As a writer, I will write even if people don’t read my work because I have ideas that nag at me wanting to get out. At the same time, as a writer, I enjoy the writer/reader relationship more than I can say. By this I mean, it is simply joy-inducing when someone wants to talk with me about something I’ve written.
I’m excited to say this happened in response to my post, “On Target.” For those who may not have read the post, the gist is that schools are systems that are designed to educate and support students. However, there are people within the system who do this work directly (like teachers and families) and indirectly (like everyone else). I used the image below to explain the dynamics of direct versus indirect support of students.
However, everyone in the system, no matter where they are on the target, needs to feel supported. “The job of each ring on the bullseye is to support the ring that they directly touch under them and to be supported by the ring that comes directly above them (I use the words “under” and “above” here in proximity on the bullseye). In other words, the board and the superintendent’s job is to support district office administrators who will tell them what the building-level administrators and teacher leaders need.”
The week after this post was shared, I attended a regional “Town Hall” on how to attract and retain administrators. This Town Hall was one in a series of regional sessions across the state asking sitting administrators, school partners (like teachers or union leadership), and folks in higher education for their input. At the end of the session, participants were asked if there was anything else that wasn’t talked about that they wanted to share. Among some other things, I said that generally those who are working to become administrators rise up from the ranks of teachers and as teachers, they directly impact students. Pre- and in-service administrators, generally do not directly impact students and this should be something they are explicitly taught and reminded of. I also referenced the Simon Sinek video I included in the “On Target” post and paraphrased his message stating (more or less), when administrators try to directly impact students and forget they actually need to support and directly impact teachers, the teachers will resist administrators. Since Sinek says it so much better, it’s worth including his direct quote here:
If I ask any school administrator what’s your number one priority, they’re going to tell me “the students.” It’s completely wrong. The responsibility of leadership has nothing to do with the results. Leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. Administration serves the teachers and the teachers serve the students. And when the administration believes that the numbers are everything, the teachers will protect themselves from their own leaders, and then the students will suffer.
A friend and colleague of mine was in the Town Hall and sent me an email after the session to ask me if I would send her the Sinek video, which I did, along with the post “On Target.” In response to the video and my post, she wrote me and said:
We are currently doing a book study with our administrative group with Start with Why by Simon Sinek. It has led to some really great reflection and discussion. We are really trying to focus on our mission and vision, and working to infuse it more often in what we do and what we communicate with staff and families.
My thoughts about the video and blog. I agree with the information in both. I love your bullseye graphic. If I were to share that with my administrative group, which I am thinking about doing, I know they wouldn't disagree with supporting the teachers. I think we are all feeling that we are supporting our teachers the best we can. The concern is that some would say the teachers do not feel supported. Which leads me to a question. Are we supporting the teachers in the right ways? Jeans days, food, wellness days, monthly meetings with teacher leaders, professional development opportunities are just some of the ways. Are there other ways to support that would have more of an impact? Are there other ways to support that would lead to them finding their WHY again and being more positive about their profession? Since COVID, there seems to be a change in perspective in what support feels like and staying passionate about WHY we do what we do as educators. However, I have seen a shift in a positive direction this year. Maybe more time is needed, more time feeling "normal" again.
So here’s the rub…The people who are in the position to provide support are saying, “I’m providing support” and the people who are supposed to benefit from the support are saying, “I don’t feel supported.” What’s a leader to do?
Ironically, most (if not all) leaders have a ring that is meant to support them. And, it is not unusual for leaders to feel like they are not being supported. Think of it this way. Imagine your leader is throwing you a birthday party. You are the person who the party is for, right? Now imagine, your leader never asks you what you like to eat, what your favorite cake flavor is, who to invite, what the theme should be, etc. How would you feel?
I know. I know. Leaders and leadership teams are thinking, “I’ve asked, but it’s not good enough!” My guess is in situations like this where people have asked and it still doesn’t feel good enough, that there is some communication breakdown. Perhaps you asked but the birthday person’s ideas didn’t fit the budget. Or, you’ve asked but the birthday person doesn’t know what they want. Maybe you asked and the birthday person set the bar too low. Who knows. The point is that asking isn’t enough. Having respectful and honest conversations about parameters and expectations is important too.
This reminds me of the book with the best title ever - Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well Even When It Is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and, Frankly, You’re Not In the Mood by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. The whole book is terrific, but Chapter 5, “Don’t Switchtrack: Disentangle What from Who” is what comes to mind regarding the concern raised by my friend. Stick with me here because I’m about to quote the entire first page of the chapter (p. 102).
In an episode of the HBO sitcom Lucky Louie, Louie comes home after a hard day’s work at the auto body shop for a long-anticipated romantic weekend with his wife, Kim. He has a gift for her–red roses–which he presents with a flourish. Kim looks disappointed, and after a moment she gives Louie some advice.
