With a little bit more feeling

I’ve often been asked how I can deal with a student a number of times without allowing what has gone on in the past affect each new encounter. Along the same lines, I sometimes have people tell me that they don’t want to disclose a student’s name for fear of repercussions that might take place because of what is being said. Both of these situations, and many others, came to mind when I was reading the entry over at principalspage. Now, the discussion that takes place there is somewhat tongue-in-cheek but it did resonate with me since it is something that many people wonder and ask about. How do administrators deal with all the things that happen without it letting them affect them?

Now my comment, very tongue-in-cheek,  is part of 11 other comments that get at the heart of what it means to be an educator – we are in this because of the children. Underlying all that we do is the idea that we want what is best for all of the students that walk through the doors each day. As one of the comments says:

There are reasons why people yell at us, why kids are mad at us, and why we are criticized. A sensitive person will look for the underlying reasons and the hidden agendas. A person who has turned off his feelings for the sake of self-preservation is at risk of missing what others may need in terms of help or attitude adjustments. This is the kind of person who becomes cold, jaded, and insensitive in other areas of life, as well. Those are not desirable qualities of an effective school administrator. Dave Sherman

This is, really, where one needs to do some deep self-reflection. Although no one likes to be called names, yelled at and a host of other things, it is being able to see beyond that and glean the small bits of truth that will help an administrator become better. Over my career as an administrator, I’ve made some mistakes but my goal is to learn from each of them in order not to make that particular mistake again. The same goes when someone is upset or mad because of something I’ve done or decided. It is part of what I do that requires me to reflect on the situation to see what exactly I might do next time to create a different ending to the situation. My goal, always, is to create a win-win situation. It doesn’t always happen and it might take a few tries to come to a place where the two sides can begin to see a win-win taking place.

So how am I able to deal with all these situations without letting what has happened before colour the present situation? Mostly, by making each day a new one, by moving on from a situation once it has been dealt with and not allowing it to tarnish the present. I’m learning each day just like each of the students, I hope, and trying to do better. That means that I don’t have all the answers all the time. It also means that, as I learn more, I see how I have done things and know that there must be a change in order to address what is happening. I am a work in progress!

I also know that many of the students can ‘t do this and for many of them, they will continue to hold onto their feelings long after something has taken place. This also means that if I have to meet with them again, I must be aware that most likely, I’ll have to also deal with what happened in the past, as well as, what is happening right now. This can be difficult and, as I learn, I become better at focusing on the moment – dealing with what is happening and working to bring all those involved into the “NOW” so that the situation doesn’t become a rehashing of previous meetings.

As many of the people who commented on the principalspage entry stated, it does take a certain person to be able to allow some of the things to just flush away. It can be learned over time but you have to understand that early on in your career. One of my greatest mistakes was trying to make everyone happy. It just doesn’t work and not only is there a possiblity that most of the people involved won’t be happy but I’ll also be miserable and that is not the way I want to spend my life.

As an administrator, we are given a number of things for which we must be responsible. We are tasked with many different areas to supervise and watch over. We encounter the spectrum of personalities and must learn to work with each in a manner that demonstrates our desire to build the best school community that we can. Sometimes we make mistakes and they dog us but that is the nature of what we do. Turning off our feelings won’t eliminate these but learning to see the grains of sand and turn them into pearls is something that administrators should be trying to accomplish. Wanting the best for all students is paramount as we deal with the many different things that cross our paths. Learning to not take what happens personally is important but retaining that sense of self is crucial to maintaining the balance needed when making difficult decisions. Because we are tasked with dealing with all the people involved in education, to some degree, administrators have a role unlike any other in education. It is not one that is easy, is often misunderstood and sometimes involves having to make decisions that are not popular. I’m still trying to find that combination of being able to make difficult decisions and being popular. It hasn’t happened yet. I do know that the more I learn to listen to all members of the learning community, the easier it is to have conversations that move toward win-win.

One of things that I tell students when dealing with a difficult situation is that I’m not a principal to be popular which is absolutely true. I choose to be a principal because I of my belief that the present and future are sitting in the classrooms of our schools and there needs to be someone who can make the difficult decisions that will help them learn and grow, see the world in a new way and be challenged to be their best. Sometimes I do have to leave my feelings at the door. Sometimes I do have to accept that I won’t be liked because of the decisions I have to make, that sometimes I will be called names and there will be things said about me. But, there are times when I can see changes and I hear from students what they’ve learned and I am affirmed in what I’m doing. Those aren’t always that often but when they happen they strengthen my conviction about why I chose to be an administrator.

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5 responses

  1. As I read your blog and principal’s page, I remembered back to my years in high school and when first teaching.

    I always wondered how my dad, still teaching high school science & technology, and my mother, a librarian and technology teacher, could be friendly with certain kids that seemed to always be in trouble, never did work and in general…were not engaged. He had no trouble flunking them…if they would not let him help them, but he still cared about them.

    As I learned over time, the impact we have on students is so powerful, that they will remember if we accept them as they are…warts, roars and all. This was the realization that I gained from teaching.

    My dad and mom, who are now in their 70s, can’t go anywhere without being spotted and treated like rock stars, so I can only say that those kids did learn something.

    I think the previous students discovered that learning was important and that they were important too!

    Thanks for letting me share in your reflection.

  2. They won’t remember the detentions or suspensions as much as they will remember the fact that you cared about them. Cared enough to be firm, cared enough to be “unpopular.”

  3. Kelly,
    Something about the Principalspage just makes people want to be smart-asses!

    Seriously, though, you are right in this post when you write that we are in this because of the children. Parents take their children’s education very passionately and that is why they sometimes get upset or emotional. I would rather deal with emotional parents (and teachers for that matter) than those who could not care less about the quality of education being provided at my school.

    1. You are right, first about Principalspage – it is somewhat of a lighter side of a very job that is very serious and very important. You’re also right about the emotional parent or teacher or staff member or community member or whomever. Passion is something I do not begrudge those people. I just don’t want to deal with those people who aren’t worried about education. My role, as I see, and maybe I’m out to lunch, is to ensure that the students in the school of which I am principal, are getting the best possible education that we as a school staff can provide for them. I am to support teachers, EA’s, parents, students and other staff in creating the appropriate atmosphere for learning, providing the necessary tools, etc and, when someone disrupts that, it is my role to intervene and rectify the situation if it is brought to my attention by someone. Sometimes in doing that, I will have to make decisions that are not popular but are for the best learning of the students in the school. Sometimes it involves removing one person to allow others to learn, sometimes is re-assigning teachers, sometimes it’s in providing additional supports. I’m the person who is responsible for the functioning of the school. When there is a break-down or something, I am to be involved in some manner, possibly just in the background, making sure things get back on track.

      As a parent, I take the lives of my children very seriously and don’t ever want to demean a parent who is doing the same. In the same tone, I know my children will make mistakes and will need to face consequences in order to learn. I want to support them and help them but I don’t want to stand in the way of that learning because I know that bailing them out will only cost them eventually. I won’t let them be unfairly treated but I won’t bail them out when they mess up. And sometimes they need to face the anger they have caused or the pain they have created or a multitude of other emotions that are involved in human relations because that is where human relationship learning is most critical.

      Thanks for your words, Dave. Good to hear from you again!

  4. […] out, Dave, I was just joking around a little.” I hope that is the case. Kelly, over at Educational Discourse, posted about the same topic.  He wrote a very tongue-in-cheek comment at PrincipalsPage, but he […]

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