Lest I give you a false impression of me, I am fully human–warts and all.
In a meeting with the administrative team in my district a few weeks ago, I had what can be called nothing less than a public pity party for one: me.
The purpose of the meeting was to create interrater reliability regarding the required observations we must do for each faculty member. This year, there were some negotiated changes to the process that I reviewed with the administrators. One of these changes significantly increased the number of observations that each building administrator was responsible for.
Here’s where things started to go downhill for me. At the meeting, a principal innocently asked why her numbers were so much higher than in the past. Another principal said hers were higher too. Then an assistant principal said his were too. Her question was fair. They were correct. The numbers had increased.
I was intimately aware of the increase. Not only was I a part of the negotiations team that changed the process, I was responsible for making the pairings between the administrators and the teachers. Though we could purchase software that would do this electronically, we haven’t in our district, so making the pairings is a labor-intensive, manual task. There is literally a spreadsheet with 18 tabs. Every time a pairing is made, that information needs to be on at least three of those tabs. As well, since balanced numbers are the goal, trying to make these pairings as equal as possible takes time and concentration.
Unfortunately, I don’t always love details. I am generally not a perfectionist. This work is tedious and time-consuming.
What’s more, though I have asked for the software in the past, I was denied. Though I have asked for the software for next year and have been approved, I am in a liminal space where the manual matches are still mine to do.
So, there we were, at the meeting, and a good Samaritan administrator said he would be willing to take some of the others’ observations off of their plates. His willingness to take one for the team was admirable and what you’d hope for from a team member.
My reaction was not. I said, “I am more than willing to make the changes. But, I need you to know that moving just these ten teachers will take me at least an hour and a half. I’m willing to do it, but I will not offer to take any additional teachers myself. I’ve already put in my time making these pairings.”
This was not my finest hour.
What made it worse, actually, was the onslaught of sympathy and gratitude my team then expressed for my efforts. “Heather, thank you so much for everything you’ve done already. This is so organized and clear.”
I wanted to melt into my chair and disappear.
I knew my behavior was unprofessional and certainly not appropriate. My emotions, in that moment, got the best of me. I was simultaneously embarrassed and overwhelmed.
I apologized to everyone in the room. I asked them not to thank me for the work I’d done since it was my job and they shouldn’t feel compelled to try to make me feel better when I was the one who was pouting.
That day, I started moving around the pairings. I quickly realized that it was going to take much longer than I anticipated and that I more or less needed to start from scratch. Despite saying I wouldn’t take any more, my guilt from my behavior during the meeting caused me to repent by nearly doubling the number of observations I had originally assigned myself.
I also sent everyone in the meeting an email. This is how it began…
I first want to apologize again for my public pity party. While I certainly have psychological safety with all of you, that doesn’t give me license to behave like I did. I’m sorry again.
I hope everyone understands that I was not bothered in the least by the questions about why the numbers were larger this year nor was I bothered by the request to swap people. We are a team and it’s important for us to be able to voice our questions and to create equity. My behavior was in response to the amount of work that I have already put into creating these pairings and the knowledge that movement will lead to untold additional work. As you can relate, doing work like this is tedious enough the first time—but making changes (which I had already had to do prior to sharing it with everyone) adds a layer of frustration. Again, the frustration was not with the people—it’s with the work. Even so, that does not excuse my behavior.
Here’s the other part to illustrate my humanity…If I had it to do all over again, I hope I would behave differently, but I can’t be sure if I would. I certainly regret my emotional outburst. Less obvious, but equally important to reflect on is my reaction to my emotions–meaning the guilt that caused me to add on additional observations to my roster. In other words, if my emotions should not have emerged in my pouting, is it bad that they then led to guilt and the desire to repent by taking on more work than perhaps I needed to? Would I have done that if I had kept my composure during the meeting and didn’t feel guilty? We’ll never know.
I vulnerably share this incident with you because I know I am not alone. Being a leader doesn't mean you’re perfect and that you have all of the answers. This incident serves as a reminder of the undeniable fact that we are all human, and none of us is immune to moments of weakness or emotional outbursts. It's easy to lose composure when facing a challenging and labor-intensive task, and it's even easier to let guilt drive us to overcompensate for our lapses in professionalism.
What this experience underscores, however, is that leadership is not about perfection. It's about growth, self-awareness, and the ability to learn from our mistakes. It's about recognizing when we've fallen short and taking responsibility for our actions. It's also about understanding that being a leader doesn't mean having all the answers or never succumbing to human emotions.
So, while on that day mine was a pity party for one, I know I am not alone.
P.S. My Catch of the Week is Erica Maslowski, a third-grade teacher in Royalton-Hartland Central School District (Roy-Hart). I had the chance to work with several teachers in Roy-Hart last year in my role as a consultant. Though all of the teachers were remarkable, Erica’s work with her students was exemplary. As a result, I encouraged her to submit a proposal to the Buffalo State College annual Professional Development Schools Conference, which she did–and she was accepted. Despite being incredibly nervous to present, Erica was inspiring! I want to celebrate the risks that Erica took to get her on that stage.
I also want to celebrate Erica’s superintendent, Jill Heck, who took a risk on me by having me come in and work with her teachers.
I hope this inspires you. Who will you reach out to and take a risk on?
P.P.S. Please remember to...
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