Kim: Listen. Try not to take this the wrong way, okay? But if we’re going to be married for the next thirty years, I need you to know that red roses are not my thing. It’s just, I really don’t like red roses, okay?
Louie: Okay. Well, um, can I critique how you just told me that? It’s not that big a deal. I just think that you should have thanked me for the flowers first, and then said the thing about the roses.
Kim: I’ve told you before that I don’t like red roses. Remember?
Louie: Oh yeah, I guess I kind of remember that. But still, it’s a gift so I guess I don’t think it matters what it is. You should still thank me, right?
And it continues like this until their final exchange:
Kim: How do you expect someone to thank you for giving them something they specifically told you they don’t want?
Louie: You know what’s a better question? How you get given red roses and turn around and act like this?!
The point of the chapter is that we start a conversation/interaction with X in mind and somehow we end up focusing on Y.
While this is true, I also want to add that sometimes we give people things for all the right reasons and for the best of intentions and yet, what we give isn’t what people actually wanted. Who hasn’t experienced this? My husband does not like to get presents from me whereas I love both giving and receiving presents. However, if I want him to respect that I like getting presents, I have to respect that he doesn’t like getting presents. In fact, after years of him dropping the ball on getting me presents (and lots of tears from me), I have finally had to do two things to make the situation better.
The first is that I had to stop believing he should just intuitively know what I would want. Truth be told, I’m hard to shop for because I’m picky. Like Kim in the red roses scene, I’d rather get nothing than get something I have to pretend to like. And, I figure, if we’re married, I thought he should know what I like. Let me tell you, writing him a list and giving him suggestions has completely changed our gift-exchange dynamics.
I’ve also told him, “There are 365 days in the year and on 360 days you are the best and don’t need to do anything differently. However, on five days (1-Valentine’s Day, 2-our anniversary, 3-Mother’s Day, 4-my birthday, and 5-Christmas), I need you to get me something or do something for me that if another man got it or did it, you would fight him. That’s the bar. The things you get or do for me on those five days need to be so personal that another man should never get or do those things for me. Period.” Though there are some times when a ball gets dropped, generally, these have been game-changing actions for us.
Missing the mark happens at home, obviously, but also in the workplace. I’m supporting you, why don’t you feel supported?! We feel this ourselves when our bosses or people in leadership positions think they’ve heard us, had our backs, and/or gave us what we’ve asked for. Yet, there we are looking around feeling alone, undervalued, and questioning why our leaders aren’t listening to us. To me, this explains why my friend said, “I know they wouldn't disagree with supporting the teachers. I think we are all feeling that we are supporting our teachers the best we can. The concern is that some would say the teachers do not feel supported.”
To be clear, I am not talking about the proverbial tension of give an inch and they’ll take a mile, which can happen (read, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie). When my friend wrote that her district is trying to support their folks through dressing down, offering food, etc., my guess would be the teachers likely didn’t ask for support by being given the chance to wear jeans or get a complimentary lunch. As well, my guess is the teachers were not feeling unsupported in their clothes or meal selections. If there are profound challenges, profound solutions are likely needed.
In this video, master of educational coaching, Jim Knight, talks about resistance and how resistance is actually often a function of an underlying issue with the relationship.
In his book, Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction, Knight says there are “5 Simple Truths About Helping.”
People often don’t know that they need help.
If people feel “one down,” they will resist.
Criticism is taken personally.
If someone else does the thinking for them, people will resist.
People are not motivated by other people’s goals.
If you want to learn more about each of these Simple Truths the post, “Coaching - The Problem with Helping” by Terry Johanson does a wonderful job of summarizing Knight’s work on resistance. As well, the post, “Article: Moving from Talk to Action in Professional Learning,” by Matthew Kelly offers great insight on the stages of resistance.
In the end, support is an act of service and love. As such, it’s deeply personal. Rather than sitting in a room with others who are outside of the ring they are positioned to support (in the bullseye) and talking about what support is needed for others, go to them and ask. Not only will they be able to say what their challenges are and hopefully offer some ideas on how to support them, but they will also be grateful for having been asked. What’s more, the ask is not, “What do the people at the center of the bullseye need from you?” but “What do you need to be successful in your role as you support the next ring?”
P.S. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get into a reading rut where the books I’m reading just aren’t doing it for me. That happened recently and so rather than reading a novel or a non-fiction book, I decided I’d try a book of short stories since, if there’s a short story I don’t like, there’s another opportunity for a new one in just a few pages (or minutes if you are an audiobook fan like I am). My Catch of the Week is Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby. My only disappointment with the stories was that they were not (yet - I hope) made into full-length novels because they were that good.
P.P.S. Please remember to...
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