Leaders often play the role of investigator, and are always playing the role of decision maker. Whether in an elementary school or a secondary school, children break rules or behave in unkind ways that require intervention. Often if student’s discipline has been raised to the level of a hearing, or a faculty or staff member has made a misstep, central office leaders are called to investigate. Listening deeply, asking the right questions, and remaining clear about the influence of bias are key. Without skilled inquiry, the truth, or the root of an issue may not be uncovered and results can be harmful. But the most harmful of all can be affect upon trust and respect for those making the decisions.
Discipline decisions are made daily in schools and they often are celebrated when done quickly. But the integrity of those making these decisions quickly can unwittingly be chipped away if biased listening influences their decisions. There is a time factor associated with investigations and decisions to be made. Policies and procedures, the length of the school day and accessibility of those needed to be included, the need to move on to the next challenge, all influence the timeframes of investigations...as does urgency of the issue. Especially these days, the media may be on your doorstep before an investigation has even begun.
No matter how respected the investigator, no matter how skilled he or she may be, mistakes will be made. The filters we carry matter. They influence what we hear, how we process facts, how thoroughly we cast the net for those who may add to the accuracy of our understanding. The result can be a cacophony of twisted realities left to be untangled.
Not much time is spent on identifying our biases but we are learning every day that the rush to judgment is a dangerous action. Not many opportunities are offered for developing unbiased listening and improved questioning skills. Yet, these skills are the ones that contribute to fair and equitable decisions being made. In turn, the confidence in the decision maker grows as integrity increases. His/her capacity to be consistently unbiased, fair, and equitable as decisions are made establishes the values a school and its community hold.
Mindset Influences The Result
In Carol S. Dweck’s book Mindset, an example demonstrates that the frame of mind one brings to a task changes the outcome. She quotes Coach John Wooden who lives by this rule:
You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better (p.207).
Wooden has other practices that Dweck highlighted:
- giving equal time and attention to all of his players, regardless of their initial skills
- respecting all players equally
- concern, compassion, and consideration were always priorities of the highest order (p.209).
Following Wooden’s philosophy, we just have to do a little better each day. The trust, respect and integrity that are developed by giving equal time, respecting, and our concern, compassion, and consideration to all can change the outcome of each day.
It may be natural to offer more welcome to those who agree with us, or who offer little resistance. It may also be easier to listen to and communicate with those who see things as we do. But, a community does not grow when some are heard and others are not, when some are welcomed and others are not. Decisions, no matter what they are about, require unfiltered listening to those affected by the decision, communicating well, inviting and giving voice to those who will disagree, and respecting and giving welcome to all.
Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.