong. This experience is causing me to be a bit more introspective about my role in the current ‘state of affairs’ in my school.

In addition, I am reading a book by Edward L. Deci titled Why We Do What We Do.I began the book in an effort to look more deeply into the motivation of students. Deci’s work certainly has given me much to think about for that topic, but spoke LOUDLY and CLEARLY about what I need to attend to in working with teachers. Deci writes about being “autonomy supportive”- which he describes as being able to take another person’s perspective, build alliances, and engage in new situations from that person’s perspective. It involves providing choice both a the individual and group level and sharing decision-making. However, Deci also emphasizes that supporting autonomy does not mean allowing people to do whatever they choose; setting limits is indeed crucial.

I will close with a brief excerpt from Deci’s book that I believe is wonderful food for thought for this blog:

In a way it is all quite ironic. Parents, politicians, and school administrators all want students to become creative problem-solvers and to learn material at a deep, conceptual level. But in their eagerness to achieve these ends, they pressure teachers to produce. The paradox is, the more they do that, the more controlling the teachers become, which, as we have seen so many times, undermines intrinsic motivation, creativity, and conceptual understanding in the students . . . One of the most important implications of this is that for people in such positions - teachers, parents, and managers, for example - will not be very effective in supporting the autonomy of their students and employees if they do not have their own support. Finding that support- finding a network of people who will help you satisfy your own needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness - is one of the most important aspects of promoting autonomy in the people you teach, care for, or supervise.

(emphasis mine)

Perhaps this on-line community is part of that network.

Sue King

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.